Cheese buldak, also known as fire chicken, is a wildly popular Korean dish that has taken the internet by storm in recent years.
A Brief History of Cheese Buldak
To understand cheese buldak, we first need to understand the history and culture surrounding the dish. Buldak translates literally to "fire chicken" in Korean. The name refers to the spicy, fiery kick delivered by the chicken's red chili paste coating.
Buldak originated as a popular Korean street food. Vendors would set up small grills and cook marinated chicken over an open flame, allowing passerbys to enjoy this fiery snack. The dish was known simply as buldak, consisting of tender grilled chicken coated in a spicy, sweet gochujang-based sauce.
It wasn't until recently that buldak got its new cheesy upgrade. The addition of stretchy melted cheese helped balance out the heat and created an indulgent, pizza-like dish now known as cheese buldak. This new form of the classic street food took Korea by storm. Soon, cheese buldak could be found in restaurants across the country, becoming one of the most iconic and beloved Korean fusion dishes.
The Essential Ingredients in Cheese Buldak
Cheese buldak has a short list of ingredients, but each one is essential for creating its signature flavor. Here's a breakdown of what goes into a classic cheese buldak recipe:
- Chicken - Boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts cut into bite-sized pieces. Thighs are traditional, but breasts can also be used.
- Gochujang - A Korean fermented red chili paste that forms the base of the sauce. It provides a savory, slightly sweet kick of heat.
- Gochugaru - Korean red chili flakes that add another layer of spice and impart flavor. The finer the flakes, the better.
- Soy sauce - For added umami and saltiness. A small amount brings depth.
- Rice syrup - The touch of sweetness needed to balance the spice. Rice syrup is traditional, but honey or corn syrup work too.
- Garlic and ginger - Aromatics that elevate the sauce's flavor. They add a brightness and fragrance.
- Cheese - Sliced or shredded mozzarella provides the defining creaminess and cools down the heat.
- Vegetable oil - For cooking the chicken and creating the glossy, clingy sauce. A neutral oil like canola is best.
- Rice cakes - Chewy bites of rice cake (ddeok) can be added for contrasting texture.
That's all you need for an amazing plate of cheese buldak! With just a few core ingredients, you can recreate this popular Korean dish.
Step-By-Step Instructions for Making Cheese Buldak at Home
Part of the appeal of cheese buldak is how easy it is to whip up at home. Here is a simple, foolproof method for making authentic cheese buldak from your own kitchen:
1. Make the Buldak Sauce
- In a bowl, combine the gochujang, gochugaru, soy sauce, rice syrup, sesame oil, garlic, and ginger.
- In a skillet, heat up vegetable oil and cook the garlic and ginger just until fragrant.
- Add the chili flakes and black pepper to bloom for 30 seconds.
- Pour in the sauce mixture and simmer until thickened. Cool slightly before using.
2. Cook the Chicken
- In a bowl, toss the chicken with half of the buldak sauce to coat. Let marinate for 30-60 minutes.
- Cook the chicken in a skillet over medium-high heat until nearly cooked through, about 8 minutes.
3. Finish the Dish
- Add the rice cakes and remaining sauce to the pan. Cook for 2 minutes more.
- Top with sliced mozzarella. Melt under a broiler for 2-3 minutes.
- Garnish with scallions and serve immediately!
This easy cheese buldak recipe comes together in just 30 minutes. In no time, you'll be enjoying the addictive Korean dish we all know and love.
Key Takeaway: Making authentic cheese buldak requires just a few steps - make the sauce, cook the chicken, finish with melted cheese. Simple ingredients and techniques result in an incredible dish.
Serving Suggestions and Variations for Cheese Buldak
One of the great things about cheese buldak is how customizable it is. Once you master the classic version, try experimenting with these serving ideas and ingredient swaps:
- Serve cheese buldak over a bowl of warm white rice. The rice soaks up the spicy sauce deliciously.
- Add some sautéed vegetables like kimchi, onions, mushrooms, or broccoli to bulk it up.
- For extra flavor and crunch, top with toasted sesame seeds and scallions.
- Try using chicken wings or boneless thighs for more texture and fat.
- Replace the chicken with seafood like shrimp, squid, scallops or a combination.
- For a vegetarian/vegan option, use tofu, mushrooms, or eggplant instead of chicken.
- Kick up the heat with extra gochugaru flakes or a few slices of fresh chili pepper.
- For milder spice, cut back on the amount of gochugaru and gochujang.
- Swap out the mozzarella for cheddar, Monterey jack, or Chihuahua cheese.
The possibilities are endless when remixing cheese buldak! Play around with different add-ins and toppings to make it your own.
What kind of chili paste is used in cheese buldak?
Gochujang, a Korean fermented red chili paste, forms the base of the sauce. It provides a nice kick of heat along with sweet and savory flavors.
Is cheese buldak really spicy?
It's definitely on the spicy end of the spectrum, but the amount of heat can be adjusted. Cut back on the gochugaru and gochujang for a milder version. The cheese also helps extinguish some of the burn.
What's the best cheese to use?
Can I make it without rice cakes?
Absolutely! The rice cakes are optional. Leaving them out won't affect the dish negatively.
What protein works best in cheese buldak?
Chicken thighs or wings are traditional and recommended. But shrimp, squid, scallops, tofu, and mushrooms also work wonderfully.
Can I prepare cheese buldak in advance?
You can make the sauce up to 5 days ahead. The cooked chicken can marinate overnight. Assemble the dish right before eating for the best texture.
Is there a vegan version of this recipe?
Yes! Simply use mushrooms, tofu, eggplant, or another vegan protein instead of chicken. Swap the cheese for a vegan alternative or omit it.
What's the best way to eat cheese buldak?
Over a bowl of steaming white rice! The rice soaks up the sauce deliciously. Side dishes like kimchi and pickled vegetables also pair nicely.
Cheese buldak has earned its place as one of the most crave-worthy Korean dishes.
The irresistible combination of spicy, savory, sweet, and creamy flavors keeps us coming back for more.