Korean Cheese Buldak
“Buldak” translates into English as “fire chicken.” On first tasting Buldak, CNN travel writer Rob McGovern described the dish as “a violent torrent of invisible fire” in his esophagus that he can’t wait to eat again. I’ve taken the spice level down a notch in this version, but if you ever eat it in Korea, expect to cry a little bit. Buldak is typically made with a whole chicken, but skinless, boneless thighs work well if you want to make a smaller batch.
- 3 tablespoons sake (or, even better, Korean rice wine, cheong ju)
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 scallion, chopped (optional)
- Toasted sesame seeds, to taste (optional)
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- ½ large onion, chopped
- ½ large Asian pear, peeled, cored, and chopped
- 2–3 tablespoons chili powder (ideally, the Korean chili powder called kochukaru)
- 1–3 Thai or bird’s eye chilies
- 2 tablespoons spicy red pepper paste (like kochujan or sriracha)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon hot yellow mustard (if using a sweet variety, reduce sugar or honey)
- ½ tablespoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- Olive oil, for frying
- 6-8 ounces mozzarella, grated
- Break chicken down, and chop into 2-inch pieces.
- Combine all ingredients for marinade, and toss with the chicken to coat. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least an hour, ideally overnight.
- In the meantime, combine all the fire sauce ingredients in a blender. Start with lesser amounts of all the hot stuff, then taste and adjust heat upward if desired. If not using within the hour, store in the refrigerator.
- Once chicken is marinated, heat olive oil over medium heat in an ovenproof skillet. Shallow-fry the chicken in small batches, turning until well browned on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes on each side, depending on how hot your pan is. Drain thoroughly on paper, and set aside. Remove excess oil from the pan, add chicken back in, and add fire sauce. Cook over low heat until sauce begins to bubble, then raise heat and cook for an additional 10 to 12 minutes, turning chicken frequently, until sauce has thickened and slightly caramelized and coats chicken completely.
- Top with grated mozzarella, and place skillet under broiler until cheese melts. Serve with cold beer or soju (a Korean distilled rice liquor) and Korean pickled radishes or cabbage.
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