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.

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