Somehow I fell down a ‘mukbang‘ rabbit hole on Instagram the other night. (If you’re not familiar, it’s a social media thing where people eat vast quantities of food in front of a camera and share it to YouTube, TikTok and Instagram.) Sometimes it has an ASMR component to it, and sometimes it’s just for fun. It’s a trend that started in South Korea and is now a worldwide phenomenon.
As you may have guessed, it’s typically large quantities of foods like fried chicken, pizza, noodles, ice cream or candy that are consumed – because who wants to watch someone eat a gluttonous amount of salad?
I’ll admit, it seems like an odd thing for a vegan to watch, but I’ve always been transparent about the fact that I didn’t give up animal-based products because I didn’t like them, but because I know it’s healthier for me, for the earth and especially for the animals if I don’t consume them.
But I do still crave the flavors of good, old-fashioned “junk food.” Especially after watching someone else indulge in it.
I went vegan before things like “Nashville Hot” or “Korean Spicy” versions of fried chicken were commonplace, so I feel like there’s this whole new flavor phenomenon that I missed out on. (Not for the chicken part, because I’d rather chickens be my friends than my food, or for the artery-clogging deep-fried part – but I’m all about the crunchy, breaded, spicy saucy part.)
Recently I perfected a Ranch-Flavored Popcorn “Chick’n” using Butler Soy Curls, so I decided to apply that cooking method to this spicy Korean version.
I chose soy curls for this dish because they really do mimic the texture of chicken, and because I wanted small, bite-size pieces that would be reminiscent of boneless chicken bites – the kind you’d get if you ordered this at a Korean Chicken restaurant. Most importantly, it has that same crunch you get from deep-fried, but without all the oil, thanks to the use of finely crushed panko and a full-on 3-part breading station.
You’ll need a trip to your local Asian supermarket (or a few minutes on Amazon) for a couple of ingredients, particularly the Korean chili paste (gochujang) and chili powder (gochujaru) that give this dish it’s signature heat and flavor. Gochujang is like the Sriracha of Korean cooking. It’s a very flavorful, savory-sweet fermented chili paste that is widely used as a condiment and a base for sauces. Gochujaru is a dried chili powder made from Korean red chili peppers and adds intense heat. It’s really worth sourcing them before making this dish, which clearly was a hit – I barely got a chance to photograph it before my 11yo swooped in and declared this the “best dish ever!”
So I guess I’m making another batch of these tomorrow!
Baked Spicy Korean “Fried Chicken”
Serves 4 (as an appetizer) | Nut-free | Prep time: 30 minutes | Cook time: 20 minutes
4oz Butler Soy Curls, dry
2 cups unsweetened soy milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground thyme
1 teaspoon gochujaru (Korean chili powder)
2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
2 tablespoons agave nectar, plus extra for drizzle
3 tablespoons brown sugar
¼ cup low-sodium tamari
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon each black and white sesame seeds (for garnish) 2 green onion stalks, diced or sliced into strips (for garnish
- Place the soy curls in a large bowl and cover with hot tap water. Let stand for 10 minutes to rehydrate. When done, drain and squeeze the curls to release as much water as possible. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a standard baking sheet with parchment paper.
- While the curls are rehydrating, prepare the breading station. Add the flour to a shallow, wide bowl or plate and set aside. Do the same for the milk. In a large resealable bag, combine the panko, salt, pepper, thyme, and gochujaru powder. Seal the bag, leaving air inside it, and shake well to combine. Release the air and reseal the bag, then use a rolling pin to crush the panko into fine crumbs. Transfer to a third shallow dish or bowl. Set aside.
- Working in small batches (5-6 pieces at a time), toss the soy curls in the flour to coat, shaking off any excess, then dip in the milk (again allowing any excess to drip off), toss to coat in the breadcrumbs and place on the prepared baking tray. Repeat until all soy curls are done. Bake for 20 minutes.
- While the curls are baking, prepare the sauce. In a medium size bowl, combine the red pepper paste, 2 tablespoons of agave, brown sugar, tamari, ginger, garlic, vegetable and sesame oils. Whisk until fully combined.
- When the curls are cooked, transfer them to a large bowl, add the sauce and toss well to coat. Transfer to a plate and sprinkle with sesame seeds, green onions and a little drizzle of agave.