The Way Rice Should Be: Dak Bokkeum Tang (Spicy Braised Chicken)
Wednesday, March 01, 2017 4:03 PM
In many ways, Korea’s climate is similar to Maine, with its long, cold winters and shorter growing seasons for fruits and vegetables. As a result, to get through the winter, we eat a fair amount of hearty root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots, and a lot of fermented and preserved food. In the past few years, kimchi has became a trendy “superfood” in the Western world because of the health benefits associated with its fermentation process. Many people consider kimchi the flavor of Korean cuisine, and although it is true that we do eat kimchi with almost every single meal, the flavor that truly defines the flavor of Korean food is gochujang, a delicious spicy chili paste made from fermented sticky rice and soybeans. I think of gochujang as the unsung hero of Korean cuisine.
Dak Bokkeum Tang (Spicy Braised Chicken)
It’s almost hard to describe the flavor of gochujang. It’s savory and spicy, but also a little bit sweet at the same time. And because it is fermented, it can take a little time to get used to the smell. If you go to Korea, no matter if you are in the city or in the countryside, you will often see jars and jars of earthen pots sitting on people’s front step or on their balcony. Chances are those jars are filled with homemade gochujang made by older people who still follow the traditional ways. I remember my Korean grandmother’s balcony always had a pungent smell, and every few days she would open up one of the pots to taste her gochujang as it was fermenting. While kimchi only takes a week or two to ferment, gochujang can take up to over a year until it’s ready.
If you’ve been following my column for a while, you may have noticed that each time I share a Korean recipe, it usually calls for gochujang. Unfortunately there rarely is a substitute for gochujang, as it’s a pantry staple for authentic Korean cuisine; much like soy sauce and sesame oil are for Chinese cuisine. Gochujang can be used just as a hot sauce or on its own, but it’s great for stews, stir-fries and marinades. You may find gochujang in the local specialty store, but it’s usually cheaper at Asian grocery stores.
As we make our way up March hill, nothing beats a pot of warm, spicy meat and vegetables. One of my favorite comfort foods my mother and grandmother always made when I was a kid was delicious dak bokkeum tang. Dak bokkeum tang is a simple dish made of spicy braised chicken with potatoes and carrots and gochujang. This was also one of the first dishes I made when I first learned to cook. It’s also a great gateway dish to introduce the amazing gochujang.
- (Serves 2 to 3 people)
- 2 chicken thighs with bone and skin on
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 onions
- 1 carrot
- 3 to 4 Yukon Gold potatoes
- 11⁄2 Tbsp. gochujang
- 11⁄2 Tbsp. Korean hot pepper flakes
- 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
- 21⁄2 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 3⁄4 Tbsp. sesame oil
- 1⁄4 tsp. salt
- 1⁄8 tsp. black pepper
- 2 Tbsp. water
- 2 scallions
- 1 hot pepper
Clean and roughly chop the chicken thighs into chunks. Place them into a heavy-duty pot and add enough water to cover. Place it on the stove and boil it for one minute (photos 1 & 2). Drain and rinse the chicken, set aside. You may skip this step if you want, but I find doing this step gives the dish a much cleaner taste.
Mince the garlic and chop the onion, carrots and potatoes into big bite-size pieces (photo 3).
In a bowl, mix together the minced garlic, gochujang, Korean hot pepper flakes, brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and pepper and 2 Tbsp. water (photo 4).
Place the rinsed chicken thighs back into the pot along with the chopped onions and carrots. Then toss in the gochujang mixture, and make sure everything is coated with the sauce (photo 5).
Cover it up and cook on medium high heat for 15 minutes; make sure to check halfway though to make sure the bottom isn’t burning. Meanwhile, roughly chop up the hot pepper and scallion into strips (photo 6). After 15 minutes, add in the scallion and hot pepper along with the potatoes. Turn the heat down to medium and let it cook for another 15 to 20 minutes until the potatoes are fork-tender (photo 7).
Serve it along with some warm white rice, and there you have a delicious one-pot meal with meat and vegetables, packed full of flavor (photo 8).
Enjoy and stay warm!