Koreans eat far more fish than I think most non-Koreans realize. In particular, Koreans are fond of whole fish dishes in which an entire fish is broiled, roasted or fried and then brought out on a plate, eyes and skin intact.

Having grown up in the U.S. I’m not accustomed to cooking fish this way. So, I selected this fish soup recipe as preparation for eventually tackling a whole fish recipe. In saengseon guk, fish chunks get simmered in a soup along with beef and vegetables. (Part of the soup’s flavor comes from doenjang, the soybean paste that I cooked with last week when I made doeji gogi doenjang guk.) I think saengseon guk is a nice introduction to cooking fish Korean-style.

Saengseon Guk (Fish Soup) — 생선국

Makes 4 servings


  • 1 lb. whiting or cod, fresh or frozen
  • ½ lb. lean beef
  • ¼ lb. daikon or Korean radish*
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce**
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • dash of black pepper
  • 5 c. water
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 green onion (or 3 scallion stalks)
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1½ Tbsp. soybean paste***

*Daikon radishes are long and white and are sometimes referred to as “white carrots” because of their appearance. Korean radishes are not quite as long, but are much rounder, with a shape sort of like an enormous potato or a small football. You should be able to find daikon radishes at Asian grocery stores and Korean radishes at Korean grocery stores. The photos above show both types of radishes.

**To make this recipe gluten free, I used San-J Organic Tamari Gluten-Free Soy Sauce (available at Whole Foods or for $6.69 + shipping on Amazon.com.)

***You can buy soybean paste in plastic, tub-like containers at Asian grocery stores or on Amazon.com for about $10. The tubs are easy to identify, even if you don’t read Korean, because they are always brown or tan in color, to match their contents. (See photo above.)


  • Clean fish**** and cut into 1½-inch cubes. (If using frozen fish, thaw beforehand.)
  • Cut beef and radish into smaller cubes. (If the radish is narrow, which is true of most daikon radishes, you can cut it into half-moon-shaped slices, which is what I did.)
  • Add a small amount of oil to a large skillet. Add beef and radish and begin to fry them.
  • Add soy sauce, sesame oil and black pepper to the skillet. Simmer mixture about 2 minutes.
  • Add 5 cups water and ½ tsp. salt to the skillet and bring mixture to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes before adding fish cubes, garlic powder and soybean paste to the skillet.
  • Simmer an additional 10-15 minutes.
  • Serve hot.

****I removed the fish skin during this process.

[Recipe from “Korean Cooking”, an out-of-print cookbook created by the Korean Institute of Minnesota.]