Last winter, an old college friend of mine invited me and a few friends to visit her in Chuncheon. In return she offered to buy us the famous Chuncheon Dakalbi (춘천 닭갈비). Chuncheon is a city east of Seoul that is near the upper Han river and is known for it’s natural beauty – especially near the Chuncheon Dam. The city is only about an hour away from where I live so it was an easy trip to make.
Chuncheon Dak Kalbi was born in the late 60’s and became quite popular because of its taste and price. Just how popular? Guess how many restaurants there are in Chuncheon? 618!!! And population is only about 270K!?! With the abundance of chicken farms in Chuncheon, restaurants could buy the chicken at very reasonable prices which was a big plus in the 60’s or anytime I guess. Dak Kalbi (which literally means Chicken Ribs) and white meat were especially cheap at that time because white meat was not a popular cut at that time – no one worried about diets back then.
The restaurant we went to was quite full even though it was a very cold winter day and it snowed just a couple days before. But a perfect room was ready for us – a traditional Korean style ondol(온돌) room where you sit on this toasty warm floor.. Once your butt meets the ondol floor..well, you just melt onto the floor.
We ordered the Chuncheon Dak Kalbi for 4 and they brought in this large saute pan filled with chicken marinated in their special gochujang sauce. We were then instructed to cook the chicken first for a bit and then add the vegetables. Here’s a picture of their Dak Kalbi.
We cooked it until everything is soft and tender and then ate it with some ssam! Yumm.. Koreans just love to eat ssam with everything I guess. And then when you think you just can’t eat any more, they add rice to the leftover sauce and make fried rice with it!!
Much like my Soft Tofu Stew recipe, you can make the sauce first and use the leftover later.
Ingredients for Dak Kalbi Sauce
- 4 T gochujang
- 3 T Korean red chili powder (고추가루 gochukaroo)
- 1 T Korean curry powder or 1 tsp curry powder
- 1 tsp Garam masala (optional) – you can just increase curry powder instead
- 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 T Apple lemon soy sauce
- 4 tsp dark soy sauce (진간장 jinkanjang)
- 2 T red wine or 1 T mirin
- 2~3 tsp sugar
- 2 T Green plum syrup (매실액 maesil syrup) OR 2 T rice malt syrup + 2 tsp vinegar
- 1 T sesame oil
- 2 T Garlic pear seasoning paste
Make the sauce for Chuncheon Dak Kalbi by mixing all of the above.
*In case you don’t have some of my special ingredients:
Instead of 2 T Apple Lemon soy sauce + 4 tsp dark soy sauce, substitute
- 3 T dark soy sauce
- 3 T sweet rice wine (mirin)
- 2 tsp sugar
Instead of 2 T Garlic Pear Seasoning paste, substitute
- 1 T chopped garlic
- ½ tsp chopped ginger
Servings: 4 Cooking Time: Prep 15 + Cook 25 min Difficulty: Moderate
Ingredients for Chuncheon Dak Kalbi
- Approx 1/2 of the sauce or more to taste
- 1 ½ lb chicken (thigh + breast)
- 6 oz sweet potato (heaping 1 C when cut – see pic)
- 6 oz cabbage (4 C when cut)
- 1 onion
- 3~4 oz rice cake (ovals or ttoekbokki)
- 3 green onions or 1 Korean large green onions (대파 Daepa)
- 6~10 perilla leaves (깻잎 Kkaetnip)
- Remove fat and skin(optional) from chicken into bite size pieces.
- Marinate chicken with the sauce. Use about 1/2 of the sauce to coat all the chicken. Leave chicken for 1 hour or overnight.
- Peel onions and sweet potato. Cut onions, cabbage into roughly 1 inch squares. Cut sweet potatoes into 1 inch squares 1/3 inch thick. Slice green onions.
- Cut perilla leaves into 1/2 in strips.
- Heat pan and add chicken, rice cakes and sweet potato.I used my favorite Staub sauté pan here but you can use whatever pan available. Make sure it’s not too shallow. Add 3 T water and sauté on medium heat for about 5 minutes.
- Add remaining vegetables (cabbage, green onions, onions) and sauté on medium heat for 10~12 min until chicken is fully cooked. Taste and add more sauce if necessary. *I added about 2 T additional sauce to taste.
- This is when it’s fully cooked.
- Finish the dish by adding cut perilla and optionally some toasted sesame seeds.
Serve with rice.You can also eat it with some ssam and it will taste even better.
For an extra treat, finish the meal by making fried rice with drippings from the pan and any leftover chicken from the table. Add some remaining ssam lettuce if you’d like as you see in the picture above.
The unique taste of this dish comes from the slight hint of curry flavor hidden behind Korean gochujang sauce. Korean curry powder contains only about 10% actual curry spices so the flavor is much milder compared to the original curry powder mix so be careful not to add too much when you are using real curry spices otherwise you may end up with Chicken curry instead!