Korean

This Spicy, One-Pot Chicken & Potato Stew Is a Blaze of Korean Comfort

My mother walks me through dakdoritang, a winter weeknight stalwart.

by:
February  4, 2019
Dakdoritang, a spicy chicken dinner with potatoes and carrots. Photo by Ty Mecham

When I'm in Atlanta at my mother's house, I like to pretend to not know how to cook certain Korean dishes just so we can spend time together. I say "pretend" because Maangchi—whom The New York Times once coined "YouTube's Korean Julia Child"—already has most things written down along with video tutorials, blueprints I've always been able to tweak slightly to taste memory.

But this structured, high-quality bonding serves another purpose: to appease my mother. "Other sons call their mothers twice a day" and "A mother never stops thinking of her children" are among the many things she likes to tell me when I'm home. If you knew my mother, then you'd know that there's nothing more important to her than quality time with her sons. Cooking together is one of the few ways I know to provide this.

What started off as a way to satisfy my mother, however, turned into a lifelong mission to write down her recipes. I've realized over the years that there will come a day when I can no longer ask her how to cook these dishes, the ones I truly don't know how to cook. And even the ones I do know how to cook, I'll have to work out how to make them taste like hers without being able to call her and finesse the details. Details like: Do you add potatoes to your doenjang jjigae? How much butter goes into your kimchi fried rice? Can you walk me through the gaejang marinade again?

On my most recent visit to Atlanta, as my mother and I sat at the breakfast table drinking coffee together, I asked, "Do you add gochujang to your dakdoritang (a spicy Korean chicken stew with potatoes)?"

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Top Comment:
“Thank you so much for sharing your mom’s spicy chicken stew recipe. It’s one of my favorite Korean dishes. Like you I find it more meaningful cooking with my mom, because there’ll be time when you can’t call her for recipes or how she made a certain dish. I think I appreciate her more as an adult and now as mother. Love reading your stories about you and your family. Please keep sharing more recipes and your stories:)”
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"Sometimes," she said. "Sometimes I just do gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder) and soy sauce. But gochujang adds sweetness and makes the broth thicker, if you want that."

I wanted that.

"Did you know that gochujang was one of the most searched Google food terms last year?" I mentioned. "Americans love it now."

"Really?" she said, surprised. "Isn't it spicy for them?"

"I guess not."

We decided to make the stew for dinner that night. I could tell this got her excited, because she was meticulous with each step. Even at the grocery store, where I helped her pick out the perfect chicken drumsticks, plump and ready to be stewed, she had a bounce in her step. I could've sworn I saw her lick her lips like one of those cartoon wolves spying on prey. I laughed as I thought of my dad (who's in my phone as a chicken emoji, his Chinese zodiac), and how perfect it is that my mother, ever fierce and cat-like, was born in the Year of the Tiger.

I love grocery-shopping with my tiger mom. Cooking with her is also a moment for me to teach her little things I've picked up in my life. When we got home with our groceries, for instance, I showed her my chef's trick for making drumsticks look nicer: With a very sharp chef's knife, I cut off a small piece from the bone end of the leg, held the chicken meat-side down (bone-side up), and using my fingers, pushed the meat down to create a little chicken lollipop. I like to do this for presentation, but also for texture: This way, you don't have to deal with the little chewy cartilage at the bottom end of the meat, which makes for easier eating.

After we prepped the drumsticks, I watched her poach them for 5 minutes, then rinse them immediately under the tap.

"Why did you do that?" I asked.

"To get rid of the chicken smell," she said, matter-of-factly. "Also, this gives the meat a nice texture." I thought it all sounded like a load of hoo-ha, but I wrote it down anyway.

The sauce was the funniest part. Since we were trying to get the recipe down on paper, I watched her chop up all the vegetables, pause, and rethink the amounts (a hesitation I had never seen before). She fumbled with the plastic measuring spoons and cups, holding up a pink one to say "This much" and a blue one to say "Whatever this is." She looked like she had never used them in her life.

In the end, as we waited for the stew to come to a simmer and for the potatoes to finish cooking, we put on some white rice and played her favorite record, something from Joan Baez.

I've realized over the years that there will come a day when I can no longer ask her how to cook these dishes, the ones I truly don't know how to cook. And even the ones I do know how to cook, I'll have to work out how to make them taste like hers without being able to call her and finesse the details.

When we sat to dinner, she took a bite and said, "This is the taste."

I took a bite, and she was right—it was the taste. Dakdoritang is hot, spicy, and bold like my mother, but also sweet (from the gochujang and carrots). Love is not an ingredient here according to the FDA, but time is. It's crazy to me that in just 40 minutes, you can have a stew as penetrating with flavor as this one. After the fiery-red chicken, the potatoes are probably the best part, and the most comforting to eat. They almost fall apart in the broth and make it even thicker.

Lastly, it's important to serve with fresh white rice—soft, fluffy relief from the heat—because is there anything better than starch on starch in the winter?

When's the last time you cooked with your mother? Let us know in the comments below.
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Eric Kim is the Senior Editor and 'Table for One' columnist at Food52. Formerly the Digital Manager of FoodNetwork.com, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson Kim. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway.

28 Comments

TWoo April 22, 2019
This was dinner tonight and I have a lot of leftover sauce with two more pieces of chicken for lunch tomorrow (okay, and maybe lunch the day after too)….I cut back on the gochugaru and used heaping spoons of the gochujang and one jalapeno with seeds. I could have taken it hotter. :-)
 
some1105 March 25, 2019
This is delicious. I've now made it twice in the past two weeks--Instant Pot version, with a few tweaks: I've been using chicken thighs, just because I have tons in my freezer, and doubling the gochujang and 1.5x the gochugaru, because I love the flavor so much. Next time I'm going to double the veg too just to stretch it a bit further. There's plenty of amazing sauce to go around. Also the most "instant" recipe I've ever had for the instant pot--no fussy cuts or multiple steps. In less than three minutes of active work time, I have dinner for the whole week. Thank you for the great recipe!
 
Bella95 February 24, 2019
This sounds wonderful. Will definitely be trying this. Not sure how many of the spices l'll be able to find here in New Zealand so am already googling spice hacks. I used to rent rooms to foreigners and was lucky enough to have a Korean woman ask if she could rent a room from me, for herself and her young daughter, for a couple of months so they could practice their English. What a joy they were, (they were SOO lovely l actually cried when they left). We all shared meals and took turns to cook but, joy of joys, Hae-Sung not only loved to cook but she cooked superb Korean dishes most of which l'd never tasted. Still think about her bulgogi and bibimbap and don't get me started on the joys of kimchi (thank goodness l CAN get that here.) Lol.
 
Keith S. February 23, 2019
This very moment: blissfully eating, cold, straight from the bowl, this inaugural dokdoritang...constructed with one apostasy--Turkish isot biber instead of gochugaru, because it was there. Does anyone know offhand how their Scovilles compare? My iteration isn't ferociously spicy, but rather marvelously savory.
 
susan February 22, 2019
damn eric. so much of what you wrote resonated with me. i can no longer ask my mom about her recipes because she's forgotten them all. : ( her nengmyun in the only one i will love till the day i die. no restauran'ts nengmyun will ever compare to hers. i laughed when you wrote how she paused and held up measuring utensils to say "this one". so korean. i'm so american in that i need precise measurements for everything. another great read. i'm gonna try your chicken for the hubs next week. keep em coming!
 
Katherine L. February 10, 2019
Thank you so much for sharing your mom’s spicy chicken stew recipe. It’s one of my favorite Korean dishes. Like you I find it more meaningful cooking with my mom, because there’ll be time when you can’t call her for recipes or how she made a certain dish. I think I appreciate her more as an adult and now as mother. Love reading your stories about you and your family. Please keep sharing more recipes and your stories:)
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 10, 2019
Thank you so much, Katherine.
 
belovedofgd February 8, 2019
Thank you so much for sharing this, it was a lovely remembrance of learning to cook and sharing recipes with my own mother, who has passed about 15 years ago, but who still shares her presence with us every holiday and birthday through food. She would’ve loved this recipe and I will make it for my kids and grandkids in her memory. Blessings
 
R February 7, 2019
This article melted my heart as much as it made my crave the the stew! I am one of those recent converts to gochujang, very excited to have another recipe to enjoy it in! How much would I use of the paste in lieu of the powder? Thank you!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 7, 2019
The stew is so spicy it may melt your heart, too!

Thank you for reading, R. In lieu of the powder, I'd add a tablespoon or two more of gochujang. But really, at the end of the day, all of the sauce amounts are according to taste. So add a bit, taste it, and adjust.
 
Colleen February 6, 2019
Love this! Definitely will try to make this soon. If there's anything that can get my mom excited, it's talking about how she makes Korean dishes because it's her culinary forte. I think it's especially because I shied away from eating Korean food growing up (sorry Mom), but now that I'm grown up and far from home I've learned to crave and enjoy it a lot more. 😭 When I first moved, I'd FaceTime her a lot from H-mart to figure out which Korean ingredient brands to buy. The last time I cooked with her was for Thanksgiving -- she still gets annoyed at the minor mess I make in the kitchen but it was nice having that exchange you mentioned, her with her homegrown Korean food expertise, me with my (minor) pasta and potato know-how.
 
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Eric K. February 6, 2019
I love "pasta and potato know-how."
 
Sarah D. February 5, 2019
Love the article! It is so true that one day our older relatives will not be here anymore and we won't be able to ask them questions. I used to cook with my grandmother almost everyday, or at least observe and taste her food, cuz you know, there needs to be a taste tester in the kitchen. ;) I so regret not learning how to make her spicy gomgook she used to make that was the hit with every Korean person we knew in Dallas! AH! All I know is that she boiled the oxtail and bones to make a bone broth, but I don't know how she made it spicy. It also had oxtail, fernbrake, and tripe. Ha...it was probably her own version of gomgook cuz I don't know other people who have ever eaten it before and my mom doesn't really cook that often since my grandmother lived with us. The last time I cooked with my mom was probably 10 or 12 years ago...O_O
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 6, 2019
Thanks for sharing, Sarah. Your grandmother's gomgook sounds incredible.
 
weshook February 5, 2019
I love starch on starch! And spicy too. Sounds very delicious...I'll be trying this soon.
 
weshook February 5, 2019
Also, I kind of like that bit of cartilage at the end...
 
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Eric K. February 6, 2019
It is nice and chewy.
 
JDM February 4, 2019
Hello. Thanks for sharing the recipe, but please tell me, what is gochujang and where might I purchase it?
 
Anita February 4, 2019
Hi JDM! Gochujang is a fermented red pepper paste used in many Korean dishes. You can find it at your local East Asian grocery store but definitely online too! It's easily amazon-able but also available through Korean-specific websites. Google will help you! I hope you like it!
 
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Eric K. February 6, 2019
Thank you, Anita! JDM, good luck! Let me know if you have any other questions about the recipe.
 
Whiteantlers February 4, 2019
"...because is there anything better than starch on starch in the winter?..."

Truer words were never written! : )
 
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Eric K. February 6, 2019
Indeed.
 
bhilz February 4, 2019
Your recipe has me salivating, and as an added bonus I'm now cascading down the delightful rabbit hole that is Maangchi's youtube channel! Really enjoyed this article.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 6, 2019
She's great, isn't she?
 
Ella Q. February 4, 2019
Eric, such a sweet piece. Can't wait to try this at home.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 6, 2019
Thanks, Ella!
 
Cynthia C. February 4, 2019
My mother passed away in 2001, but all of my favorite memories are from cooking with her. Mandu, Galbi, Jap Chae, Galbi Jjim, and Spam and kimchi fried rice are just a few of the dishes I’m passing on to my daughters. I even teach them in my mother’s “voice” yelling “you put this much!!”
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 6, 2019
Oh yeah, the "mother's voice" is key.