Recipes: Dak Bokkeum Tang aka 닭볶음탕 (spicy braised chicken and vegetables)
As much as I love Korean food, as some of you may know, cooking Korean food can be a big commitment of your time and energy. And when you're a full-time student or worker it can easily be all the more tempting to reach for a microwaveable meal or order delivery at the end of a long day.
2. (Optional) I like to salt and pepper the chicken pieces in a bowl and add a dash or two of soju to cut down on the "meaty smell" while I'm preparing the veggies but feel free to skip this step (try not to imbibe from your cooking alcohol...)
Dak Bokkeum Tang (닭볶음탕) is one Korean dish that can be prepped relatively quickly and yet produce a wholesome meal full of flavor that gives you your protein, vitamins and other good nutrients, especially when accompanied by a bowl of whole grain rice or other grains.
The dish is also commonly known as Dak Dori Tang (닭도리탕) but from what I've heard, Dak Dori Tang is actually a Japanese name for the dish originating from Korea's colonial occupation days by Japan. This does seem plausible as "tori" does mean "bird" in Japanese (seems like I haven't forgotten quite everything from four years of Japanese languages classes in high school...)
In any case, the proper name for the dish, therefore, is apparently Dak Bokkeum Tang. And for those that are curious, "dak or 닭" means chicken, "볶음 or bokkeum" means fried/stir-fried and "tang or 탕" means a kind of soup. So the literal name of the dish means stir-fried chicken soup.
Traditionally the dish calls for vegetables like onions, carrots and potatoes but I say if there are other vegetables on hand you want to add, go for it. In the end it's the harmony of the spicy sweet sauce and the flavors of the chicken and vegetables that are released during the cooking process that makes it a real winner.
Dak Bokkeum Tang (닭볶음탕)
Makes approximately 4 servings
Total time: 45 minutes to 1 hour
To make the dish you'll need:
- 1 kg of chicken pieces (Note: You can use a pre-chopped bag of your favorite chicken parts or even a medium whole chicken, cut up. I would recommend a mixture of parts such as wings, thighs, breasts but feel free to use only breasts or whatever parts you prefer)
- 2 small to medium sized potatoes
- 1 large onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 stalk of green onion
- (Optional) 1-2 small green chilies if you want to amp up the spiciness
- 1 1/2 cup of water
- 1 tbsp of toasted sesame seeds (for garnish)
For the sauce:
- 1~ 1.5 tbsp of minced garlic (if you prefer a less garlicky taste you could reduce to 1.5 tbsp of minced garlic but, hello, this is Korean cooking we're talking about...)
- 3.5~4 tbsp of red pepper paste (if you're less inclined to spicy foods you may want to cut down to 3 tbsp at first and then add another tbsp or two later while cooking if you want)
- 2 tbsp of soy sauce
- 2-3 tbsp of red pepper powder (again, adjust according to your preference for spicy tastes)
- 1 tbsp of soju or cooking wine (this helps to cut down on any "meaty smell" from the chicken but feel free to leave out if you don't have on hand)
- 1 tsp of sesame oil
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp of sugar (Koreans also prefer to use oligodang or oligo saccharide [올리고당] which they say is healthier than sugar which you can also use in combination A picture of one version of a popular brand has been included below:
Thick, syrupy and sweet. It's apparently "healthier" than sugar though I haven't really read up extensively on why it's better than sugar.
1. Cut, wash and drain the chicken pieces (if they're not already pre-cut). The chicken should be bite-sized or a bit bigger.
3. Using a separate knife and cutting board (if you used one already to prepare your chicken that is... no time for salmonella, thank you) cut the onions into one inch pieces. Wash, peel and cut the carrots into coins. Wash, peel (or leave unpeeled if you like) and cut the potatoes into 1/2 inch thick slices. (Also optional: you can put the potatoes in a small bowl of water and drain after 5-10 minutes to cut down on the starch). Wash and cut up the chili peppers if you choose to add them. And lastly, wash and cut up the green onion.
4. Combine all the ingredients for the sauce. Think of the measurements listed above as a basic template. If you prefer a spicier taste you can add some more red pepper paste or red pepper powder. If you prefer the sauce a bit sweeter you can add some more sugar. After mixing and tasting, set aside.
5. Take the chicken pieces and arrange on a heavy bottom pan. Then scatter on top the carrots, potatoes and onions.
6. Pour the sauce on top and then the 1 1/2 cup of water.
7. Turn the heat to medium-high and give the pot a stir with a big spoon to mix and incorporate the sauce into the ingredients.
8. Cook for the next 30-40 minutes (or until the chicken and potatoes cook thoroughly) with the lid covered. Occasionally stir the contents so all ingredients get a chance to cook in the sauce. As it cooks, the chicken and veggies should begin releasing water to create a spicy sauce but if it looks a little dry, add a bit more water and mix.
9. After 30-40 minutes, taste the sauce to make sure it's to your liking. If it's tasting good to go, sprinkle in the chopped onions (reserve a small handful of the chopped green onion for garnish at the end) and chopped chili peppers (if you chose to add them), mix a bit, reduce to medium heat and cook for two more minutes before turning the heat off.
10. Scoop out the goods onto a big bowl and make sure you spoon more of the sauce on top. Sprinkle with a few toasted sesame seeds and the remaining green onion. Serve with a big bowl of rice.
Chicken, veggies, good flavor. What more can you want?
As the dish is a spicier one, a salad with a low-fat creamy dressing can help to cut down on the spice in between bites. A creamy sesame dressing such as the one below, served over a bed of greens, veggies and fresh diced tofu is a great match:
You can use a pre-made dressing like the one above or make your own
If you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can take the leftover sauce in the pan, add some toasted seaweed strips, a dash of sesame oil and some rice and make a bomb-ass stir-fried rice.