My mom has been enjoying the adventures of Rooftop Prince, so for her 52nd birthday, she wanted to come over, watch a few episodes, try a new Korean recipe, and hang out with us. My dad was in a golf tournament in the morning but she and my youngest sister pulled into the driveway at 11:23 a.m., ready to go. Aaron and I were already in the kitchen working on Dakgangjeong (닭강정). We settled on it since the ingredient list looked amazing, and mom had requested something with poultry for the sake of variety as she tried Bulgogi for the first time last week. (Last week was the first time she realized she loved rice. She had never made anything but the instant kind and had no idea the difference between it and the real stuff.)
What is Dakgangjeong? If you’ve never had it, you are missing out on one of life’s great joys. It’s a crunchy fried Korean chicken recipe with a sweet, sour, and spicy sauce that can become semi-candied. Done right, there is a pleasant, intense burn that is created when you cook chili peppers, garlic, and ginger into oil, allowing the flavors to disburse throughout the mixture, then add in several forms of sugar, soy sauce, mustard, a few other ingredients, and coat the double-fried chicken.
For our Dakgangjeong, we went with wings. Next time, we’re going to try drumsticks. I am so grateful to Maangchi for posting her recipe. This one is a winner. My mom informed us that she must be notified any time we make it for the rest of our lives so she can skip her dinner plans and have this, instead. In our preparation, we opted for her corn starch substitute over potato starch, we had to use several more small peppers instead of large peppers as every grocery store we visited was sold out completely and we had a large supply of the former stored in the pantry, we did manage to find her suggested frying oil (grapeseed), and we made the mustard from classic Colman’s as there is no better variety for cooking (seriously, if you ever see mustard called for in a recipe and you squeeze in French’s, you are doing yourself a great disservice).
After the Dakgangjeong, we broke out the birthday cupcakes. My mom got a small box for her to take home and enjoy for the next week or share with the other members of the family. Some in the big box are going to my in-laws tonight, where we are going to have a Father’s Day weekend celebration. For mom, we put little dinosaur candles in one of the cupcakes and sang Happy Birthday in Korean. You can tell where I get my personality. Once she gets into something, she gets into it.
It was an awesome day. She said it was the best birthday she’s had in longer than she can remember. It’s funny how true it is that the great things in life are the simplest. It’s definitely the case for me. Like most people, when I think back on my experiences, it isn’t the big, flashy events that standout but the soft, quiet, pleasant moments that wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else.
If any of you are thinking about making Dakgangjeong, do it. It’s heavy food – I skipped breakfast and dinner because it was just too much – but it’s one of those things that, enjoyed a few times a year, can make you crave it for the spicy burn. Here is Maangchi’s original video: