Cooking in Korea is always an adventure, at least partially because there’s nowhere to do it. Our kitchen doesn’t even come with countertops—just a sad little spot by the sink for the occasional dirty dish. Of course, after we moved in we didn’t leave it like that. We press-ganged a table and desk into serving as cooking space. We turned a bookshelf into our spice rack. And, lacking a better idea, we tossed the oven on top of the fridge. Well, it was either that or out in the hallway.
But now we can cook. If we’re careful. And we don’t mind our kitchen turning into Dresden.
All this means is that when we make something, it’s got to be damn well worth it—worth finding flour in the light fixtures and bits of onion in the shoes by the door. Worth doing the dishes four times just so we have enough bowls, or taking a shower to get flecks of dough out of my back hair.
I’m saying we have to really like something before we’re willing to make it ourselves. It’s got to be “chocolate cake while watching sad TV” good, the kind of food that fills the emptiness in one’s soul.
And with that, let me share a recipe for our favorite Korean dish, something we make weekly, we enjoy it so much.
(Before I begin, this recipe is adapted from the Eat Your Kimchi recipe, presented here)
Dakgalbi is essentially spicy Korean chicken stir-fry. And it is just as delicious as that sounds. At the end of this post, I will lay out a simplified recipe, with all the steps and cooking times. But for now, I want to talk about a few of the more unusual ingredients. Especially the ones that might be hard to find outside Korea.
Which, I will admit, probably looks like all of them. Bear with me. While most of the stuff in that photo is in almost any grocery store, there are a few tricky items. I’m going to lay out the 6 most unusual ingredients, where you can find them, and (in some cases) what you might be able to use instead.
(BTW, these are not affiliate links. Just suggestions for the desperate.)
1: Gochugaru 고추가루.
Gochugaru is Korean chili pepper powder. It doesn’t have the same kick as Mexican or Indian chilis; it’s a slow-fuse kind of burn and a smokey, spicy flavor. You should be able to find this at any Asian market that sells Korean ingredients. Alternatively, you can buy it from Amazon for a surprisingly reasonable price. If you absolutely can’t find it, you can try to substitute it with cayenne or red pepper powder, but note that you will need to use considerably less. Think teaspoons instead of tablespoons.
2: Gochujang, 고추장.
Gochujang is Korean chili paste. There really isn’t a substitute. Supposedly, according to the internet, you can make your own using more readily available ingredients (specifically, red pepper, soy sauce, and a little sugar mixed into a paste), but I’ve never tried this. Honestly, gochujang is so integral to Korean cuisine that any Asian market should carry it. Alternatively, Amazon again has some available. It lasts for years in the fridge even after you’ve opened it, so it’s worth the purchase if you want to get into Korean cooking at all.
(Word of warning: gochugaru and gochujang are DEEPLY SPICY. You’ll have to experiment to figure out what your tolerance is. If you don’t like super spicy foods, maybe start with half of what the recipe calls for and taste test when things are nice and cooked. You can always add more, but once it’s in, it’s in for good.)
(Secondary word of warning: never tell a Korean you like gochu. It’s slang for something else entirely.)
3: Tteok, 떡.
Tteok is Korean rice cakes. They add a spongy, chewy texture to a meal, and they happily soak up flavor from any sauce. In this case, I’m NOT linking to the $7.00 for 200 grams rice cake on Amazon. Because THAT’s ridiculous. I can buy 500 grams for $1.50 at the corner store. Admittedly, that’s in Korea, but I assume an Asian market would carry this for a more reasonable price. And if you just can’t get them, udon noodles or plain ramen noodles can substitute quite nicely.
4: Korean Yellow Curry Powder, 카레가루.
I know what you’re thinking. Why is he calling out curry powder like it’s some kind of rare ingredient? Everybody has curry! To which I say, true, true, but Korean curry is… different. I don’t know what they do to it, but it’s sweeter than most other types, and has almost no heat. You can substitute a Japanese curry, but it will probably have a darker flavor. Other types of curry powders will probably have heat mixed in, so take that into consideration when trying to balance your flavors. Check out your Asian market for brands. The link at the beginning of this description goes to a page talking about the Ottogi brand of yellow curry powder, which is the most common type in Korea. We buy ours in bullion cubes.
Obviously, this picture has cabbage, sweet potatoes and garlic as well, but for the moment, let’s just focus on the mushrooms and the leaves.
It’s possible enoki and perilla are commonly available now outside Korea and Japan. I don’t remember them, but it’s been a while. If you can’t find enoki, any mushroom that adds a nice bit of crunch and earthiness will work for this part of the recipe.
And perilla has a flavor a little like mint. I’ve never actually tried that substitution, however, so I have no idea how well it would work. Instead, I recommend skipping the perilla if you can’t get access to the leaves. It’s awesome, but it’s more of a flourish than an integral part.
Okay, everything else should be pretty straightforward, so ON TO THE RECIPE!!!
Approximate preparation and cooking time: 30 minutes
Makes 4 servings
1 cube Korean yellow curry OR 2 1/2 tablespoons Korean curry powder
1 cup of hot water
2 tablespoons gochujang (or to taste)
2 tablespoons mirin
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons gochugaru (or to taste)
1 tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
7 cloves minced garlic (Yes, really.)
2 teaspoons of sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon of powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
500 grams chicken, or slightly more than 1 pound.
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 cups of roughly chopped green cabbage
1 cup tteok
1 cup of enoki mushrooms (approximate)
6 perilla leaves, chopped
1/4 cup green olives (This technically makes it fusion cuisine.)
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
sesame seeds, to sprinkle as garnish
1: Add the curry cube/powder to the hot water. Mix and set aside. It is not important that the powder completely dissolves at this stage, but get it started.
2: Take gochujang, mirin, gochugaru, honey, soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, ginger, salt and pepper and add together in a large bowl. Add the previously prepared curry powder/water blend.
3: Dice chicken into roughly 1 inch cubes. Add this to the sauce mixture prepared in step 2 and set aside. You’re going to give this a few minutes to marinate in the sauce.
4: Heat a small amount of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Then add the sweet potatoes and 1/4 of the cabbage. Cover and cook until the sweet potatoes are soft. This should take about 5 minutes.
5: Add the sauce/chicken mixture and remaining cabbage to the pan. Mix well. Turn heat down to medium low. Cover and let cook for 15 minutes.
6: While this is cooking, soak the tteok in hot water for 5 minutes. Drain.
7: After 15 minutes, check the mixture. If it is dry (sticking to the pan), add about 1/2 cup of water and mix thoroughly. Then add the tteok to the frying pan. There has to be a good amount of sauce in the pan because the tteok will soak up some of the moisture. Mix, cover, and allow to cook for 5 more minutes.
8: Check the mixture. It should still have some sauce to it, and the tteok should be soft enough to cut in half with a wooden spoon. If it isn’t, cover and cook for another 1-2 minutes (feel free to add a bit more water as necessary).
9: Once the tteok is soft enough, add the mushrooms and green olives. Cover and cook 2-3 minutes more.
10: Sprinkle the perilla, mozzarella, and sesame seeds over the top. Cover and let cook for another 1-2 minutes, until the cheese is thoroughly melted and gooey.
11: Serve directly from the frying pan.
PS: We made irresponsible quantities of chocolate cake as well. Mostly because I mentioned chocolate cake earlier and that put us in the mood.
…all that chocolate…
…and chocolate frosting…
…and if you’ll excuse me, I have to take a trip to our fridge now.
PPS: Tried out the recipe? We’d love to hear from you! Pop over to our Facebook page and leave us a comment!