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. But in a Korean household where we took off our shoes at the door, ate rice and kimchi with every meal, and dried fish in the backyard on a clothing rack. Yeah, we were that family. I suffered through piano lessons, bad perms (Koreans love perms, I don’t know why), and Korean school as a kid. Strangely, I can still sing the Korean national anthem and I’ve watched family members fold laundry while watching Korean dramas countless times. All to say, I love being Korean American. I was raised by Koreans. I love Korean food and I know how to make 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.
I set about making this dish at home. Surprisingly, it was 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 broil 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. If you are hesitant to invest in these items, I understand; I was once like you. But if you love Korean food, you will definitely use these ingredients and purchase them again. Trust me!
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 large 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.
Regarding Thai red chilies. In my recipe, I specified 1-3 Thai red chilies. 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 3 chilis may not be spicy enough! For myself, 3 chilies was mildly spicy but not intensely so. I wanted that burning in your mouth level of spiciness. If you want that kind of heat, try adding another chili or two.
UPDATE: I’ve recently discovered that 1 Scotch Bonnet Pepper (with seeds) adds the perfect amount of scorch-inducing and intensely fiery spiciness to this dish!! A better option than the Thai chili peppers if you like heat.
You can process the chilies in the food processor with the rest of the sauce ingredients, one at a time, tasting as you go. You can always add more chilies until you get the desired amount of spiciness. However, if you find that you’ve gone too far, add some honey or sugar. That usually cancels out some of the heat in a dish. 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, but 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 under the broiler 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!!
Do you like spicy food? Do you like food smothered in cheese? Korean Cheese Buldak Chicken (aka Fire Chicken) is the dish for you!
- 3 lbs chicken thighs boneless, skinless
- 3 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp sake
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 1 Tbsp 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
- 1-3 Thai red chilies
- 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 or sugar
- Rice Cakes (dduk) large handful, about 3/4 cup
- 8 oz mozzarella grated or cubed
- Oil for pan frying
- 12 inch Cast Iron Skillet
Place rice cakes into small bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside.
Chop chicken into 2 inch pieces. Place in bowl. Measure Chicken Marinade ingredients and pour directly over chicken. Mix until well combined. Cover and place in refrigerator.
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.
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, making sure to coat evenly.
Place skillet under broiler until cheese melts. Garnish with sliced green onion and sprinkle of sesame seeds, if desired. Serve immediately and enjoy!
Adapted recipe from Culture Cheese Mag found here.