Korean Spicy Fish Stew – 매운탕 [Maeun Tang]

Maeun tang is an incredibly delicious and hearty Korean fish soup that literally translates to ‘spicy soup’. Growing up, I watched my mom make maeun tang with fish head and bones after fileting a fish for sashimi. Witnessing this, I learned to appreciate the flavors and benefits of using the parts of the fish that most people would toss. 

But this is not to say that you can’t use chunks of white fish for this recipe! The bones and head are just a good way to minimize waste and use every part of the fish. 

Fish head is a popular ingredient in many Asian cultures, but I haven’t really seen it used as the main ingredient in Western cuisine! So tell me, are there any fish head recipes in your culture that you enjoy?

Why you’ll love this recipe

This Korean spicy fish stew is a comforting and heartwarming dish with deep rich seafood flavors. It’s incredibly refreshing, which is hard to imagine with hot soups, but that’s the feeling you’ll get once you have a sip of the soup. The fish head and bones release collagen into the soup which adds a significant depth of flavor compared to regular fish chunks. What you’re left with is a richer broth that’s hard to resist. 

Not only is maeun tang delicious, it’s also sustainable. By using the fish heads and bones, this dish allows you to savor the whole fish while promoting minimal waste at the same time. The head and bones of fish are also high in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, collagen, and calcium so you get a wide range of health benefits when incorporating them into your diet. 

The addition of the assorted vegetables and tofu is sufficient to make this a hearty meal, however, if you have a whole white fish, you could chop them up into small chunks and add them to the stew for an even heartier dish!

How do I prepare Maeun Tang?

This make one-pot hearty fish soup, just follow the steps below:

Step 1: Prepare the anchovy broth

In a pot, combine water, dried anchovies, dried kelp, and onion. Boil for 10 minutes, then strain.

Step 2: Cook the Korean radish

Transfer the anchovy broth into a deep pan along with Korean radish. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes or until the radish is tender.

Step 3: Mix the seasoning

For the seasoning, combine gochujang, gochugaru, soup soy sauce, and fish sauce in a small bowl. Mix the ingredients together until it forms a paste.

Step 4: Season the broth

Add 3/4th of the seasoning paste to the broth and mix until fully dissolved. At this point, you’ll want to taste the broth to check its spice and seasoning level. Be sure to adjust it according to your preferences! If you prefer it spicier, you can add the remaining seasoning paste.

Step 5: Add the fish

Toss in the fish bones and head and cover the pot for 10 minutes or until it’s fully cooked. Then, add the garlic, zucchini, and bean sprouts, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until they soften up.

Step 6: Add the rest of the ingredients

Add the tofu, green pepper, red pepper, and chrysanthemum greens and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.

Step 7: Serve

If you like, you can garnish the stew with chopped scallions. Serve while hot!

Cooking Tips for Maeun Tang

Maeun tang is a relatively easy and straightforward recipe, however, to make the most delicious maeun tang every time, check out my tips below! 

  • While I used fish heads and bones for the recipe, feel free to use any white fish including flounder, fluke, cod, and sea bass.
  • Since the star of the dish is the fish, be sure to use fresh high-quality fish. Fresh fish should have clear eyes and a fresh ocean smell. If the eyes are red or the fish has a strong fishy aroma, that’s a clear indication that it’s been dead for quite some time. 
  • You’ll know the fish you’ll use is fresh if its eyes are clear instead of red. It should also smell like the ocean instead of having a pungent off-odor.
  • Feel free to add your favorite vegetables to the soup including squash, mushrooms, and carrots.
  • Take care not to overcook the chrysanthemum greens. You’ll know they’re ready when the leaves and stalks turn soft.
  • Feel free to adjust the gochugaru and red hot chili pepper based on your spice level tolerance.

Ingredients & Substitutions

White fish (fish bones/heads): white fish is the star of this dish, so make sure it’s fresh! Flounder, fluke, sea bass, halibut, snapper, or cod would work great with this recipe.

Korean radish: when cooked, Korean radish adds a subtle sweet flavor to the dish. You can also swap it for daikon (regular radish).

Zucchini: zucchini is one of the traditional vegetables added to the soup. But you can also replace it with yellow squash and mushrooms..

Scallions: scallions add freshness and a mild peppery flavor.

Green pepper: green peppers add spiciness to the soup. Feel free to substitute it with jalapeno or serrano peppers. 

Red hot chili pepper: red hot chili pepper also adds a kick of spice. You can substitute it with  your favorite hot peppers, including Thai chili pepper, serrano, or jalapeno.

Garlic cloves: garlic cloves is an essential aromatic that builds the flavor and aroma of the stew. Feel free to use as much garlic as your heart desires!

Bean sprouts: bean sprouts add a subtle nutty flavor, but you can also omit it if you can’t find any at the store. 

Chrysanthemum greens: Chrysanthemum greens provide an earthy flavor to the soup. It’s slightly bitter, however it complements the flavors of the stew deliciously. This can be found at your local Korean market however if you can’t get your hands on any, you can just skip it!

Soft tofu: the smooth and velvety texture of the soft tofu is a pleasant complement to the fish and vegetables. Soft tofu can be substituted with firm tofu however, I don’t recommend using silken tofu. Silken tofu is very delicate and will fall apart easier. 

Water: the water is used to make the anchovy broth. 

Dried anchovies: dried anchovies build the base flavors of the soup. To speed up the process, you could also use my homemade Anchovy Powder. Alternatively, you can skip the anchovies and double the amount of kelp.

Dried kelp: dried kelp also enhances the umami flavors of the soup. You can substitute it by doubling the amount of dried anchovies.

Onion: onion is a delicious aromatic that provides tons of flavors to the soup. It also adds a hint of sweetness to the dish.

Gochujang: gochujang is the base of the sauce which provides a rich, umami spicy flavor and a vibrant red hue to the dish. 

Gochugaru: the gochujang adds a smoky spicy flavor. Feel free to adjust the amount added based on your spice level tolerance! 

Soup soy sauce: soup soy sauce enhances the saltiness of the stew, but you can also use regular soy sauce. Soup soy sauce is generally saltier than regular soy sauce so be sure to adjust to taste. Alternatively, you can double the amount of fish sauce. 

Fish sauce: fish sauce adds a distinct fishy and umami flavor that compliments the fish soup really well. Fish sauce can be substituted with soup soy sauce.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of fish works best for this soup?

Flounder, cod, and sea bass are commonly used for maeun tang but you can also use any white fish including, halibut, fluke and snapper. Just be sure to use a fish that’s fresh!

Can I add other seafood to the soup?

Yes, absolutely! While fish is usually the main seafood added to this soup, you can add any type of seafood that you prefer including squid, shrimp, octopus, mussels, scallops, clams and oysters. 

What are chrysanthemum greens?

Despite its name, chrysanthemum greens aren’t related to its ornamental counterpart. They’re the edible part of garland chrysanthemum, and they’re common in Korean cuisine. When cooked, chrysanthemum greens have a mild grassy and peppery taste. Be careful not to overcook them since they tend to turn mushy and slimy.

Aside from adding them to stews, you can also eat chrysanthemum greens in salads, tempuras, or side dishes.

What does Korean radish taste like?

Korean radish has a mild peppery taste with a hint of sweetness. It’s less bitter than regular radish and has a denser texture than daikon. When cooked, Korean radish tones down its peppery flavor and develops a smooth consistency and sweet flavor profile. 

What is soup soy sauce?

Soup soy sauce is the liquid byproduct of making doenjang (fermented soybean paste). It tastes saltier than regular soy sauce but has a lighter color. Soup soy sauce is commonly used for seasoning soups and stews in Korean cuisine because of its potent flavor, but remember to add small amounts at a time since it can be salty!

Can you store Korean Spicy Fish Stew?

Yes, you can store any leftover fish stew in the fridge. Make sure to keep it in an airtight container and it will last up to 3 days in the fridge. You can reheat it in a pot over the stovetop or microwave for 1 to 2 minutes or until it’s completely hot. 

Looking for more easy and delicious Korean-inspired recipes?

Check out some of my most popular Korean recipes below!

1. Seafood Soondubu (Soft Tofu Stew)if you enjoy this seafood soup, I bet you’ll also love this recipe. It’s a spicy, flavorful, umami-rich bubbling pot of stew served with soft tofu, assorted vegetables, and seafood like clams and squid.  

2. Kimchi Soondubu Jjigaethis recipe is another delicious version of soondubu jjigae. It’s packed with bold flavors – from the tangy kimchi to the juicy tender pork to the soft silky tofu.

3. Soybean Paste Stew (Doenjang Jjigae)for a rich and hearty stew, I highly recommend giving this recipe a try. It’s a classic Korean stew made with simple ingredients and is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. This recipe is great for days when you need to clean out the fridge because you can toss in any vegetables or proteins laying around!

4. Kimchi Jjigae (Kimchi Stew)this classic Korean stew is the ultimate comfort food and considered the Queen of Korean stews. It is a warm, spicy, and savory iconic stew that mainly features fatty pork meat and kimchi. 

5. Korean Potato Stew (Gamja Jjageuli) this recipe is my own spin on the popular Korean potato stew. It is a spicy, hearty Korean dish – perfect for potato lovers!

Maeun Tang

Servings 2 people
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes


  • 1 pound white fish or fish bones/heads (flounder, fluke, cod, sea bass, halibut, snapper), cut into chunks
  • 1/2 pound Korean radish sliced into 1/4 inch thickness
  • 1/2 zucchini sliced
  • 2 scallions chopped
  • 1 long green pepper sliced
  • 1 red hot chili pepper sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 3 oz bean sprouts
  • 5 sprigs of chrysanthemum greens optional
  • 1/2 block soft tofu sliced

Anchovy Broth

  • 4 cups water
  • 8 dried anchovies innards removed
  • 2 oz 2 oz dried kelp
  • 1/2 medium onion


  • 1 tbsp gochujang Korean hot pepper paste
  • 3 tbsp gochugaru Korean red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tbsp soup soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce


  • Let's prepare the anchovy broth! In a pot, combine water dried anchovies, dried kelp, and onion. Boil for 10 minutes then strain.
  • Transfer the anchovy broth into a pan along with Korean radish. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes or until the radish are tender.
  • For the seasoning, combine gochujang, gochigaru, soup soy sauce, and fish sauce. Mix together until it forms a paste.
  • Add 3/4 of the seasoning paste to the broth and mix until fully dissolved. At this point, you want to taste for the spice levels and adjust accordingly! If you prefer it spicier, add the remaining seasoning paste.
  • Toss in the fish and cover for 10 minutes or until it's fully cooked. Add garlic, zucchini, and bean sprouts, and cook for 2-3 minutes until they've softened up.
  • Add the tofu, green pepper, red pepper, and chrysanthemum greens and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Serve and enjoy!
Course: Dinner, Lunch, Main Course, Soup
Cuisine: Korean

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