Being a Korean House habitue, it would be so easy to fall back on one’s favorites whenever I mosey up to the counter for lunch. Seafood pancakes (pa jeon), pork or chicken cutlets (donkaesu / dak donkaesu), bibimbap, and meat dumplings (mandu) are my usual choices and I’m of the opinion that if something ain’t broke, you don’t fix it.
That is, of course, till palate fatigue looms overhead and you’re looking for something that has neither been steamed nor has spent any time anywhere near a frying pan. This is the sort of occasion that calls for dak doritang.
Normally served to warm up bellies in the dead of winter, dak doritang is a chili-laced stew featuring chicken, potatoes, and white onions. The fowl is cooked till absolutely tender in chicken broth which is considerably thickened with heaps of kochujang (Korean red pepper paste, like ketchup only made with capsicums [bell peppers] and chilies) and sweetened a little with either rice syrup, rice wine, or just the teensiest bit of brown sugar. Modern Korean cooks, I’m told, use tomato ketchup (!) as a shortcut for both thickening and sweetening the sauce. Believe me when I say it sends horrified chills running down my spine, but I digress…
The funny thing here is that I have never seen dak doritang on the menu of any of the more established Korean restaurants. This, in itself, is something I find odd because similarly rustic stews such as sundubu jjigae (tofu and shellfish stew) and samgyetang (Cornish game hen or poussin boiled with ginseng and jujubes) are common offerings. Then again, I’ve not seen budae jjigae (literally: army-base stew; deli meats like luncheon meat and sausages boiled in a chili-laced pork stock) on the menus of local Korean restaurants, either.
Korean House’s dak doritang features a rich, tomatoey gravy made spicy by the addition of kochujang and dried red pepper flakes. The chicken seems to fall off the bones when prodded with the tips of one’s chopsticks or a fork and are richly flavored, almost gamy and more like quail or pigeon (!) than chicken. The potatoes are tender while the onions still have a bit of a crunch to them and are rather sweet. The gravy is a bit on the sweet side with a hint of smoky nuttiness from the addition of toasted sesame seeds; any leftover gravy should be slopped over one’s rice and consumed with completely blissful impunity.
If you love afritada (the local version of chicken stewed in tomato sauce with carrots and potatoes), this is one spin on it that you definitely must try.