Level up your cooking game with a crispy, crackly Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich! Kimchi Juice + Buttermilk brine and a generous helping of Kimchi Mayo make it truly special.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Kimchi Brined Chicken Sandwiches. Super complicated and chef-y, his recipe included 7 components. (Brine, dredge, sauce/hot oil, mayo, cabbage + pickles, spice mix, and black sesame biscuits.) On top of that, each component required multiple ingredients and a bewildering array of steps!
As a person living in quarantine lockdown, I had all the time in the world. And the ingredients. I made his recipe, with a few edits, and it was AMAZING. The complexity and layered flavors felt so extravagant and special.
But afterwards, I couldn’t help but wonder — would it be possible to simplify his recipe without compromising too much on the flavor?
Yes, of course it was possible. The secret was in the brine. The kimchi juice + buttermilk brine, to be exact.
Korean food lovers know: kimchi juice is liquid gold. Salty, spicy, fermented, brine-y goodness — kimchi juice is super-charged with flavor!
The kimchi juice + buttermilk brine really took the fried chicken over the top.
The result? A truly spectacular Fried Chicken Sandwich with all that Korean flavor! Understated and humble yet also extravagant and completely excessive, a Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich is exactly what we all want to eat right now.
Crispy, crackly crust. Saucy, decadent Kimchi mayo. Soft butter lettuce. Toasted brioche bun. So good!
My version is more subdued than Kenji’s recipe. His version is really over the top! But mine still feels complex and special. I like to think of it as a plebeian version of his chef-y recipe. And totally doable for weeknight dinner.
Also, my recipe does not include a spicy-sweet sauce typically found in Korean Fried Chicken. I found it made for soggy chicken. Instead, I’m highlighting all the crispy, craggy splendor of fried chicken with subtle Korean flavors in the brine and dredge.
What is Kimchi Juice?
Kimchi Juice comes from the process of fermentation. The more kimchi ferments and ages, the more juicy it will be. That’s why kimchi strengthens in potency and flavor over time.
If you have a jar of kimchi in your fridge, it’s probably sitting in a puddle of kimchi juice. Simple pour the juice into a measuring cup. You don’t need much.
But if your kimchi is freshly packed, there won’t be much juice at all. If that’s the case, wait a few weeks for your kimchi to age and release enough liquid.
Kimchi Juice plus buttermilk is truly the most glorious brining liquid. Kimchi Juice adds so much salty, spicy, deep, acidic flavor to this Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich! And it’s really not that spicy! 😉
(Side note: Korean cooks regularly add kimchi juice to Bibimguksu, Kimchi Jjigae, and Kimchi Pancakes for extra flavor. Usually, it’s added according to taste. Sometimes you need a lot, other times you don’t.)
What is Gochukaru?
For this recipe, Gochukaru is a key ingredient to the dredge. It adds so much flavor and texture!
Gochukaru is Korean dried chili flakes. Most people don’t have Gochukaru in their pantry. But if you love Korean food, level up your cooking game and buy a small bag. The flavor is complex, rich, deeply spicy, fruity, and somewhat smoky.
I buy Gochukaru from the Korean market. Good Gochukaru is made in Korea or produced by a Korean company abroad. For example, Korean companies based in California.
To store Gochukaru, keep a small amount in a glass jar at room temperature for daily use. Keep the rest of the Gochukaru in the freezer for long term storage. The flavor keeps best that way.
I’ve seen recipes with Gochukaru substitutions – Italian chili flakes, paprika, cayenne, etc. But trust me, they are NOT the same. There is NO SUBSTITUTE for Gochukaru! If you don’t have it, just leave it out. Or better yet, buy a small bag and fall in love with this essential Korean ingredient.
PIN FOR LATER:
How to Make Korean Fried Chicken Sandwiches:
Marinate chicken thighs in buttermilk and kimchi juice brine for 8 hours or overnight.
Dredge chicken thighs and deep fry.
Make kimchi mayo. Toast brioche buns. Assemble sandwiches in layers: bottom bun, kimchi mayo, pickle, fried chicken, lettuce, more kimchi mayo, top bun. Enjoy!!
Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich + Kimchi Mayo
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup kimchi juice (preferably from old, well fermented kimchi)
- 6 6-8 ounce boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1lb total)
- 2 cup flour
- 1/4 cup Gochukaru (Korean chili flakes)
- 1/4 cup black sesame seeds
- 2 tsps salt
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup kimchi, chopped (drained of juice)
- 1 Tbsp sriracha (or less, if you like things less spicy)
Additional Sandwich Ingredients:
- 4 brioche buns
- 4 sandwich pickles (the flat sliced kind)
- 8 butter or gem lettuce leaves (2 for each sandwich)
- Combine buttermilk and kimchi juice in glass food container. Add chicken thighs and mix until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.
- Set up a deep frying station: Place a cooling rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet, for transferring fried chicken. Clip a candy thermometer to a cast iron enameled Dutch oven. Fill with 3 inches of oil (peanut or vegetable oil). Heat on medium high heat until 350F.
- While the oil heats, add dredge ingredients to a medium bowl and whisk with a fork. To create craggy chunks of dredge, add 1-2 Tbsp of the buttermilk brine to the flour mixture first and gently mix with your hands. The flour will take on a chunkier texture this way. Remove chicken thighs from brine. Dredge both sides with flour mixture. Gently add dredged chicken to hot oil (when it reaches 350F), making sure not to overcrowd the pan.
- Fry chicken thighs in batches, until cooked through, about 6-8 minutes total. Flip the chicken about halfway through. When finished, they should be golden and crispy looking. Remove from the hot oil and transfer to the cooling rack.
- Mix ingredients in a bowl and set aside. This can be made ahead of time, up to 1 day in advance.
- Toast brioche buns and add kimchi mayo to both top and bottom buns. Assemble sandwich, starting from the bottom: brioche bun with kimchi mayo, pickle, fried chicken, lettuce, top bun with kimchi mayo. Serve with additional kimchi mayo on the side.
If you loved this recipe, you might also love: Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwiches!!