Buldak is a Korean phrase that’s interpreted to mean: fire chicken (bul = fire, dak = chicken). Buldak is a heavily sauced chicken dish including course gochugaru (Korean chili flakes) and gochujang paste (Korean chili paste) in the recipe to bring the heat and spice.
In researching buldak for this post, I found a 2015 article from CNN Travel claims that for some South Koreans, eating spicy food is a stress reliever. After the year we’ve all had, I believe we can use some stress relief so I think we should make and eat more buldak.
This week we’re making cheesy buldak sandwiches inspired by a recipe from Maangchi. If you don’t know Maangchi, she’s a YouTube personality that cooks primarily Korean based food. She’s super wholesome and fun to watch. Here’s her video for Spicy fire chicken with cheese (Cheese Buldak: 치즈불닭) – she’s great, go watch it and try her recipe.
Maangchi’s buldak recipe is super spicy, but still very flavorful. It is a bit sweet and savory all at the same time and it leaves you with a pleasant lingering spicy heat that will keep each bite interesting. My wife and I both get excited when we make the decision to cook this dish again.
I altered the recipe to be whole boneless skinless chicken thighs which I prefer in a sandwich, but you can use chicken tenderloins or thin sliced/butterflied chicken breast if you’d like. The rest of the recipe is similar to Maangchi’s but I change the proportions and instructions to better fit sandwich making.
I like the idea of a larger, whole piece of chicken in my sandwich, but if you want to make a batch of cheese buldak with the chicken chopped up into bite sized pieces and put some leftovers in in a bun for sandwiching later, that’s a fantastic idea too.
As you’ll see in the photos below, I’ve made a ton of cheesy buldak sandwiches over the past year. I like it because you can whip up the sauce and cook the chicken within just a few minutes and then broil the cheese to melt and sandwich time comes super-fast after that.
I wanted a soft bun for these sandwiches, so I fell back on my potato bun recipe that I’ve been baking and tweaking for the past year or so. I whipped up a batch and sesame seeded most of the buns. I’ve explained this before, but if you want to add sesame seeds to a bun, you simply need to apply an egg wash (one whole beaten egg mixed with a tablespoon or so of water) and then sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds right before adding the buns to the oven.
The special ingredients
There are three special ingredients in this recipe that you might not be able to get at your local grocery. One ingredient isn’t quite as special as the others, but I still wanted to speak about it a tiny bit here.
AKA: red pepper flakes or powder
I believe that the gochugaru is the least likely ingredient that you might find at your grocery store. I get mine at our local Korean market, but it’s easily available on Amazon (link below).
Make sure you buy the COURSE grind. I bought the fine grind the first time we made cheese buldak and it does make a big difference.
Gochugaru is the magic ingredient that you can use to adjust the heat in this recipe. Add more for more heat and less for less heat.
Buy Gochugaru (Amazon affiliate link)
There are many brands of gochujang, the one pictured is the one available at our local grocery and we enjoy it, but we have tried a few others. Gochujang is a great addition to marinades, stir frys and even things like mayonnaise for an extra flavor kick.
In our house we add gochujang to a few of our steak marinades and it has become something we just add a small or large spoonful to a lot of sauces and even soups if we want to add depth of flavor or spice.
Buy Gochujang (Amazon affiliate link)
Low moisture mozzarella
Blocks of low moisture mozzarella should be at most large grocery store chains, but just remember, we’re not talking about the balls of fresh mozzarella here.
In a pinch you can use the shredded stuff for pizza, but I don’t really like pre-shredded cheese when you’re hoping for a good melt. Pre-shredded mozzarella has starches tossed in with the cheese to keep it from clumping.
If you can find a block of low moisture mozzarella, buy that.
This recipe is quick to whip up once you have all your ingredients together. You could get it on some buns in half an hour or so. If you don’t eat all your sandwiches the first meal, you can easily reheat these for future sandwiches.
For reheating, I place a piece of chicken with a little scoop of sauce on a foil lined sheet pan and I bake it for about 7 or 8 minutes at 350 degrees F (175 C). After 7 or 8 minutes I remove the sheet pan, flip the chicken pieces (add more sauce if you have some) and cover it with cheese and return it to the oven. You can cook it another 3 minutes to melt the cheese or if you like your cheese to brown you could set it under the broiler for a minute or two.
In my experience with chicken thighs, the leftover sandwich is just as tasty as the first day.
Cheese buldak sandwiches
Here’s the recipe to try:
This is a spicy sandwich. The cheese and bun both help to cool things off a little, but you can adjust the heat by changing the amount of Gochugaru chili flakes. Inspired by Maangchi's Cheese Buldak recipe.
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs or breast pieces
- 1⁄4 cup gochugaru (course pepper flakes)
- 2 tablespoons gochujang
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
- 1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper
- 3 tablespoons corn syrup (or honey)
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
- 1⁄4 cup water
- 1⁄2 lb low moisture mozzarella cheese cut into slices
- sliced green onion (garnish)
- 6 soft hamburger buns or rolls
In a medium bowl add gochugaru, gochujang, soy sauce, canola oil, black pepper, corn syrup, garlic and ginger. Stir well to combine.
Add your six chicken thighs and mix everything up very well. You want all the chicken coated in the marinade.
Place a large skillet over medium high heat and add 1 tablespoon of canola oil. Swirl the pan around to coat the bottom of the pan with oil as much as possible.
When pan is hot, use tongs or a fork to place each chicken thigh in the hot pan. If your pan isn't large enough to cook all six thighs, you can cook in batches.
DO NOT get rid of the bowl that has any leftover marinade in it. We will be using that to make our sauce
Cook each chicken thigh 3 minutes on the first side, flip and then cook 3 more minutes on the second side. Remove all chicken to a plate.
Once all the chicken is done, add a quarter cup of water to the bowl where you marinaded your chicken. Mix the water around to loosen the marinade from the bowl. This will allow you to get it all into the pan.
Pour all the leftover marinade with the water back into the pan where you cooked the chicken. Reduce the heat to medium.
Add all of your chicken to the pan with the cooking marinade and nestle everything in together.
Cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes.
Remove pan from heat.
Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and add your pieces of chicken. If you're using large pieces make sure they're separated from the other pieces, if you're using small bite sized pieces make sure you place them in sandwich sized piles. If you're only making one or two sandwiches you can just add one or two pieces or chicken piles and use the rest for leftover sandwiches.
On top of each piece of chicken add slices of mozzarella. Place sheet pan under the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes. Pay very close attention though, everyone's broiler is different and things can burn very quickly.
Once the cheese is broiled and melted to your satisfaction, remove the sheet pan. Allow the chicken to cool for a minute or so and then add each piece to a bottom bun. Add a little extra sauce if you want and garnish with the sliced green onion.
Top with the bun top, serve and enjoy.
Some cheese buldak sandwiches to stare at
Here are four more examples of cheesy fire chicken sandwiches I’ve made over the past year or so.
Try Maangchi’s recipe. Buy gochujang and gochugaru and keep them in the fridge for longer shelf life and you can make this recipe very quickly whenever you crave it. And believe me, you’ll start to crave this dish and sandwich.
Check back next week when you can Sea more of my Food!