This chicken is a family staple! My kids seriously LOVE Korean food. They get to choose a restaurant to celebrate their birthday and they always choose Korean BBQ. In Singapore, their favorite is Chang BBQ in Dempsey Hill. If you haven’t gone out for Korean BBQ yet, you must go!! Meat (of your choice) is grilled right at your table and served with a variety of small side dishes.
Easy bulgogi marinade
I’m definitely not an expert in Korean food, but I’m a huge fan of bulgogi. Traditionally, bulgogi is a dish of thinly sliced beef that is marinated and then grilled on a hot barbecue pan. The bulgogi marinade is so delicious, I also use it to flavor pork and chicken! It’s quite simple, with only 5 key ingredients:
1) soy sauce
2) sesame oil
4) brown sugar
5) grated Asian pear
You were probably nodding along with me…until I got to the “grated Asian pear” part. Asian pears are true pears, but they are round and plump and look more like an apple. They taste like a cross between an apple and a pear, so it’s a fun new fruit alternative! Just peel the skin off, since it is a bit tough and can taste slightly bitter.
Asian pear substitutes
Asian pears have become more available in the US and you can usually find them in grocery stores in the fall and winter. They add a delicate and delicious flavor to the marinade, but the main reason to use Asian pear is that it contains an enzyme called bromelain that helps tenderize meat. If you can’t find an Asian pear — don’t worry! As a substitute, you can use grated pineapple or pineapple juice, since it also contains bromelain.
For this Korean chicken recipe, it’s best to use boneless chicken thighs. They are super juicy and tend to fare a bit better on the grill or grill pan. I also like boneless chicken breasts, so I do a combination of boneless breasts and thighs. If you’ve been able to rustle up an Asian pear — excellent! Just cut the pear in half, peel off the skin and grate with a basic cheese grater. This will only take you a couple of minutes and will yield about 1/2 cup of fruit pulp and juice. Couldn’t find an Asian pear? No problem! Just measure out 1/2 cup of pineapple juice.
The next step is to add 1/3 cup of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, 5 minced or pressed garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil. Mix all these ingredients together and cover the chicken in the marinade for at least two hours or overnight (stick to only two hours if you are using pineapple).
Remove chicken from the marinade and grill. Discard the marinade. Whether you use a gas grill or a grill pan, you’ll need to cook the chicken about 5 to 6 minutes per side. I can usually tell when the chicken is done by pressing on it with my finger. If it feels pretty firm, it’s probably done. If it still feels a bit soft and springy, it needs more time. To be more precise, use a meat thermometer and cook the chicken until you’ve reached an internal temperature of 160° to 165°.
Serve with rice, cucumber salad and kimchi
Kimchi is a Korean staple and a delicious addition to this meal! It’s like a spicy sauerkraut, since it’s made with cabbage and goes through a fermentation process. While sauerkraut is just finely sliced cabbage and a salty brine, kimchi is more complex with chili pepper and garlic. Some versions contain fish or fish sauce, which kimchi-lovers find absolutely delicious. I prefer a version that doesn’t include the fish, so you might want to start there if you are a kimchi newbie. It’s an acquired taste, but both my girls and I now enjoy it (my husband has always loved it). As an added bonus, kimchi is considered a superfood since it’s rich in vitamins A and B, minerals like calcium and iron, and also has gut-healthy bacteria.
I promise that this is one dish that your family will ask for again! I’ll also give you a tip for a short cut if you REALLY want to try this, but don’t have the time (or desire) to create the marinade yourself. My friends Linda and Kathryn swear by CJ Korean BBQ Sauce Bulgogi Marinade, since it includes most of the authentic ingredients found in the traditional recipe. We’ve tried it and agree that it’s super delicious!
Korean Chicken with Bulgogi Marinade
A super easy and delicious way to serve up chicken in a Korean bulgogi marinade featuring only 5 ingredients: soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, brown sugar and Asian pear.
- 1/2 Asian pear grated or 1/2 cup of pineapple juice
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 5 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1.5 lbs of chicken boneless thighs and/or breasts
Cut the Asian pear in half, peel off the skin and grate with a basic cheese grater (this will yield about 1/2 cup of fruit pulp and juice). Add 1/3 cup of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, 5 minced or pressed garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil.
Mix all the marinade ingredients together and pour over the chicken. Marinate for at least two hours or overnight (only two hours if you are using pineapple).
Remove chicken from the marinade and grill. Discard the marinade. Cook the chicken about 5 to 6 minutes per side or until you’ve reached an internal temperature of 160° to 165°.