I have a confession to make.
Growing up, I couldn’t tolerate any level of spiciness, to the point that my mom (bless her heart) would make me a separate batch of whatever spicy dish she was cooking. I was really a gigantic wuss back then. I’m not even kidding you.
I’m not sure when that all changed, but I like to think it has something to do with Dak (chicken) Dori Tang, a dish that is altogether comforting, filling, and incredibly hearty. It’s become one of my absolute favourite one-pot Korean comfort food dishes. Whenever I went long periods between seeing my mom and she’d ask what I wanted to eat, I’d always request this dish.
As with most homey, comforting Korean dishes, there’s no right or wrong way to make it. There’s no such thing as a universal recipe. It all comes down to personal taste and how you grew up eating a particular dish. My mom’s version of dak dori tang still remains my favourite. Let’s be honest, I’m totally biased.
As I mentioned in my dak galbi post, I’ve been on a Korean comfort food kick as of late. I’ve always wanted to try making dak dori tang at home, but I never had the guts. It’s not a terribly complicated dish – the components of it are very similar to other spicy stewed dishes – but I have the taste of my mom’s ingrained in my memory and I was afraid I wouldn’t do it justice. Maybe it’s because I’m almost 30 (oh, dear laaawd) or it’s because I’ve feeling particularly domestic these days, but I set out to conquer my fear in the most outrageous way possible – I would do this without consulting my mom.
THAT’S CRAZY TALK.
Like I mentioned before, there’s no right or wrong way to make a dish. So below I give to you my interpretation of dak dori tang.
Let’s start with the basic ingredients. The most important component – the chicken – is entirely up to your taste. I chose boneless, skinless chicken thighs because a) they’re moist and tender, perfect for stewing; b) most of the fat has been removed, which means a less fatty stew; c) easy to eat without any bones. Some people swear by using a whole chicken or hen that’s been butchered into manageable pieces. Others use drumsticks. It’s really a personal preference. The other star player and the most common vegetable in this stew is the humble potato. Accompanied by carrots, a few chilies, and chestnuts, it’s a nice hearty mix. You’ll see a common theme when it comes to spicy Korean stewed dishes – there’s always going to be some gochujang (Korean chili paste).
Start off by making the marinade for the chicken. The mysterious and magical meul-yut (Korean corn syrup) is present. When in doubt, use it. It really does give a certain “je ne sais quoi” to Korean dishes. The other components are soy sauce, sesame oil, mirin (or rice vinegar), sugar, garlic, gochujang (Korean chili paste) and gochugaru (Korean chili flakes).
Stick it all into a bowl and mix it up. This marinade has a high proportion of gochujang and a lovely deep red colour.
Next, chop up the chicken. As always, I try to remove as much of the excess fat as possible. I didn’t cut the pieces too small – you want to keep them a bit larger, otherwise it’ll just fall apart in the stew. Put the chicken pieces into a large bowl.
Mix in the marinade and give it a good rest in the fridge. It only needs about an hour.
While the chicken is hanging out getting flavourful, let’s talk about the vegetable component. As mentioned above, potatoes are a star player. I also like to use carrots (I happened to have baby carrots on hand, but regular carrots work just as well). I had a bunch of chestnuts in the freezer so I thought I’d throw in about 10 of those. Fresh chilies are optional, but they give an added layer of spiciness to the dish. Depending on what type of gochujang you use (there’s regular and then there’s super hot) and how spicy you want the dish, you can choose to omit the chilies or add as much as you’d like. I saw these lovely serrano chilies at the grocery store so I decided to use them. The green onion is used as a garnish later on, to add a fresh component and also for presentation purposes.
Oh hey, guess who joined the party? Sweet potato! I found some leftover sweet potato kicking around in the vegetable crisper so I thought, why not. Roughly chop the onion and slice the chilies into thin slices. Set aside the finely chopped green onion for later use.
Now, let’s talk about the potato. I kept the cubes fairly large and then I added a special touch, which is entirely optional. It doesn’t alter the taste in any way; it’s a personal preference and a tribute to my mom, who always puts her special spin on dishes. So, what’s this special touch?
Rounding off all the edges. Here’s the before and after. Keep in mind that it does take a bit of time to get all the potato pieces rounded off. It does look pretty though, doesn’t it? In my mom’s version, she does this with the carrots.
Since there’s still a bit of time left to wait on the chicken, throw the potatoes into a large bowl and cover with cold water to prevent them from browning.
Once the chicken is well-rested, grab a large stock pot and put it on medium heat. Throw in the chicken and cook it for about 5 minutes.
Add the water, cover and let simmer on medium-low heat for 20 minutes. The kitchen starts to fill with the unmistakable aroma of delicious spicy stew. Mmmmm.
After 20 minutes, toss in the vegetables. Give it a good stir to get all the veggies mixed in well, cover, and let simmer for another 20 minutes.
Give it a good stir once in a while. You can start to see the vegetables cooking down.
Here’s the finished product. It smells incredible! The vegetables are cooked down, the chicken is fall-apart tender, and the broth is rich and spicy. Can’t wait to dig in!
The verdict? Not bad! It turned out spicier than my mom’s version (no doubt due to the addition of fresh chilies) and the taste was really close. I think she’d be really proud of me… and perhaps a little sad now that I can make this on my own. What she doesn’t know is that there are plenty of other Korean dishes that I’m still too chickensh-t to attempt, so she doesn’t have anything to worry about ;)
Dak Dori Tang
- 1 kg (approx. 2 pounds) boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into large pieces
- 3 cups water
- 3 large potatoes, cut into large cubes
- 1 cup baby carrots
- 1/2 large onion, roughly chopped
- 3 green chilies (optional)
- 10 frozen chestnuts (optional)
- 1 sweet potato (optional)
- 2 stalks green onion, finely chopped
For the marinade
- 1/3 cup gochujang (Korean chili paste)
- 1/4 cup gochugaru (Korean chili flakes)
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon meul-yut (Korean corn syrup)
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons mirin
Combine all the marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Toss the chicken pieces with the sauce and mix. Set aside and let marinate for 1 hour in the fridge.
Heat a large stock pot on medium heat. Add the chicken and cook for 5 minutes. Add the water; cover and let simmer on medium-low heat for 20 minutes.
Uncover and add the vegetables. Mix thoroughly. Cover and let simmer for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
If you prefer a thicker stew, uncover and let cook for 3-5 minutes.
Serve hot with rice. Garnish with the chopped green onion.