Anyone who is acquainted with Korean food knows of galbi – marinated beef, pork, or chicken cooked on grill, usually ribs (galbi is Korean for “rib”) but not always, with a slew of trimmings usually comprised of garlic slivers, sliced chili, a leek slaw, and a spicy bean paste to make lettuce parcels or ssam. It’s a uniquely Korean dining experience not to mention super fresh and tasty!
On my recent trip to Korea my brother took me to Chuncheon, a city about a 2-hours’ drive away from Seoul, which is famous for its chicken galbi. Chuncheon-style galbi can go two ways – grilled over charcoal or pan-fried.
As far as I can tell, these chicken pieces were subtly flavored with a light dry rub and it seemed like the idea was to not overpower the chicken. Which is a really nice way of saying it was bland. The trimmings helped a great deal though. Plus I don’t get to charcoal grill many things anymore so this was fun and I really enjoyed the smokiness the grill lent the chicken.
To sample the pan-fried version we hit Myeongdong (not to be confused with the shopping district in Seoul) Dakgalbi Street which is – you guessed it – a street dedicated entirely to chicken galbi.
We picked the busiest restaurant on this strip and sat down to this:
Not only was this version more flavorful, it ended with fried rice. It seems frying rice in the remains of a big stew or anything saucy has been a big thing in Korean cuisine for a while now and nobody is complaining because it is downright glorious. And yes, that’s cheese. Cheese! No wonder I’m leaning towards Team Pan-Fried.
While I hope, dear reader, that you make your way to Chuncheon one day soon to experience the real thing, here’s how you can bring a taste of Chuncheon to your kitchen. This recipe serves about 4 and it’s eaten as is as opposed to as an accompaniment to rice (accompaniment to alcohol highly recommended). Because we’re saving rice for the grand finalé, remember? Mmmm.
For the chicken and marinade, you’ll need:
About 700 g boneless chicken thigh and breast, chopped (You can do all thigh if you’d like but I wouldn’t do all breast)
1 T mirin
1 T sesame oil
3 T oligodang (more on this later)
4 T gochujang (this too)
5 T gochugaru (this three)
1/4 c Sprite
3 T soy sauce
1 t curry powder (I used 1 T and it nearly overwhelmed the dish. The idea is to add a barely detectable hum of depth and flavor. Also, I used regular curry powder instead of the Korean kind. I wonder if it makes a world of difference.)
About a 1/2-inch knob of ginger (A quick tip on ginger because who eats all the ginger that they buy?? Peel, cut into 1-inch knobs, and store them in the freezer. No more tossing out dried out ginger!)
3 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
1 t salt or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
You’ll likely need to do a quick Korean grocery run for this and here’s what you’re looking for:
Gochujang is Korean chili paste, a staple at any Korean grocery store. The mirin you can pick up in most supermarkets, really. If I didn’t have it, I would substitute with another cooking wine, rice wine or soju. Korean sesame oil seems to be more intense and fragrant which is why I prefer it. Oligodang is a healthier version of corn syrup. If you’re subbing with sugar, I would maybe use 1 T and build from there to taste. Gochugaru is Korean chili powder, another staple. When choosing, go for one that’s a vibrant red.
To make the marinade, all you have to do is blitz all the above ingredients.
Put the chopped chicken in a large container. Before pouring in the marinade, set aside about 1/4 cup of the stuff to use in fried rice yay yay yay!
Cover both and refrigerate overnight so all the flavors can develop and marry.
On the day of the cook, you’ll need:
About 2 T neutral-tasting oil like canola oil
1 small cabbage, chopped
1 small sweet potato, cut into sticks
About 1 1/2 cups Korean rice cake (Available in the frozen section of Korean grocery stores)
2 stalks leek, chopped
A small bundle of sesame leaves (optional)
As much mozzarella cheese as your heart desires (mandatory)
I think the most important thing about preparing this is making sure not to overcook anything. So as long as you start with the chicken and sweet potato and wait until that’s almost cooked before adding anything else, you’ll be fine.
Once the sweet potato is nearly cooked, it’s all systems go.
Stir often to make sure everything gets coated with the sauce. And when done, let it rain cheese.
Now, because this is eaten as is, you wanna make sure that you don’t over-season your marinade. The mozzarella does a nice job of rounding out a lot of the aggressive flavors but please watch the amount of salt that you use.
For my fried rice, I took the same pan with leftover sauce and bits back to the stove and added a splash of perilla oil which is a really delicious nutty oil similar to sesame oil but better in my opinion. Also available in Korean grocery stores. I added about 3 cups of leftover rice along with diced carrot, diced onion, chopped kale, more sesame leaves, scissored toasted seaweed, and the marinade that was set aside.
Stir to mix well on medium heat. There is no need to wait for things to cook here, the objective is more like to heat everything through with an even coating of the marinade. You can totally go freestyle on this depending on what you have on hand but I do recommend some kind of green leafy vegetable. And you might as well pick up some toasted seaweed during your Korean grocery run because it’s yummy as is and in fried rice.
Oh, unhindered joy.
Frankly, I enjoyed this more than the chicken galbi itself. I would make the marinade again just to fry rice. It’s spicy and complex, nutty from the perilla oil. You should eat it hot, fresh off the stove, but there will be lots of texture still from all the fresh vegetables.
I’m glad to have taken home such a delicious food memory from Korea although my thighs are probably not too happy about my hot romance with fried rice. I’m just gonna have to plié a little harder in ballet class later. Right now though, shout out to all of you at Chuncheon – you are doing the Lord’s work.
Fun Food Fact: So I was Googling to find something interesting about chicken and I found out that said bird is the closest living relative of the T-Rex and this is old news. My mind. Is blown.