Literally “Fire Chicken,” this South Korean street dish will make your mouth burn. Cheese Buldak is rich, intensely spicy, and smothered in gooey cheese. Fiery Perfection.
It happens to all of us. One night, as I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, I saw the most delicious looking dish that I wanted to eat RIGHT AT THAT MOMENT. It was some kind of red, spicy looking dish smothered with cheese. As I clicked “like,” I read her caption. She was craving Korean food but didn’t want to go out so whipped up this dish at home. #cheesebuldak
WHAT?!? MY THAI FRIEND MADE AND ATE A KOREAN DISH THAT I’VE NEVER HEARD OF MUCH LESS EATEN BEORE?!?!?
I’m Korean American, by the way. I grew up in the States. I suffered through bad perms (Koreas love perms, I don’t know why) and lived in a house where we took off our shoes at the door and ate rice and kimchi with every meal. Our backyard had a clothing rack with dried fish hanging from it. Yeah, we were that family.
All to say, I love being Korean American. I love Korean food and I know how to cook Korean food. So why hadn’t I heard of this dish before?
I quickly googled “Cheese Buldak” and was shocked to discover that it actually existed. It was one of those modern Korean dishes with street food origins. Buldak – literally “Fire Chicken” – is renowned for its intense spiciness.
Surprisingly, it is an accessible dish to make, if you have standard Korean ingredients. There are 5 basic steps:
1. Marinate the Chicken.
2. Make the “fire” sauce. Basically, whiz sauce ingredients in a food processor until it looks like very spicy baby food.
3. Brown the chicken: in batches, one layer at a time, making sure not to overcrowd the pan!
4. Coat the chicken in “fire” sauce. Cook until the sauce is reduced and thick.
5. Smother with cheese and bake until melted and gooey. I also added Korean rice cakes (dduk).
Regarding Korean ingredients
I’ve included both Gochukaru (Korean red chile flakes/powder) and Gochujang (Korean red chili paste) in this recipe. These are staples in any Korean kitchen.
For the Gochukaru (flakes), buy the smallest size bag and store in the freezer indefinitely. That’s where it keeps best.
For the Gochujang (paste), buy a small jar/box and it will keep for a very long time in the fridge. Although not indefinitely, probably a year or two.
Although some would be aghast at this statement, it doesn’t really matter what brand. Any kind will do, as long as it’s made by a Korean company. I usually buy what’s on sale.
Asian pear is a crisp, delicious cross between an apple and pear. They are round, about the size of a grapefruit, and covered with thick yellow skin. If you do not have access to Asian pear, you can substitute 1 large, ripe pear or apple for the 1/2 Asian pear in the recipe. I’m guessing you could also substitute with applesauce, if that’s what you have on hand, but I’ve never tried it. Let me know if you do in the comments!
Also, the Korean rice cake (dduk) is completely optional. I happen to love dduk, which is a pantry staple in my kitchen. I store dduk in my freezer. Again, any kind is good. Before using, make sure to soak in cold water for at least 20 minutes if it’s frozen.
Regarding Scotch Bonnet Peppers. In my recipe, I specified 1-2 Scotch Bonnet Peppers with the seeds. That’s in addition to 3 tablespoons of gokucharu and 2 tablespoons of gochujang. Please adjust according to your own taste!! One chili may be enough for you. Or 2 chilis may not be spicy enough! For myself, 2 chilies was the perfect burning-in-your-mouth level of spiciness.
FYI, I’ve found that leftovers are usually more spicy the next day.
Regarding the CHEESE. The amount of CHEESE can vary according to your personal preference. While researching this dish, I saw recipes that ranged from 6 ounces to 16 ounces of mozzarella. That’s a big range. I opted for the more moderate yet still indulgent, 8 ounces of cheese. However, if you are looking for big pools of melted cheese that stretch beautifully from skillet to plate, go all out with 16 ounces.
Regarding the MELTING of the cheese. Watch the skillet in the oven carefully. There is a fine line between melted cheese with some browned spots here and there vs. melted cheese that is overly browned, stiff and chewy. This is not where we want to go here, although it works just fine in other dishes. The cheese needs to melt just enough so that it’s gloriously gooey and pulls away in long strings.
There is nothing sadder than making Cheese Buldak and overcooking the cheese. You don’t want to miss that moment of sheer delight when the cheese pulls away from your spoon and you have to gobble it up before it falls on the table.
Make this dish for your friends and they will love you! It’s got that WOW factor because of the cheese but it’s really not that hard to make. Once you start making this dish, you won’t be able to stop! Cheese Buldak Addiction!! I love this dish so much! Enjoy!!
Literally "Fire Chicken," this South Korean street dish will make your mouth burn. Cheese Buldak is rich, intensely spicy, and smothered in gooey cheese. Spicy Perfection.
- 3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 1-inch long strips
- 3 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp Mirin or rice wine or sake
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 1 Tbsp neutral oil
- 3 garlic cloves peeled
- 1/2 large onion roughly chopped
- 1/2 large Asian pear (or 1 extra ripe Bartlett or Bosc Pear) peeled, cored, roughly chopped
- 1-2 Scotch Bonnet Peppers stemmed only (keep the seeds)
- 3 Tbsp Gochukaru (Korean red chili flakes)
- 2 Tbsp Gochujang (Korean red chili paste)
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil
- 1 Tbsp honey
- Rice Cakes (dduk) large handful, about 3/4 cup
- 8 oz mozzarella grated
- 12 inch Cast Iron Skillet
Place (frozen) rice cakes into small bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside.
Combine Marinade ingredients in large bowl. Mix with spoon. Add chicken. Mix again until well combined. Cover and place in refrigerator.
(Let marinate at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight.)
Place Fire Sauce ingredients in food processor. Whiz until smooth and the consistency of baby food. Set aside.
Heat 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add just enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the skillet (about 3 Tbsp). When the oil shimmers, brown the chicken: in batches, one layer at a time, making sure not to crowd the pan. It's ok if the chicken is not fully cooked.
Transfer to a clean plate. Repeat process until all the chicken is cooked.
Place all browned chicken back into the skillet. Pour the Fire Sauce on top. Mix around with a wooden spoon until chicken is completely coated.
Continue cooking for 12-15 minutes on medium-high heat, until the sauce becomes dark red, thick and reduced a bit. Lower heat, if needed. The chicken and sauce should bubble somewhat vigorously but not burn. Keep an eye on the sauce, mixing it from time to time.
Remove skillet from heat. Drain rice cakes and scatter over the chicken and fire sauce mixture.
Sprinkle the cheese on top of the rice cakes and chicken, making sure to coat evenly.
Place skillet in 375 F oven until cheese melts, about 5-10 minutes. Watch carefully, making sure that it doesn't burn.
Remove from oven. Garnish with sliced green onion and sprinkle of sesame seeds, if desired. Serve immediately and enjoy!
*If you don't own a cast iron skillet, you can also cook all the components in a regular skillet and transfer to a baking dish after the chicken has cooked in the sauce. Then, add the rice cakes (dduk) and cheese. Bake in the oven, as per usual.
Adapted recipe from Culture Cheese Mag found here.