In the past decade, recipes for Korean fried chicken have become a fixture on American menus. Nearly every Korean chef, from David Chang to Judy Joo, has his or her own fantastic version. Seattle chef Rachel Yang serves hers with a spicy peanut brittle; mŏkbar’s Esther Choi has a special-ordered whole fried chicken that is served stuffed with jujubes and rice. Deuki Hong continues to extend his love of fried chicken beyond his Sunday Bird take-out counter in San Franciso; he has another counter inside an H-Mart in Austin, Texas. Whether presented especially by a chef or taken to-go, it’s abundantly clear the love of this crowdpleaser runs deep and country-wide.
So when it came time for me to approach making my own fried chicken recipe, I immediately thought of chicken nuggets. Most of us probably have sentimental place in our hearts for a hot, processed chicken nugget dipped in a big playground of sauces, right? I figure that’s why, whether I’m teaching a cooking class to children or catering food for an event attended by adults, my chicken nuggets are the first to disappear.
After experimenting with a few ways to make nuggets, I nailed down two tips for success. One: Since chicken breast is lean and can be notoriously dry and flavorless, the key is to bathe the chicken pieces overnight in a mix of mustard, pickle juice, and olive oil. This makes all the difference when it comes to tenderizing the meat. Two: Create a crust that makes the chicken taste just as good cold as it does hot. I took my mother’s light coating of rice flour and salt, but gave it my personal touch by adding rolled oats blitzed with a savory blend of spices. For a spicy coating, I add gochugaru (Korean hot pepper flakes) and cayenne.
As for the sauce, I wanted for it to stand its own, something even my picky father would try. It ended up unconsciously becoming my ode to a childhood love of sautéed Napa cabbage kimchi, paired with a fresh-made ranch dressing that I want to smother on everything but the kitchen sink.
Because this recipe brings Korean and American flavors to the table exactly as I crave them, I’m calling it my own mark on the Korean fried chicken landscape.