Korean Stew

Galbi-jjim 갈비찜 (Korean Beef Short-rib Stew)

Winter is almost upon us here in South Africa, and with that fresh Northwesterly blowing through the valley, comes the knowledge that it’s time to start thinking about bowls of stew in front of the fireplace again.

Unlike most people I know, I revel in colder climes, loving the darker days and promise of icy rains. With that in mind, it’s hardly surprising to know that I enjoy nothing more than spending such days fussing over a bubbling pot of hearty concoctions. Epitomising winter food for so many of us, the humble stew is perhaps arguably the most universal form of cooking. Across the globe, from Inuit blubber stew to the Seychellois fruit bat civet de chauve souris, almost every culture has a stew or two in their collective repertoire.

Though typically regarded as fermenters and grill masters, Koreans are no exception with an array of stews designed to get them through their harsh winters.  Dak-dori-tang (spicy chicken) and kimchijjigae (pork & kimchi) are both classics examples and a bowl of either would warm you right up. Their spicy nature, however, isn’t to everyone’s taste. Traditionally milder in flavour, galbi-jjim is no less hearty, but without the heartburn.

Sweet, rich, and savoury, galbi-jjim is traditionally made with beef short ribs, which are braised till fork-tender and the beef has rendered its flavour into the sauce. Simply served with a bowl of steaming rice and some aged mak kimchi on the side, this stew is a cure for even the darkest winter-blues.

It may be true to say that both dak-dori-tang and kimchi-jjigae ignite a fire in your belly, but equally galbi-jjim is like finding a hot water bottle at the bottom of a chilly bed.

Now to my mind, that’s my ultimate winter-bliss – Korean-style.

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Dak-dori-tang 닭도리탕 (Korean Spicy Chicken Stew)

North or South, Koreans share a universal love for spicy food, and it doesn’t get much more fiery than this hearty stew.

Dak-dori-tang (spicy chicken stew), also known as dak-bokkeum-tang, is a perennial Korean classic, and though the recipe varies across the peninsula it is almost always both fierce and comforting at the same time. Traditionally made from a whole chopped chicken, onions and potato, the recipe can be adapted to your tastes and needs. Though skinned chicken breasts can be used, I personally prefer using boned thighs – they hold up better against the robust sauce, and don’t tend to dry out during the intense cooking process. With regards to the vegetables, again the recipe can be modified to include almost anything you have to hand: carrots, daikon, leeks – all make excellent additions.

Though classified as a stew, dak-dori-tang is actually more of a braise as the liquid is reduced over a high heat, leaving you with a thick and spicy sauce. As the cooking time is quite short (about 30 minutes), it is best to par-cook the harder vegetables before adding them to the sauce. If you opt to use bone-in chicken, it is important to use equal size pieces, making sure that they are well-browned beforehand and you adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Dak-dori-tang 닭도리탕 (Korean Spicy Chicken Stew)

Dak-dori-tang made with chicken pieces on the bone.

Although spicy by nature, dak-dori-tang is no less delicious when made slightly milder, if preferred. Despite their volcanic appearance, Korean chili powder (gochutgaru) and chili paste (gochujang) are actually not anywhere near as hot as they look, making it is quite easy to adjust the dish’s heat without being at the expense of flavour. They actually add a wonderful earthy, smoky undertone, and are definitely worth a trip down to your nearest Asian Supermarket. Though generally quite expensive, both have a very long shelf-life and if you plan to make Korean food they are essential Pantry items. Keep an eye out for Chinese brands as these are often considerably cheaper than their Korean counterparts, with no discernible difference in taste. On that note, a word of warning: under no circumstances should you substitute gochutgaru with any other type of chili powder. Anything else will be way too hot and will undoubtedly be the ruin of your dinner.

Disaster awaits all who are even tempted to try…

For more Korean recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here.

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Serve with: freshly cooked white rice along with a select of banchan (Korean side dishes) – I suggest some simple stir-fried cabbage and, of course, a generous portion of mak kimchi!

Click here for the recipe