Korean Sticky, Sweet, and Spicy Chicken Legs
Is this a normal course of a person’s evolution? Little by little over the past few years, I became a person I hardly recognize. I was at an event that was attended by a number of celebrities this Monday, including Justin Timberlake. A few years ago, a JT sighting would have had me giddy as a teenager. But do you know who I was most excited to spot at this event? Marcus Samuelsson. Just in case, you are saying huh? He is the chef/owner of Red Rooster in Harlem.
It’s not just that. By the time 10:30pm rolled around, I was dreaming of kicking off my stilettos and slipping my tortured feet into my fluffy, bunny slippers. I just wanted to curl up on my sofa sipping wine while watching a marathon of Alias (Love J. J. Abrams). I asked my husband if we could head home about 2 songs into Mary J. Blige’s performance. He looked at me like I was crazy. And as much as I would like to pretend that we had a particularly sexy or stimulating conversation in the backseat of a cab on our way home, we didn’t. We talked about the tray of chicken legs we had in the fridge. What to do with it. Whether we should roast it or braise it. Oh my god! What’s happened to you, woman?!
We were home by 11:30pm. My husband had a good chuckle about the days when I cursed last call and stayed out until the wee hour of the morning.
Just to state the obvious, I decided to roast the chicken legs. I made some sweet and sticky gochujang glaze to go with it. This has to be one of my favorite ways to prepare chicken legs. The flavors are so Korean: sweet, spicy, salty, and slightly vinegary while still being earthy. The flavors are strong, but they inexplicably go so well together. And these strong, yet harmonious favors, are probably the reason why some call Korean cuisine the naughty cousin of Japanese cuisine.
Cooking Korean cuisine is very much an imprecise art. Most families have different recipes and different preferences. And most Korean cooks don’t measure anything with a modern measuring device. It’s mostly done with the eye and instinct. I’m no different. When I make this, I usually just throw in a big spoonful of this, a sprinkle of that, and a dash of this. Needless to say, it’s taken some discipline to measure everything out since starting this blog. This is all to say, don’t be afraid to adjust the seasoning based on your personal preference. This is how I like mine.
I LOVE things spicy and slightly sweet. Prepare the sauce using the recipe first. Taste it. Adjust if necessary. But my friends, family, and I think this is just perfect.
Korean Sticky, Sweet, and Spicy Chicken Legs Recipe
Serves 2-3 people
1 – 1/4 lbs bone-in chicken legs
3 garlic cloves
3 TB tamari
2 TB water
1 tsp fish sauce
3 TB + 1 TB agave or honey
1 1/2 TB rice vinegar*
2 TB soju or sake*
2 TB gochujang (Korean red chili pepper paste)
canola or grapeseed oil for cooking
- Add garlic, tamari, water, fish sauce, 3 TB of agave or honey, vinegar, and soju to a blend. Blend until smooth. Add about 3 TB of this mixture to the chicken legs. I usually do this in a ziploc for easy clean up. Marinate for at least an hour, up to 6 hours.
- Pour the rest of the mixture in a small sauce pan. Add 2 generous TB of gochujang and 1 TB of agave or honey into the same sauce pan. Simmer until the mixture gets thicker. It only takes a few minutes. Remove from heat. Allow the sauce to cool. Keep in mind that the sauce will get thicker as it cools. Reserve about a 1/4 cup of this sauce to use as dipping sauce if desired.
- Prepare a baking pan with parchment paper. Take the chicken legs out of the marinade. Pat dry. Place the chicken legs on the prepared baking sheet. Brush them with some canola or grapeseed oil. Cover loosely with aluminum foil. Bake at 400 for about 25 minutes. Remove foil, brush the chicken with sauce/glaze from step 3. Brush with sauce a couple of more times before the chicken is done cooking. Bake for about 20 minutes longer until the internal temperature reaches 165 °F.
- Serve with some steamed rice and veggies, along with the reserved sauce for dipping if desired.
If you don’t have rice vinegar, balsamic vinegar is an acceptable substitute (I may actually prefer this). Additionally, if you don’t have soju or sake, mirin or dry (pale) sherry is an acceptable substitute.
If you want a richer glaze, sauté the gochujang for about a minute with some oil before adding the mixture from step 1 to the saucepan (instead of adding everything together at once).
If the glaze becomes too thick after cooling, add a little bit of water to thin it out. You can also add a little bit of water if you want to dilute the flavor of the sauce.
If you have any left over, use it as a dipping sauce for meats at a later time. Just refrigerate and reheat as necessary.
You can substitute up to 2 tsp of the gochujang with ketchup if you want to temper the spiciness of the sauce. Yes, ketchup! It works like magic. I promise you.