Most of my Internet surfing these days revolves around my favorite topic: food. I read food blogs, recipe sites, search for recipe contests, etc. On most days, I try to look through the food photos at Photograzing, an offshoot of Serious Eats, for inspiration for my home cooking. One day, I was struck by photos of a vivid red Korean-style preparation called Pineapple Dak Bulgogi, which uses pineapple as a tenderizing agent in the marinade. The creator not only ate his bulgogi on rice, he also did interesting cross-cultural things like use it as a filling for burritos and tacos.
After reading the recipe, I determined that I wanted to try it but only after an issue was resolved.
Koreans use Asian pear in their bulgogi marinades for tenderizing, but adding sweetness is just as an important role for the fruit. And while its juice is somewhat acidic, its tenderizing ability is nothing compared to a protein-digesting enzyme like the bromelain found in pineapple. Left in contact with bromelain for more than a short time, meat proteins can break down and get unpleasantly mushy - I know this from experience. (Never marinate shrimp in pineapple juice for more time than it takes to read this sentence - tears may ensue.) The Pineapple Duk Bulgogi recipe calls for a half hour of marination, and if you've got such control of your time, then that's probably fine, but suppose you get an urgent phone call, or have to leave the house for any length of time? Sadly, your chicken will probably be ruined.
And face it, chicken doesn't need tenderizing. The original recipe calls for breast meat, which cooks very quickly. My solution to the problem: take the pineapple out of the marinade. Another change: because I'm not a fan of the BSCB (boneless skinless chicken breast), I used thighs because they are more flavorful and don't suffer when overcooked.
As for the pineapple, I did use it, but in a different component of the dish - as a sweet relish with some herbs from our garden.
Because I liked the idea of a bulgogi burrito, I wrapped my chicken in a whole-wheat flatbread along with the pineapple relish and some really fast kimchee (faster and less-powerfully garlicky than the one I made last month). The flavors went together beautifully, with the brightness and herbiness of the pineapple cutting some of the heat from the chicken, and the kimchee just making it all seem that much more Korean.
Korean BBQ Chicken Wraps with Pineapple Relish and Quick and Dirty Kimchee
Korean BBQ Chicken
1/2 cup gochujang (Korean hot pepper bean paste)
3 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely minced
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 green onions, both white and green parts chopped
4 boneless skinless chicken thighs, thinly sliced
In a large bowl, mix all ingredients except chicken, stirring well to dissolve sugar. Add chicken. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour and up to overnight.
When ready to cook, pour everything into a hot sauté pan and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Turn heat down to medium, cover, and cook until chicken is cooked through, 15-20 minutes. If you use chicken breasts, cut the cooking time by about half.
1 cup fresh pineapple, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon sugar
6-10 basil leaves, depending on the type and size of basil you use (I used Thai)
6 large mint leaves
finely grated zest of half a lime
Over medium-high heat, sauté pineapple in butter and sugar until fruit begins to brown slightly. Remove to a bowl and toss with mint, basil, and lime zest. Serve warm.
Quick and Dirty Kimchee
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Korean pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon agave syrup
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1.5 cups shredded cabbage
Combine first five ingredients. Add cabbage and stir to coat. Refrigerate for an hour or more to allow flavors to develop.
Flatbreads, tortillas, or lavash
Korean BBQ chicken
Place chicken, relish, and kimchee on one end of the wrapper of your choice. Roll up and eat. Makes 4-6, depending on the size of your wrapper.