Cheese Buldak or “Fire Chicken,” this South Korean street dish will make your mouth burn. Rich, intensely spicy, and smothered in gooey cheese. Fiery Perfection.
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 my friend’s 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 BEFORE?!?!?
I’m Korean American, by the way. I grew up in the States. I suffered through bad perms (Koreans 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 loved Korean food and I knew how to cook Korean food. 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.
When I tried to make it in my own kitchen, I couldn’t find one that was spicy enough. From all the descriptions that I’d read, I wanted all that deep Korean flavor PLUS all that mouth-burning spice!!
Today, Cheese Buldak has became one of my favorite dishes. For when I’m craving spicy. For when friends come over for dinner. Or for whenever I want a satisfying, deeply flavored, saucy, cheesy dish!! Now, it can be yours, too.
PIN FOR LATER:
How to Make Cheese Buldak:
Step 1: Marinate the Chicken.
Step 2: Make the “fire” sauce. Basically, whiz sauce ingredients in a food processor until it looks like very spicy baby food.
Step 3: Brown the chicken: in batches, one layer at a time, making sure not to overcrowd the pan.
Step 4: Coat the chicken in “fire” sauce. Cook until the sauce is reduced and somewhat thick.
Step 5: Add Korean rice cakes (dduk). Smother with cheese and bake until melted and gooey.
Gochukaru. Also known as Korean dried red chili flakes/powder. Smoky, spicy, floral, deeply flavorful — an essential ingredient! DO NOT SUBSTITUTE with Italian dried chili flakes, paprika, or chili powder!! The texture and flavor will NOT be the same.
NOTE: If you don’t own Gochukaru, buy the smallest bag at the Korean grocery store. Make sure to look for Gochukaru that’s produced or exported by a Korean company for best quality. I buy coarse grind, medium heat level.
PRO TIP: Store a small amount in a glass jar and keep in your pantry, away from light. Store the rest in the freezer, to keep the flavor fresh!
Gochujang. Also known as Korean fermented chili paste. Almost everyone has a jar (or tub) in their refrigerator now!
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.
Asian pear is a common marinating ingredient in many Korean recipes. When pureed, it adds sweetness (without being overly sweet) and a nice texture to the sauce.
If you don’t have access to Asian pear, some substitutions: a sweet, ripe pear (bartlett, bosc) OR apple (Fuji, gala).
Korean Rice Cakes (dduk/tteok). Similar to mochi in texture, these chewy rice cakes take Cheese Buldak to another level! Korean stores carry many shapes of rice cakes. Feel free to choose the shape you like best: sliced OR tube-shaped, cylindrical rice cakes (of all sizes, lengths, shapes).
Conveniently, Korean Rice Cakes can be bought and stored in the freezer, making for a great pantry staple. Defrost by simply soaking in cold water for 15-20 minutes before cooking.
Scotch Bonnet Peppers. I tried all kinds of spicy peppers to determine which tasted best: jalapenos, Thai bird chilis, Scotch Bonnet Peppers, Fresno peppers, and even different combinations of each. Scotch Bonnet Peppers with the seeds were my favorite.
This recipe is SPICY: 2 Scotch Bonnet Peppers with the seeds. 3 Tbsp Gokucharu. 2 Tbsp Gochujang. Please adjust according to your own taste!! For me, it’s the perfect burning-in-your-mouth level of spiciness. For my husband, he prefers only 1 pepper (vs 2).
What kind of cheese should I use?
Classically, mozzarella is used for Cheese Buldak. Mozzarella makes that cheese pull truly great. And the mild flavor doesn’t overpower the rest of the saucy chicken.
Standard, low-moisture mozzarella works best. Fresh mozzarella is too wet for this recipe. But standard block, pizza mozzarella melts beautifully.
The key to perfecting that photographic cheese pull: LOTS of cheese. Yup, about 2 cups loosely packed. It will pile into a small mountain and seem like too much. But trust me, the full amount is completely necessary!
Also, make sure to GENTLY melt the cheese. There is nothing sadder than making Cheese Buldak and overcooking the cheese. I experimented with all kinds of methods and do you know what worked best? A slow, gentle melt.
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.
Once you start making this dish, you won’t be able to stop! Cheese Buldak aka Fire Chicken Addiction!! I love this dish so much! Enjoy!!
Cheese Buldak aka Korean Fire Chicken
- 10 or 12 inch cast iron skillet
- 3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 1-inch long strips
- 3 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp Mirin or rice wine
- 1 Tbsp honey (sugar also works)
- 1 Tbsp neutral oil
- 3 garlic cloves peeled
- 1/2 large onion roughly chopped
- 1/2 large Asian pear peeled, cored, roughly chopped
- 2 Scotch Bonnet Peppers stemmed (keep the seeds), or to taste
- 3 Tbsp Gochukaru (Korean red chili flakes)
- 2 Tbsp Gochujang (Korean red chili paste)
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 cup Rice Cakes (dduk)
- 2 cups grated mozzarella loosely packed (about 8 oz)
- 12 inch Cast Iron Skillet
- Place rice cakes into small bowl and cover with cold water, if frozen. 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 pureed. Set aside.
- Heat 10 or 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add about 1 Tbsp of oil to coat the bottom of the pan.? 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 unti the sauce becomes dark red, thick, and reduced a bit, about 12-15 minutes on medium-high heat. The chicken and sauce should bubble somewhat vigorously but not burn. Lower heat, if needed. Also, feel free to water if the sauce looks too dry (about 1 Tbsp at a time). 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 350 F oven until cheese melts, about 5-10 minutes. It should be a gentle melting of cheese. Watch carefully and make sure it doesn't overcook!
- Remove from oven. Garnish with sliced green onion and sprinkle of sesame seeds, if desired. Serve immediately and enjoy!
More Korean Food Inspiration:
Kimchi Stew aka Kimchi Jjigae. The best way to use up old kimchi and a one-pot meal to boot.
Gochujang Chicken Drumsticks. A spicy-sweet, easy-to-love favorite.
Beef Bulgogi. The classic that everyone knows and loves.
Korean Fried Chicken. Lip smackin’ good. The most popular recipe on the blog for a reason.