Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Traditional New England 닭도리탕 (Dakdoritang) Recipe

Last night, I attempted one of my favorite Korean dishes: dakdoritang, a spicy chicken and potato stew.

It's Korea's incarnation of a pretty classic dish, one that you'd find in England, New England, France, Spain and probably anywhere else with chickens and an abundant supply of root vegetables.  Do you have a chicken?  Do you have potatoes?  Garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and hot pepper?  Then you, too, can make this.

And yet despite the simplicity of the stew's ingredients, my coteacher Roy was surprised and impressed when I told him I planned to try it -- it's one of those things that Korean moms seem to instinctively know how to do, but there aren't good recipes lying around.  There are few ingredients, but the final product is far more than the sum of its parts.

Though I tried to keep fairly close to tradition, mine turned a bit different than the classic Korean version.  But to my delight, it came out tasting like a delicious fusion of the American/ English vegetable stews I grew up with and the Korean stews I live with.  The broth was slightly spicy, rich, and butternut-y, the garlic and soy braised the vegetables into sweetness, and the chicken fell off the bone.  It tasted like a Korean mom had tried to make my mom's food, or like Paul & Elizabeth's restaurant had made Korean food.  In other words, it tasted like delicious traditional New England Dakdoritang.

The authentic version, or at least the ones I've come across in my homestay, school cafeteria, and elsewhere (it's definitely more of a home cooking-thing, I haven't seen it much in restaurants), is spicy, complex, and delicious.  I've never had it exactly the same way twice, since it uses different ingredients according to what you've got on hand, but as long as you've got chicken, potatoes, and that special spicy, rich broth, you've got dakdoritang.

About a week ago my school lunch (which is usually uninspiring) involved a version of dakdoritang with carrots, onions, and an new twist - pumpkin!  Delicate little slices of pumpkin (or maybe butternut or acorn squash, Koreans just call it all "pumpkin") added just the right balance of sweetness to the spice.  I had to try it.

I wanted to try to make it before I left Korea, so that if I ran into any trouble I could ask an ajumma at the grocery store for advice.  Since I didn't have school today or yesterday,  I decided it was time for dakdoritang.

So yesterday I picked up carrots, pumpkin, a chicken, and ssam jjang, which is gochujang (slightly sweet pepper paste) + dwengjang (soybean paste - think light-colored miso, but with a more complex taste and lumpier texture).

Glory be to the Korean grocery store - 980 won for two giant carrots, 5,100 won for a chicken, 3,200 for a medium-sized squash, and 980 won for a small (170g) container of ssam jang.  Grand total: 10,260won, or $9.60

To be fair, I already had potatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and vinegar.  The only ingredient I don't have on hand nor did I buy was rice wine, since the recipes I've found only call for a couple teaspoons and I'm leaving Korea soon.

Like a true Korean mom, I didn't measure anything precisely (I didn't have a precisely measured recipe to begin with).  Anything that says "tbsp" is likely a heaping tablespoon.  But if you follow the basic shape of this recipe, you should end up with a rich, hearty stew that tastes both familiar and foreign.

Traditional New England 닭도리탕 (Dakdoritang)
Serves 6, or 2 hungry young adults, with leftovers for both for lunch

Cast (in order of appearance):
Playing Sauce:
  • 3 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp ginger
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce 
  • 4 tbsp gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
  • 2 tbsp ssam jjang (maybe you could get away with 1 tbsp miso?)
  • 1 tbsp gochujaru, cayenne, or other hot pepper
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp rice wine (or 1 tbsp vinegar, I had apple cider vinegar)
Starring as a Chicken:
  • A smallish chicken
The Ensemble: 
  • 3-4 c. of some combination of (chopped into roughly 1-2" chunks):  Potatoes, Sweet potatoes, Onions, Carrots
  • 1-2 c. + butternut or acorn squash, or pumpkin
  • Optional: 1/4 of a cabbage, sliced or shredded,  a few green onions or leeks


  1. Curtain opens on garlic,  ginger,  soy sauce, gochujang,  ssam jjanghot pepper, honey, rice wine or vinegar, and a cup of water in a big pot, being stirred together on medium heat.
  2. Cleaned, whole Chicken and heroic butcher's knife battle.  Knife wins.  Less tasty parts of the chicken (bones, back, whatever)  are submerged into the pot to simmer with the  soy sauce mixture.  Breasts, wings, drumsticks, etc, are set aside.
  3. Ennobled by chicken victory, Knife defeats all the root veggies and squash, and adds them to the pot.  The pot is brought to a boil, then reduced to medium heat, covered, and cooked for about 10 minutes.
  4. Uncover, add the chicken pieces, and simmer.
(20-30 minutes, stirring when you feel like it.).

5.  Cabbage and green onions open Act II, and simmer for at least 5 minutes, but up to 20 (divas!), while you set the table, get out drinks, check your email, or whatever.  When it's thick and stew-y, it's ready for the finale!

Serve with makkolli and rice, and follow with slightly too much apple-lemon upside-down sponge cake.  Or at least, that's what we did!

This is delicious.  I'm so full of stew and cake that I can barely move, but I'm looking forward to the encore tomorrow.
I will totally make this in England.  The only ingredients I expect might be tough to track down is ssam jang and gochujang, but I planned to bring those over anyway.  It'd be super-fast if I prep the veggies beforehand --  you could even make the sauce mixture sans water, store it together with the chopped root veggies in the fridge, and throw that all in the pot 30 minutes before dinner.

My family in the USA is vegetarian, so I'd also like to see if it'd be possible to make a similar dish without the chicken, maybe using vegetable stock for the base and adding garbanzos and/or pureed white beans to simmer with the broth.
I rarely say this about CSHS's cafeteria food, but lunch was tasty.  It makes me think about how much I'm going to miss cheap, nutritious, good Korean food in London.

Soba noodle soup, kimchi, pickled radish, omrice (thin egg omelette + fried rice & veggies in sauce).

Whether London's curry houses can begin to compete is yet to be seen...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Oh Alright, Go Ahead.

So I'd prepped the second half of my Romeo & Juliet lesson, which involves video from Shakespeare in Love and the 1968 and 1996 versions of Romeo and Juliet - except then 20 minutes before class when I double-checked my flash drive, it freaked out and declared that not only was nothing on it, but also it was full.  So I tried to borrow Roy's flash drive, but my computer helpfully gave me an error message in Korean.

Fine, conspiratory universe  - you win!  Finals are next week, so I did what I could and then gave them 40 minutes out of the hour to study.

Which works out fine for me, because I studied, too - I read some more of an article about Shakespeare in Korea. So far I've found 3 articles that are pretty directly about Shakespeare in Korea, and then another 3 on related subjects, like ESL Shakespeare or Shakespeare in Asia.  Hopefully I'll get my act together to write a short article that connects all of those things, and includes some of my own lesson plans for teaching Shakespeare in Korea and a review of the modernized, Korean-language production of Hamlet I saw in Seoul.

Also, apparently the nutritionist (aka head lunch lady) at my school is super bummed because first grade students said in a survey that they don't like the food here.  Bummer for her, great for me -- today's lunch was delish: a twist on 닭도리탕 ("dakdoritang," spicy Korean chicken stew) that involved lots of pumpkin, really good fresh kimchi, stir-fried eggplant with sesame seeds, odeng soup (think gefilte fish's umami-er asian cousin), and-- of course-- rice.  I really should try to make 닭도리탕 before I leave Korea, so I can figure out what ingredients I can ship to London.  This recipe looks pretty legit -- I think I'll give it a shot next week!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Congratulations, Smith!

Congratulations to my alma mater, Smith College, for a record-setting Fulbright year (press release here).  They've managed to garner 18 fellowships, out of 40 applicants.  I'm also happy to say that not one but TWO Smithies are coming into the Fulbright Korea ETA program this summer.  I was so thrilled to meet Molly (Smith '08, Fulbright Korea '09) at orientation, and she answered lots of my questions and made me feel right at home.  I hope I'll be able to do the same for Kim and Danielle (Smith '11, Fulbright '12) !

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Simile Poem about Obama, by 1-1 Students

Obama's ears are like donkey's ears
They are stumpy and long.
Obama's head shines like the moon
Obama is as fresh as extreme Halls.

Love Poems for Kim Tae-Hee, from Class 1-3 and 1-2, Respectively

Kim Tae-hee's eyes are like the most shiny, beautiful, big star
They are just a beauty that we can't explain.
Kim Tae-hee's smile looks like flowers in the garden in spring.
Her hair is as long, soft, and smooth as the symbol of hope, Nile river.

Kim Taehee's eyes are like the crescent moon

They are shiny and beautiful.
Her skin looks white like the snow
Her lips are as red as a rose.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Healthy(ish) Banana Nut Muffins

Bananas -- portable, naturally pre-packaged, delicious, and a fabulous accompaniment to my beloved oatmeal breakfast. They're cheap here, so I buy them nearly every time I shop for groceries. I often can't eat them all before they start to turn -- but that's the part I love!

Usually we make banana bread (JJ's recipe is tops), but I wanted to try something new, and something that's a little lighter in the butter department. Nothing beats cinnamon and spice-y winter breads, but come summer, I'm ready for light fruity sweets.

So last week, I baked banana muffins, and to my delight, they came out great! I took one to work for breakfast for the next few days, and wrapped up the extras for my co-teachers.

This week, I found myself in the same delicious overripe bananas predicament, and I decided to take it a step further in the right--or light (oh, Korea!) -- direction. The recipe, which makes 18 muffins, calls for 1/2 cup (a stick) + 2 tbsp butter. I hacked that in half and substituted in some delicious homemade cinnamon-vanilla applesauce, ending up with only 5 tablespoons of butter for the whole thing. I also substituted maple syrup and honey for 1/3 of the white sugar.

Also, since I know how much I liked eating them for breakfast, I wanted to make it a bit heartier. To that end, I added a generous handful of steel cut oats and let them soak in the wet mixture for about 10 minutes while I mashed up bananas, measured out the dry ingredients, etc. I also crushed up some almonds and cashews I had lying around and added them to the sugar/butter/flour mixture that makes these muffins sing. Here's the final recipe:

1. Wet ingredients: Blend 1/2 cup white sugar, about 1/4c brown sugar and 3 tbsp butter with a hand mixer. Mash up 5 overripe bananas. Add that, 1 egg + 1 egg white, about 1/3 cup of applesauce, (optional: + a handful of steel cut oats) to the rest.
2. Dry ingredients: 2 cups flour, 1.5 tsp baking powder, 1.5 tsp baking soda, pinch of salt, 1 tsp cinnamon.
3. Blend wet + dry, just until combined.
4. Topping: 3 tbsp flour, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup crushed nuts, 1tsp assorted spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, whatever you've got around)

Bake @ 190C for 18 minutes. Enjoy!

Friday, June 10, 2011


Today I made breakfast, read a bit, then took a 70-minute walk (I timed it!) which ended at Home Plus. I pretty much cleared us out of fresh fruit and veg with my omelette, so I was in the market for raw veg. When I saw that they had peanut sauce and chili sauce with a picture of Vietnamese summer rolls, I asked the Home Plus guy down the aisle if they sold the rice paper wrappers, too.

Well, to be fair, I pointed at the picture and said "pet-uh-nam ssam issoyo?" which I was hoping meant "is there any Vietnamese wrapper-y stuff here?" Whether he was spurred on by my excellent pointing skills or my bewildering Korean I shan't venture to guess, but in any event, he immediately directed me toward the rice paper in the next aisle. Score! So tonight's menu:

Fresh Veggie & Shrimp Summer Rolls:
1. Get some medium- or large-sized fresh shrimp (the cheapest at Home Plus had all the shells and heads and stuff, but it cost $1.90 for a dozen). Clean, shell, and devein shrimp. Cook them in a little water and lime juice until done. Set aside.
2. Chop up into little strips the following: a yellow sweet pepper, a cucumber, a carrot, lettuce.
3. Soak the rice paper in warm water for about 10 seconds, then fill it with a couple shrimps and all veggies above, plus a healthy dose of peanut sauce.

Pan-Asian Pan Fried Sesame Chicken & Broccoli
1. Wash a couple of boneless/skinless chicken breasts and cut them into ~2" strips.
2. Marinate them in: 5 tbsp soy sauce, 2 tbsp maple syrup, 2 tbsp ginger, 1 tbsp garlic, 1 tbsp gochujang (or other spicy/pepper sauce), 1tbsp tonkatsu sauce (or steak sauce, I guess).
3. Steam a whole bunch of broccoli (2 cups-ish?)
4. Drag them through 1/2 cup of flour (or 1/2 cup of matzo meal from the giant thing that our neighbor Tyler willed to us when he went back to 'Merica) and fry 'em up in a nonstick with as little oil as is sensible. Cook for about 4 minutes on medium-high, then flip and cook another 2-3.
5. Add the broccoli and the marinade and simmer until the sauce reduces a bit, maybe another 2 or 3 minutes.

Voila! Reasonably healthy deliciousness can be yours in about 40 minutes! (provided that you, too, have a wonderful boyfriend/cooking partner/roommate/indentured servant who will chop veggies while you deal with chicken)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Breakfast today - Earl grey in my Contigo (i use it all the time, thanks mom!) and a homemade lowfat banana muffin (I made 14 last night and brought one for Mr. Moon, Roy, and the office assistant).

There's something highly civilized about having an hour at work before I have to get up in front of the kids to have for tea, yummy muffins, and the NY Times.

Countown: 40 days left in Korea

Friday, June 3, 2011

Caramelizing onions

Pros: my apartment smells like sweet, savory, buttery France
Cons: my apartment is now hot as hell, and I haven't even preheated the oven for the pizza yet.

You will need:
  • A decent non-stick pan
  • a silicone spatula or wooden spoon
  • a tablespoon of butter
  • 2 onions
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup (you could use brown sugar or honey, if you like)
  • a pinch of salt
1. Slice the onions as thinly as you can
2. Melt the butter in the pan on low heat
3. Add the onions and stir in the salt and maple syrup
4. Cover and cook on low for 7-9 minutes. Crank it up to low-medium, uncover, and cook for another 5ish minutes.
5. Layer it on pizza dough with garlic and olive oil, tomato slices, and feta.

Conclusion: SUCCESS! pizza was fabulous.