Gamjatang is a traditional Korean stew that consists of pork bones, potatoes, vegetables and spices. The cooking process can take more than six hours, depending on the amount of the stew being made, with much of the time dedicated to repeatedly reducing water as the ingredients slowly cook. The taste of the soup is very spicy, with deep undertones from the pork bones, marrow and any meat that was left on them. When served, gamjatang can be placed into a bowl by itself, or it can have the meat drawn out and served separately over rice or with kimchi.
The pork bones used in the traditional recipe for gamjatang are from the spine of the pig. These usually have a good amount of exposed marrow when cut, as well as a coating of meat on the outside. Neck bones also can be used, although they will have more meat on the outside than the spinal bones will.
Before gamjatang can be made, the pork bones need to be prepared. This usually involves soaking them in water for a few hours until all the blood has been drawn out and some of the strong pork odor is removed. To further reduce the strong odor and sometimes unpleasant taste of the bones, they also are boiled in a combination of aromatic vegetables and spices such as onions, ginger, garlic and peppercorns for an hour or more.
The base of gamjatang is made from the strained water in which the bones have been boiled, combined with a paste made from more ginger and garlic, along with fish sauce and chilies. The bones and vegetables are added to the water. Any type of vegetable can be used, but common inclusions are cabbage, onions, potatoes, bean sprouts and chilies. The entire pot is taken to a boil, after which spices such as hot pepper flakes and sesame seeds can be added. The stew is left to boil for a few more hours, with the water being refreshed each time it reduces down.
The final result is a thick stew with a complex, layered flavor from the repeated reductions. The starch from the potatoes helps to thicken the water as they break down into pieces. When served, the bones are generally left in gamjatang, sometimes being used as a centerpiece in the serving bowl. The stew can be accompanied by a dish full of kimchi or poured over white rice. Depending on the amount of chilies used in the recipe, a hot chili paste also can be made available so the heat can be adjusted.