I’m on a Korean food kick that started at, of all places, the hippie-dippy, clothing optional Sierra Hot Springs Resort in Sierraville, California (about thirty miles from the town of Truckee). I was there recently for a long weekend of soaking in au naturel in the hot springs with my husband and toddler. Among the other guests in the lodge were two thirty-something Korean sisters and their mother, who was visiting from Korea and spoke barely a word of English. Three times a day, the three of them would descend upon the lodge’s communal kitchen, set up shop, and fill the entire building with the pungent scents of Korean cooking, like this spicy and addictive gochujang chicken, as they methodically cranked out an elaborate traditional meal.
While the other guests jockeyed for space to whip up their healthy green smoothies, sprout-and-chickpea salads, and tofu stir-frys, these ladies went to town. On the first morning, they made a fish and seaweed stock for a fish soup that also included rice dumplings, made right there in that ill-equipped and crowded kitchen. At another meal, there was homemade ramen soup, tiny and starchy Korean corn on the cob, both aged and unaged kimchee, and more. For dinner, a spicy stir-fried pork bulgogi, bright red from the fermented red pepper paste called gochujang (also spelled kochujang) that is ubiquitous in Korean kitchens, was accompanied by piles of fresh herbs, sliced red and yellow peppers, and julienned carrots, all meant to be bundled along with the meat into crisp green lettuce leaves. The women were generous with tastes, but those delicious morsels only whet my appetite, creating a deep yearning for large amounts of spicy, salty, tangy Korean food.
Since returning home, I’ve been enjoying poached eggs over steamed brown rice slathered with that tangy-spicy gochujang paste for breakfast, snacking on kimchee, and gracing my family’s dinner table with this chicken-based version of the ladies’ pork bulgogi. With only six ingredients, the marinade can be tossed together in less than five minutes. I usually bake the chicken in the oven because it’s easiest, but it is also delicious grilled. Serve it with steamed rice and crisp lettuce leaves, julienned red or yellow bell peppers and cucumbers, mint and basil leaves, and any other fresh vegetables you like. Instruct diners to make their own wraps by piling ingredients into the lettuce leaves.
- 1½ pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs or breasts
- 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 5 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons gochujang (fermented red pepper paste)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (optional)
- In a large bowl, combine the onion, garlic, soy sauce, gochujang, honey, and sesame oil and stir to mix well.
- Add the chicken and stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 8 hours.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Place chicken in a single layer in a baking dish and cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes, remove foil, turn chicken pieces over, and bake another 30 minutes uncovered.
- Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes.
- Slice chicken pieces into strips and serve on a platter drizzled with the sauce and garnished with sesame seeds, if using.