A spicy stir-fried chicken dish made with boneless chicken pieces, rice cakes (tteokbokki tteok), green cabbage, sweet potato, and other vegetables. It’s a restaurant favorite in Korea that you can easily recreate at home!
What is dakgalbi?
Dakgalbi (닭갈비), or dak galbi, is a spicy stir-fried chicken dish made with boneless chicken pieces, rice cakes (tteokbokki tteok, 떡볶이떡), and some vegetables. Dak means chicken, and galbi means ribs. But, there are no ribs in this dish. Back in the day, pork ribs (dweji galbi) were too expensive for everyday grilling, so a restaurant cook created a similarly flavored dish with chicken instead and called it dakgalbi.
This spicy chicken dish originated in Chuncheon (춘천), a city in Gangwon Province (강원도), in the 1960’s, hence the dish is also known as Chuncheon dakgalbi. During one of my trips to Korea, I took a day trip to Chuncheon with a couple of friends. I always loved this dish I had in Seoul, but I wanted to experience the dish where it was born.
Chuncheon is a small city which is about an hour driving distance from Seoul. It’s a beautiful city with mountains and lakes and numerous dakgalbi restaurants. We went to the famous dakgalbi alley with a high concentration of restaurants. We picked the one that looked busy from the outside. It was past lunch time, but the place was still bustling.
How is it served?
The Chuncheon restaurant we visited had each table equipped with a gas stove and a large round grill pan, which is pretty standard at typical dakgalbi restaurants. We ordered 3 servings. Shortly after, the waitress brought out a tray full of red spicy marinated chicken, freshly cut cabbage, sweet potatoes, and rice cakes. She then dumped everything on to the pan that was being preheated in the middle of the table. The chicken started to sizzle immediately, and the smell was incredible. We had to patiently wait for everything to be cooked through, stirring occasionally.
This restaurant experience can easily be recreated at home with a large skillet and a portable gas stove.
When the rice cakes and sweet potato pieces turn tender, the chicken is also ready. Dakgalbi is usually served with some lettuce leaves and ssamjang. Enjoy it wrapped in lettuce and/or perilla leaves with a dollop of ssamjang. Delicious!!
Typically, dak galbi is not served with rice, but it’s customary to mix in some rice into the leftovers at the end to make fried rice. At restaurants, you have to order the rice separately to do this. But, it’s a must to try!
Chicken: I usually use boneless chicken thighs, but de-boned chicken leg meat is also commonly used for this dish. Dark meat works best for this recipe, but you can certainly use chicken breast if preferred.
Rice cakes: Tteokbokki (spicy stir-fried rice cake) tteok makes this dish very filling and comforting.
Vegetables: The classic vegetables for this dish include green cabbage, goguma (고구마, Korean sweet potato), kkaennip (깻잎, perilla leaves), and scallions. You can substitute Korean sweet potato with other white or orange sweet potato or regular potato.
Dakgalbi sauce: The sauce is made with a few basic Korean staples, such as gochugaru, gochujang, soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, garlic, ginger, etc. It also contains Korean curry powder, which is a powder form of curry sauce mix for curry rice, adds a distinct layer of flavor and a umami boost.
How to make dakgalbi
Once you have the chicken and vegetables cut up, this dakgalbi recipe comes together very quickly. Marinate the chicken in the spicy sauce. Reserve some sauce if you’re going to make fried rice at the end.
Then, you just cook everything up, except perilla leaves and scallions, for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat if the ingredients (especially the rice cakes) stick to the pan and brown too fast. The steam from the vegetables should keep them from sticking to the pan, but you can also add a little bit of water if it gets too dry.
Finally, add the kkaennip and scallion and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes until the rice cake and the sweet potato pieces turn soft. By then the chicken should be cooked through as well.
These days, cheese dakgalbi is highly popular. Some restaurant dakgalbi pans in Korea even have a section for cheese. Mozzarella is typical, but you can use pizza blend or any of your favorite cheeses. Use as much as you want! If using, add it with 2 to 3 minutes remaining at the end.
Dak Galbi (Spicy Stir-fried Chicken)Main Course
- 1 pound boneless and skinless chicken thighs
- 8 ounces green cabbage
- 1 small Korean sweet potato (goguma 고구마), about 6 ounces
- 8 ounces tteokbokki tteok 떡볶기 떡 (10 to 12 pieces), rice cakes
- 6 - 8 kkaennip (깻잎), perilla leaves
- 2 scallions
- 1/2 cup shredded cheese (mozzarella, pizza blend, etc.) or more to taste -- optional
- green or red leaf lettuce and ssamjang - optional see note
- 2 tablespoons gochugaru, 고추가루 Use 1 to 1.5 TBS for less spicy dish
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon Korean curry powder 카레가루 Powder form of curry sauce mix
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice wine
- 1/2 tablespoon corn or oligo syrup (or more sugar)
- 2 tablespoons gochujang, 고추장
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
Optional fried rice:
- 2 servings cooked rice
- 1 tablespoon dak galbi sauce reserved
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 sheet roasted gim (김), dried seaweed sheet
- 1 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds
- Soak the rice cakes in cold water for about 20 minutes.
- Mix all the sauce ingredients well in a bowl.
- Cut the chicken into bite size pieces.
- Combine the chicken pieces with the sauce (reserving one tablespoon if you’re going to make fried rice at the end) and marinate while preparing vegetables.
- Cut the sweet potato in half lengthwise and then thinly slice crosswise and slightly diagonally. Cut the cabbage, kkaennip, and scallion into small pieces.
- Heat a pan over medium high heat. You can add a tablespoon of oil if you want, but it should not be necessary. Add the chicken, sweet potatoes, rice cakes, and cabbages. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat if the ingredients (especially the rice cakes) stick to the pan and browns too fast. The steam from the vegetables should keep them from sticking to the pan, but you can also add about 1/4 cup of water.
- Add the kkaennip and scallion and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes until the rice cake and the sweet potato pieces turn soft. By then the chicken should be cooked through as well. If using cheese, you can add it in this step with 2 to 3 minutes remaining.
Optional Fried Rice
- Reheat the pan over medium heat with any leftover chicken and vegetables and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil. Add the rice to the pan along with the reserved sauce. Stir constantly until everything is well incorporated and the clumped up rice is broken up, about 5 minutes. You can add a little bit of soy sauce or gochujang if you need more seasoning. Scrape up the flavorful brown bits from the pan while stirring. Tear or crumble the dried seaweed sheet (gim) into small pieces, and stir into the rice. Finish off with the sesame seeds and a drizzle of sesame oil if you want.
This dakgalbi recipe was originally posted in November 2014. I’ve updated it with new photos, more information, and minor adjustments to the recipe.