It is a truth universally acknowledged that every Asian cuisine features a funky, fermented soya bean sauce. These are used to great effect in stews, braises and marinades, adding depth of flavour to any dish.
For years, my mother has been trying to persuade me to cook with gochujang, the Korean version that, apart from the fermented soya beans, also contains red chilli, glutinous rice and salt.
She cooks belly pork with it, marinating the meat with the paste and adding some other flavours to it. Then she braises it with a little water to make a succulent dish that is mild and delicious with rice.
Yes, despite its angry red colour, the paste is not very hot.
Finally, I get round to doing it, mostly because I want a fuss-free dinner one weekend. I did not want to spend a lot of time slaving over a meal, but needed something delicious. What is the point of taking the trouble to cook and turning out lacklustre food?
Fortunately, my chicken turns out really well.
I use skin-on, but boneless chicken legs and one of these is plenty for one person, unless you have growing boys. In which case, double the recipe.
The chicken is marinated at least eight hours with a gochujang marinade that can easily be put together with pantry staples.
Apart from the chilli paste, chopped garlic, honey, shoyu or soya sauce and sesame oil go into the marinade. Whisk together so it forms a sauce with the consistency of thick cream.
As wonderful as it smells in the container, I find that unadulterated gochujang can come on a little strong, so the other ingredients add other layers of flavours and nuances.
Then all that is needed is to massage the marinade onto the chicken pieces and refrigerate them overnight. I have left the chicken in the fridge for as long as 36 hours and it has turned out fine. Any longer and the meat might be a little mushy.
The honey helps to caramelise the chicken and there will be dark, singed edges on the skin. These are the parts I like best, but the whole piece of chicken is really delicious. You get the good funk from the fermented soya beans, a bit of sweetness from the honey and the aroma of sesame oil is one I cannot resist.
Keep an eagle eye on the chicken and if it browns too quickly, float a sheet of aluminium foil over it, but take it off about 10 minutes before the end of cooking.
I use soft butterhead lettuce as wraps for the chicken, adding julienned carrot and cucumber for crunch, and bell peppers for sweetness.
This dish would work quite well for people trying to cut down on carbs and I have lost count of my friends who are shunning it. I have not, of course.
So I may well use the chicken for a burger, with lettuce, tomato and pickled cucumber and chilli, next time.
The chicken is also great with rice and some stir-fried vegetables.
Although I have used boneless chicken to make it easy to carve, you can use bone-in thighs or drumsticks, or even chicken wings, if you do not intend to bother with lettuce and julienned vegetables.
The kicky gochujang should be used as often as possible. My mother is always right.
This article was first published on March 29, 2015.
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