Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Test Kitchen: Ginger-Marinated Bulgogi-Style Chicken

This month’s Test Kitchen, where I test the recipes from Food and Wine magazine, gets me grilling with bulgogi.

Bulgogi is a traditional Korean dish of thinly sliced beef marinated in ginger and soy. It’s extremely popular at Korean BBQ restaurants, where you cook the meat at your table, but in Food and Wine’s version they use chicken, which sounds a lot healthier.

The recipe is from Nick Fauchald, editor at TastingTable.com (the same people who flood my email everyday with tasting finds). Fauchald laments about eating out five nights a week (again, how can I get his job?) so he offered up some healthy recipes he makes at home to support his tri-athlete body.

More than 39 percent of you voted for this recipe, which I admit is pretty simple but I wanted to see if Food and Wine could get Asian right. (Others voted for the Thai turkey burger, 32 percent, and salt and pepper squid, 27 percent.)

As always, you can get the full recipe on the Food and Wine website. But here’s what happened in my kitchen.

I started by making the marinade. The tricky thing about the recipe is it specifically says you need to marinate the chicken for at least two hours but not more than four. For me, I always marinate chicken in the morning, then go to work, and then make dinner when I come home 10 hours later. But apparently that’s too much marinating time, so this recipe makes it difficult for this to be an easy weeknight dinner. You have to do it on the weekend when you won’t be gone all day.

The marinade has all the classic Korean ingredients of lots of garlic (three cloves!) and lots of ginger, along with shoyu (Fauchald specifies light soy), rice vinegar (unseasoned), toasted sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds and thinly sliced scallions. Everything is sweetened with a bit of honey. (I sometimes use sugar for more sweetness.)

After I blended all my ingredients together, I poured it into a plastic zip-lock bag and added my chicken. Here’s where I cheated: The recipe says to buy chicken breast and pound them until they’re 1/4-inch thick. That always makes such a raucous in the kitchen (not to mention the extra labor), so I just bought the thinly sliced chicken breast they now sell sometimes at the grocery store. (If you can’t find thinly sliced chicken breast, you can do the pounding or butterfly the chicken so they’re thin.)

I placed the chicken in the refrigerator and waited two hours.

When I was ready to cook, I sprayed my grill pan with some vegetable oil. I don’t have a grill even though this recipe was designed for outdoor grilling. But if you’re like me, a grill pan will work just as well (you just may need to cook your chicken in batches if your pan is small like mine).

Because the breast slices are thin, it doesn’t take that long to cook. For me, it was about 2 to 3 minutes on each side. When you cook the first side, you want to resist flipping it until it’s ready so you can have the nice grill mark.

The recipe suggests serving the sliced bulgogi chicken with lettuce, rice, cucumber and kim chi. I found everything except the kim chi at my store, so I had to go without it even though that’s a classic Korean condiment. I did this on the weekend and didn’t feel like catching the bus to my Korean grocer just for kim chi. So my dish, pictured below, doesn’t look exactly like the one from the magazine, pictured above, but close enough, right?

My tips and warnings about this recipe:

  1. I already went over the whole issue about the timing of the marinade in the refrigerator. It’s a two to four hour window. In reality, that’s a good rule because the salt from the shoyu tends to tighten the chicken meat if left too long sitting in sodium. So avoiding a long marinating period probably keeps your chicken from getting that “cured” texture.
  2. The toasted sesame seeds added at the end is actually a nice touch and I wouldn’t skip this step.
  3. The sliced cucumbers add a nice, cooling taste to the dish. But for fun, you can also pickle them Korean-style like this to add another dimension to this Korean meal.
Ease of cooking: I mean, come on. This is so simple. It’s probably preparing the side dishes that make it complicated. The chicken itself is super easy. Marinade. Grill. Eat.

Taste: The marinade had all the classic flavors of Asian marinades so this turned out quite well in my eyes. Everything was well balanced, and definitely big on the garlic flavor, but it’s not Korean without the garlic! (In the past, I’ve experimented with this dish by adding Korean hot paste, which just gives it an extra kick.)

Overall grade: A- because the taste is pretty authentic and it’s simple to make but I don’t like the idea of pounding the chicken so I took points off for that and for all the other side requirements. It’s not anything surprising, but simply a classic.

Don’t forget to vote in my next Test Kitchen poll on the upper right hand corner. The July edition of Food and Wine is the annual “Best New Chefs” issue, so I picked three recipes from three of the best new chefs. I don’t say who the recipes are from, so you’ll have to wait to find out once you choose the winning recipe.

Previous test kitchens:
Espresso-Shortbread Brownie Bars
Basil-Crusted Leg of Lamb
Pork Tonkatsu
Winter Vegetable Chili


Cookie said...

I love Bolgogi but I've never had it with chicken before. Thanks for the recipe!

Carolyn Jung said...

Oh yum! If you lived closer, you could have knocked on my door for some kim chi. A little smellier than borrowing sugar, but heck, why not? ;)

Mrs. L said...

Since my husband gets home about two hours after me,I could actually do this on a weeknight (yes, dinner is pretty late in our household with his new schedule). Do you think there would be a problem using agave nectar instead of honey?

Single Guy Ben said...

Mrs. L, I've never used agave nectar. Does it have the same consistency as honey? If so, I'm sure it'll be fine. I think you just want some kind of sweetener to balance the soy.