Dak Kalbi: Korean for Barbecued Chicken

by Terry B on May 10, 2017

Chicken thighs are marinated with soy sauce, mirin, fresh ginger, garlic, kiwi and other flavorings, then pan roasted for this take on Dak Kalbi, Korean barbecued chicken. recipe below.

Pan Roasted Kalbi Chicken Thighs

Tacos just always seem to lead to good things. This weekend, we had an uncharacteristically lazy Sunday, running a few errands and doing some shopping along Michigan Avenue. When we finished, I remarked that we were close to Del Seoul, the Korean taco joint in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Well, three miles as the Camry flies, close enough. As always, we had a wonderful lunch there. And I found the inspiration for this week’s recipe.

Korean tacos began in Los Angeles, a delicious mashup of Korean street food and Mexican tortillas. Brother-and-sister team Pete and Irene Jeon introduced these delights to Chicago when they opened Del Seoul in 2010. Marion and I have been going there pretty much since they opened.

They offer several Korean tacos as well as a number of other dishes, including Korean “banh mi” sandwiches, steaming bibimbop in stone bowls and even a version of poutine fries. But my eyes never get past the taco menu. And one taco I always, always order is the kalbi grilled beef short rib taco, with cilantro-onion relish, secret slaw and toasted sesame seeds.

Sitting happily hunched over my tacos, I thought it would be good to try some kind of kalbi beef recipe for Blue Kitchen. Not tacos and not grilled, but something using the basic ingredients—perhaps on the stovetop, perhaps in the oven. Checking our archives later, I was impressed (appalled) to see we had already done it. More specifically, that butcher Chris Tucker had done a guest post here three years ago, preparing Kalbi Beef Short Ribs, which we later barbecued.

So next, I wondered how a Kalbi marinade for the ribs would work with chicken. Moments of research (my code name for Google) told me that not only would it work, but that it was a thing. Dak kalbi, Korean barbecued chicken.

Ingredients, cooking methods and even parts of the chicken vary wildly for dak kalbi recipes. (So does the name for that matter—dak galbi and dak-galbi are big favorites, especially for a stir-fry version.) Some recipes are fiery, some pack no heat. Some are how-my-mother-always-made-it authentic, but vague (one recipe lists ingredients, but not amounts for anything—not kidding); others sound woefully inauthentic even to my Western eyes.

As usual, I borrowed ideas from numerous recipes and threw in some of my own. The list of ingredients may seem intimidating at first glance, but most are things you already have or can easily acquire. And the process is straightforward. Chop some things, throw them in a blender. Let the chicken marinate in the resulting sauce. Start the chicken in a pan, finish it in the oven. Top the chicken with seeds and scallion greens. Easy. Also delicious.

Pan-roasted Korean Kalbi Chicken Thighs
Serves 4

1 kiwi (or 1/2 apple), chopped
1 generous tablespoon minced fresh ginger (about 1 inch)
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 scallions, white and green parts sliced (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup soy sauce, preferably reduced sodium
1/2 cup mirin (see Kitchen Notes for substitute)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, trimmed (about 2 pounds)
olive oil

1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
additional scallion greens, for garnish

Prepare the marinade. Combine kiwi, ginger, garlic and sliced scallions in a food processor. Pulse to roughly chop and blend together. Add soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, maple syrup, rice vinegar and sugar. Blend until smooth.

Marinate the chicken. Place chicken thighs in a zipper-topped plastic bag and pour in marinade. Seal bag and squoosh it around to coat chicken. Let chicken marinate at least 3 hours in the fridge, turning the bag a time or two. Preferably let it marinate longer, but not overnight (that’s just too long). I got up a little early on a workday morning and prepared the marinade. That evening, I cooked the chicken.

Cook the chicken. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Heat a little oil in a large, oven-safe skillet over a medium-high flame. remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off any excess, and place it in the skillet sin side down. Discard marinade. Brown chicken skin side down for 5 to 7 minutes, then turn. Brown the flesh side for 2 minutes and transfer pan to oven. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer registers at least 165ºF (check about 12 minutes in, so you don’t overcook it).

Meanwhile, toast the sesame seeds. Place in a dry, cold, medium nonstick skillet. Heat over medium flame, stirring frequently to avoid burning, until just golden—3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Thinly slice green scallion tops at an angle for garnish. Set aside.

Transfer chicken thighs to a platter and sprinkle with sesame seeds and scallion tops. Serve.

Kitchen Notes

Mirin substitutes. Mirin is a Japanese sweet rice wine, a condiment staple in Japanese cooking (and in other Asian cuisines). We always have it on hand, but not everyone does. You can substitute white wine, dry vermouth or dry sherry, adding about a tablespoon of sugar to the 1/2 cup the recipe calls for. You can also use apple juice if you’re avoiding alcohol.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

John/Kitchen Riffs May 10, 2017 at 8:21 am

We have a pretty good Korean taco place within a half hour walk of our house. Good stuff! This is such a pretty dish (the plate helps!). Nice flavors, fun idea — thanks.

Dani H May 10, 2017 at 9:06 pm

I’m afraid I’m a taco snob and will only eat them with shredded beef or pork though it doesn’t matter whether the tortillas are corn or flour.

That said, this sounds delicious as do the beef ribs.

Thanks for another great recipe, Terry.

Roger May 11, 2017 at 8:44 am

Bobbie does a lot of things with chicken thighs that I dearly love. I’m sure she would love to give this a whirl. Thanks to Marion and you, we have sampled the delights of Del Seoul when we have visited Chicago. My first experience with Korean food was in 1978 at the the Chop Chae on Clark St in Rogers Park. Loving it ever since. We just returned from London where in our wanderings, we found The Petite Corre by the West Hampstead tube station. Thought it was your French bistro type of place, but it was Korean with a Frencb influence. Tremendous!

Thank you for this recipe. R 😛

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