I’ve been craving Korean comfort foods lately, which lead me on a mission to find recipes for my beloved childhood favourites. Sure, I could ask my mom – who makes absolutely delicious Korean food, by the way – but like most Korean moms, she rarely uses recipe and makes dishes almost automatically. It’s like muscle memory but for the brain. She knows exactly how much of each ingredient should go into a dish – by “feel” – which is hard to translate onto paper into an actual recipe. Usually when I ask her how to make something, there’s a lot of guessing or approximating based on “big spoon” or “little spoon” amounts of ingredients. Obviously this methodology only works if you have the exact same big and little spoons as my mom (which, I don’t, because most of her cooking tools are from 20+ years ago).
Luckily, there’s a host of recipes available on the web for Korean food. One of the top hits from Google is Beyond Kimchee, which has a really nice collection of dishes ranging from appetizers to desserts, a lot of which I recognise and some that looked intriguing. One of the recipes that intrigued me the most is the Dak (chicken) Galbi, which the author describes as the spicy chicken and rice cakes of Chuncheon (there’s a lovely story of how she stumbled on this dish that precedes the recipe).
I’ve personally never heard of dak galbi before. The term itself is a bit misleading. Dak galbi literally means “chicken ribs”, however this dish uses chicken thighs. The dish originates from the city of Chuncheon, hence the author’s description. I’m glad she stumbled on this because it’s an easy-to-make, one pot dish that features a lot of familiar flavours from my childhood. So let’s begin!
Most of the ingredients are ones that I already have in my pantry as staples, such as soy sauce, sesame oil, gochujang (Korean chili paste), Korean chili powder, meul-yut (Korean corn syrup) and toasted sesame seeds. These ingredients can easily be found at an Asian grocery store.
First, let’s start off with the sauce. The addition of the meul-yut (Korean corn syrup) is optional, but I like to include it if it’s given as a option. My mom taught me years ago that it gives a certain “je ne sais quoi” to Korean dishes.
Put all the sauce ingredients into a bowl.
Mix it all up and you get a beautifully rich, fragrant sauce. The combination of chili paste with curry powder makes for a very aromatic sauce. Mmmmm.
Cut the chicken thighs into 1-inch pieces and place into a medium-sized bowl. I removed as much of the excess fat as possible.
Mix in half of the sauce and let the chicken get happy. The great thing about this recipe is that you can prepare the sauce and marinate the chicken up to a day before cooking the dish. I let my chicken marinate for about 4 hours.
While the chicken is off getting happy and flavourful, prepare the vegetables (*note, the garlic is actually part of the sauce, not the veggies but it wanted to hang out with his veggie buddies for the photoshoot. I couldn’t say no). You’ll want to get the Korean sweet potato, which is pale yellow, instead of the orange-fleshed yam. I hardly ever cook with cabbage, but it adds a nice crunch to Korean stir-fried dishes. The green leaves you see are perilla leaves (also known as sesame leaves), which are called “kketnip” in Korean. They smell and taste like a cross between basil and mint. I’m not a big fan of it, but I don’t mind it when it’s a supporting player in a dish as it provides a nice herbal, earthy flavour.
It looks like a ton of veggies, but it’ll all cook down.
The recipe doesn’t call for chestnuts, but I had some kicking around in the freezer so I added about 10 of them. They can be a little bit sweet and have a really nice texture, so I thought they would make an interesting addition to the dish. It’s completely optional.
“Tteok” (Korean rice cake) is a prominent player in the dish. I bought the thinner tubular kind and sliced them in half on an angle. They generally come in a pack of three layers (refer to the first photo of ingredients) and they’re incredibly soft and sticky when fresh. I find them easier to work with after they’ve been in the fridge for a day, but be warned… because they’re so sticky, they’ll be clumped together in one big mass and it’s a workout to separate them. The fresh tteok doesn’t keep very well (you’ll want to use them immediately), so for any leftovers I suggest putting them in the fridge first, then separate each individual tube and put them into a Ziploc bag to store in the freezer. You can also use frozen tteok, which just needs to soak in hot water before using.
Once you’re ready to go, drizzle some canola oil in a cast iron skillet. The author of the recipe suggest using a cast iron skillet, but I think it would work fine in a wok as well. Put the chicken into the skillet in one layer.
Put the vegetables and tteok on top of the chicken. Put the remaining sauce on top of the ingredients. At this point, turn the heat on to medium-high. When you hear the sizzling of the chicken, it’s time to toss the ingredients.
The tossing is easier said than done! Just work carefully and everything will get mixed together nicely. Turn the heat down to medium and add about a 1/4 cup of water to help steam the ingredients and to keep it from getting too dry. The tteok tends to absorb a lot of liquid, so you can add a bit more water during the cooking if necessary.
Let it all simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. It smells so amazing!
Once it’s ready, serve it up with toasted sesame seeds and some fresh perilla leaves. The flavour combination is incredible! I never knew how well Korean chili paste and curry powder could work together. It has a nice spicy kick which builds up as you keep eating it. The chicken is moist and tender, the vegetables add some nice texture, and overall it’s comforting and filling served with a side of white rice. Yum!
Dak Galbi, spicy chicken of Chuncheon (recipe from Beyond Kimchee)
- 1 lb (450g) boneless, skinless chicken thigh, diced
- 1/2 lb (250g) Korean rice cake sticks (tteok)
- 1/4-1/2 cabbage, diced
- 8-10 perilla leaves, sliced
- 1/2 large onion, sliced
- 1 medium sweet potato, sliced into 1/4″ thick wedges
- 2 tablespoons grape seed or canola oil
- 2-4 tablespoons water
- more perilla leaves and toasted sesame seeds to garnish
For the sauce:
- 3 tablespoons Korean chili paste
- 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Korean chili flakes
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons curry powder
- 1 tablespoon ginger powder
- 2 tablespoons rice wine or mirin
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- dash of pepper
- 1 tablespoon Korean corn syrup (meul-yut), optional
Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Toss the chicken pieces with half the sauce and mix. Set aside.
Soak rice cakes in hot water until ready to use and drain (if using frozen rice cakes).
Drizzle oil in a cast iron skillet, spread the chicken and top with vegetables (only half the amount of perilla leaves) and rice cakes. Drizzle the remaining sauce over and bring the skillet over med-high heat.
When you hear the loud sizzling noise from the skillet, toss to coat everything with the sauce. Continue to cook for about 2 minutes. Add the water to create steam to cook and reduce the heat to medium. Continue to cook, about 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When chicken is cooked through and potatoes are tender, add the rest of the perilla leaves and heat through. Everything should be slightly browned at this stage. Toss gently so that you don’t break the potatoes.
Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and garnish with more perilla leaves. Serve hot.