Fiery, spicy-sweet Gochujang Chicken. A Korean classic that tastes great broiled in the oven or cooked in the Instant Pot.
When I lived in NYC, my friend Ju used to visit and we always had the best time. She was an old family friend — my oldest friend, in fact. I’ve known Ju since she wore pigtails and I spoke rapid and fluent Spanish. That’s a long time. 🙂
One night, in my Hell’s Kitchen walk-up, Ju taught me how to make Spicy Gochujang Chicken.
Except for the chicken thighs, everything else came from the pantry. Well, my Korean American pantry, that is. A big scoop of Gochujang. A small spoon of sugar. Soy sauce for added flavor and depth. Some minced garlic. And a little bit of sesame seed oil. That was it.
By the time the rice was done, the chicken was ready to eat. I looked into the pan. The chicken looked so juicy and moist, with glistening dark red sauce. We lifted out the pieces and arranged them onto a plate. The smell was tantalizing, the spices making my mouth water. As if on auto-pilot, we pulled up our stools, grabbed some takeout chopsticks, and dug right in.
Mmmm. Nothing tasted as good as that tender chicken coated in spicy sauce over rice. Nothing. We ate in silence for awhile, letting the fiery flavors roll in our mouths. It tasted like home.
Spicy Gochujang Chicken was such a fast and easy dish that it soon became part of my cooking repertoire. I never really followed a recipe, just Ju’s taste-and-go instructions.
Now, I’ve converted this easy favorite into recipe format for you to enjoy at home.
Whisk marinade ingredients in a bowl.
Add chicken thighs. Mix again.
Now it’s time to cook the chicken thighs.
Back then, the only bad thing about Spicy Gochujang Chicken was the clean-up. Unrepentantly, the pan was always a mess. The counter and stove top were messes, too. And the cabinets. Ugh. It splattered and burned and you had to wipe everything down and scrape out what was stuck on the bottom of the pan. It was one of those dishes you loved and hated at the same time.
Since then, I’ve developed 2 ways to make it easier to cook at home:
The Instant Pot:
Place marinated chicken thighs into the Instant Pot. Spread out the chicken with a spoon so that it’s in one even layer. Set for manual mode, 8 minutes.
The Instant Pot chicken will be tender, succulent, and flavorful. There will be plenty of sauce left to drizzle on top. That’s the key to this method — be generous with the sauce. More generous than you think. The chicken keeps absorbing all that good sauce, especially if you shred it before serving. I also like to serve extra sauce on the side.
Hands down, the Instant Pot is the easiest method to cooking Spicy Gochujang Chicken. It’s my go-to when I don’t want to think about fussing with dinner. And yet, I alternate between this method and the one outlined below. It’s a toss-up, really.
Broil in oven:
Broiling in the oven ensures all those crispy, charred bits. The resulting chicken will not be as soft and tender. Instead, the chicken will be more firm with crisp edges, and definitely less saucy.
This method will require more careful watching, as the sauce burns easily. But the method is simple enough: Position oven rack so that it’s on the top most rack, about 3-4-inches from the heat source. Broil marinated chicken thighs for 6-8 minutes on each side until done with little browned bits on top.
Gochujang Chicken Memories
I’ve made this dish for about 15+ years now. Every time, I still think of Ju. I think of Federal Way and its green hills and evergreen trees. I think of the Korean businesses on Pac Highway and the Baskin Robbins, too. I remember playing tag in the church parking lot and the crazy way Hyeng (her brother) used to laugh and laugh. I see Ju’s apartment where we ate cereal late at night during college and our places around the coffee table where we laughed and smoked too much with Minna.
There’s this thing about certain dishes. Like a memorial or a marker on the road, they help us remember. The people who walked life with us. The places where we come from. The memories that live deep within us. And when we eat certain dishes, we are brought back home, once again.
Spicy Gochujang Chicken
- Instant Pot
- sheet pan
- 8 chicken thighs boneless, skinless
- 1/2 cup Gochujang paste
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp Mirin or rice wine
- 1 Tbsp sesame seed oil
- Whisk marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Add chicken. Mix thoroughly, making sure each chicken piece is coated with sauce. Set aside.
Instant Pot Instructions
- Put chicken and all of the marinade into the Instant Pot. Make sure to spread chicken evenly in one layer. You don’t want a mound of chicken in the middle, as this will lead to uneven cooking.
- Cover and lock the lid in place. Cook on “Manual” function (high pressure) for 8 minutes. When the timer beeps, allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes. Then, release the rest of the pressure manually.
- Mix chicken and juices together. There may be some dark brown spots on the bottom of the chicken. That’s ok.
- Remove chicken onto a platter and drizzle generously with sauce. You can shred the chicken or serve as whole thighs. Garnish with chopped green onion and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Serve with additional sauce at the table.
Broiling/Sheet Pan Instructions
- Position oven rack so that it’s on the top most rack, about 3-4-inches from the heat source. Preheat oven to BROIL. Let the oven heat for at least 10 minutes.
- Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil for easy clean up. Add chicken thighs to the sheet pan in a single layer. They should all fit comfortably with some space in between. Broil until partially cooked with little charred spots on the top, about 6-8 minutes.
- Flip the chicken. Broil until completely cooked with little charred spots on the top, another 6-8 minutes. Make sure to watch the chicken carefully – the sauce burns easily.
- Remove from oven. At this point, you can shred the chicken or serve as whole thighs. Garnish with chopped green onion and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.