These spicy, sweet, and savory gochujang ginger chicken thighs are easy to make, even easier to eat, and of course there’s that highly addictive peanut sauce thing…yeah, that’s pretty good too.
Insomnia is the pits. I’ve been dealing with my fair share of sleeplessness lately (being roughly the size of a Cadillac, and not nearly as graceful) and don’t pretend to imagine that nights of blissful, uninterrupted slumber are in my near future, what with the addition of a small human and all.
But if we’re looking for a silver lining, perhaps it’s that I tend to get a lot of good thinking done in those wee hours of the morning (somewhere between the bathroom breaks and existential dread that is). And because I am who I am, my thoughts often run towards what we might be eating someday soon.
Gochujang Ginger Chicken Thighs With Peanut Sauce
This chicken has been ON MY MIND for what seems like weeks now. Between hours of tossing and turning (final weeks of pregnancy are NO JOKE), I imagined something unmistakably savory, but with a hint of sweetness and some bite too. What I ended up with in the end is a totally craveable, spicy, sweet, and relatively healthy dish that’s a cinch to make and provides plenty of options for swap outs, substitutions, and all that.
Let’s Talk Ingredients
Most of this stuff is basic, and a few things might not be on your radar. But all of it can be procured via your generic chain grocery store.
- Chicken – I went for boneless, skinless thighs here. One, they’re easy. Two, they’re delicious. Three, they cook fast. If you want to go for a different cut of chicken I’d recommend something boneless, as the cooking time here should be relatively short. But if bone-in is all you’ve got, read below (a little later) for my tips on finagling this recipe to suit your needs.
- Gochujang – If anything seems unfamiliar on this list it’s probably gochujang. This sweet, sticky, very spicy stuff is a staple in Korean cuisine and is a personal favorite of mine. You can usually find it in the international section of your grocery store. If you’re particularly nervous about it, remember that it lasts forever and won’t break the bank, so what’s the harm in trying it out – plus the stuff is amazing and I’m thinking you’ll love it.
- Ginger – Definitely not a specialty ingredient, but one worth discussing for a hot second. Unless you’re doing holiday baking, you should be using fresh ginger. Its sharp, zesty bite just cannot be replicated by any shelf stable product that I’ve encountered. Also it keeps quite a while in the fridge, or a near lifetime in the freezer. Another also, it’s like, really good for you.
- Other stuff – the rest is all pretty standard stuff from your pantry. Being that groceries have become harder to source though, I’ll definitely include some substitutions below, even for the easy stuff.
What If I Don’t Have a Grill?
I totally don’t have a grill. But I do have a grill pan! Is it the same? No. Will it do in times of crisis? Heck yeah! But if you find yourself without either of those options, feel free to use a cast iron or any heavy skillet at your disposal – the recipe will still work and be delicious.
You could even broil this (because what is a broiler afterall than an inconventiently placed upsidedown grill?). Just make sure to keep a watchful eye on things, as broilers are notorious for burning food (or is it that I’m notorious for walking away and forgetting there’s stuff in the broiler?).
Do I Have to Peel My Ginger?
So, I’m sure there will be some that disagree with me (and that’s the beauty of the internet) but if I can avoid peeling my ginger I do. Because the ginger here is either going into the marinade (which will eventually end up in the garbage) or is getting blitzed into a billion tiny pieces via a food processor or blender type mechanism, it’s really unnecessary to peel it at all.
I mean, just look at the skin for a second. Now it’s not something you’d want to chomp down on raw, but by the time it’s pulverized, it’s really no big deal. Garlic peels on the other hand…
Can I Substitute Another Cut of Chicken?
So I picked boneless, skinless thighs for a few reasons.
- They’re what I had on hand.
- They are nearly foolproof. Dark meat chicken has a higher fat content than its white meat counterparts, which not only means it cooks up juicier and tastier, but it’s also way harder to mess up or overcook.
- They cook quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I love a crispy skinned, bone in, meaty as hell chicken thigh, but this marinade has a decent amount of sugar present, and sugar when up against high heat has a tendency to burn. By choosing a piece of chicken that doesn’t need long to cook, we avoid turning what is meant to be a pleasant char into a sticky, burned mess.
Convinced? Ok, if not here’s what you can do instead. For chicken breasts or bone-in thighs, marinate as directed, but when it’s time to cook, lower your heat to medium. Cook the chicken until you have some good color on both sides and then transfer it to a 350°F oven until the internal temperature reaches 155°F for white meat or 165°F for dark. Let the chicken rest for at least ten minutes before serving.
Peanut Sauce Tips and Tricks
So peanut sauce is kind of like cutting your own hair – easy to let get away from you. Because this particular sauce is such a delicate balance of salty, sweet, spicy, and tart, you can just keep adjusting it until you’re blue in the face – trust me, I’ve been there. So for some helpful peanut sauce tips, keep this stuff in mind:
- The four main flavors here are salt, sugar, acid, and heat. And they all play off one another in distinct and sometimes perplexing ways. For instance, too much spice can be tamed by a little extra sweetness. Or if your recipe is veering a little salty, try throwing in something acidic to tone the salt down.
- Fat also plays a role here in that it mellows all the other flavors out just a touch. So if your sauce is just way too acidic you might want to add something fatty – like oil or more peanut butter.
- Remember that water is also a KEY component to any successful peanut sauce. The flavors we’re working with are very bold, and unless you are really up on your sauce making game, balancing all of these can be a real challenge. A little water really helps soften the edges, and gives you the right consistency without adding extra flavor.
- If you don’t have a food processor/blender type thing that is able to blitz slices of ginger and garlic into mere pulp at just the touch of a button, fear not! Just grate the ginger and garlic finely instead of slicing, and whisk your sauce together in a bowl.
Substituting Smaller Items
So sometimes you just don’t have creamy peanut butter, dark brown sugar, or soy sauce…what do you do? As promised, here’s some options for easy swap outs:
- Sriracha, sambal, or chili sauce for gochujang – it won’t be quite the same, but it’ll still be good.
- Rice wine vinegar for lime juice – If you can get limes, I recommend them, but unseasoned rice vinegar will also work in a pinch. I would however stay away from stronger vinegars like red wine or balsamic.
- Almond or cashew butter for peanut – again, different but definitely still delicious.
- Fish sauce for soy sauce – Ok, I realize that the majority of people will most likely have soy sauce on hand and NOT fish sauce – but you can sub one for the other if you need to. Just remember that fish sauce is WAY saltier and funkier than soy, so 1/3 of the amount should do you. Also you can just use plain old salt.
- Granulated sugar, coconut sugar, honey, or maple syrup for brown sugar – I personally really like the molassasey notes you get from dark brown sugar, but it’s really sweetness we’re after, so feel free to sub in whatever you’ve got.
Looking For More Chicken Dinner Recipes?
Feel free to wander over to any of these beautiful birds:
- Buffalo Chicken Thighs with Pickled Celery
- Oven Roasted Barbecue Chicken
- Sesame Soy Chicken Drumsticks
Gochujang Ginger Chicken Thighs
Grilled gochujang ginger chicken thighs are spicy, sweet, and absolutely bursting with flavor. Best part, they’re a cinch to make, even tonight!
- Prep Time: 10 Minutes (plus marinating)
- Cook Time: 15 Minutes
- Total Time: 25 minutes
- Yield: 4 Servings 1x
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Grill
- Cuisine: Asian
4 T soy sauce
2 T gochujang
1/4 C dark brown sugar
1 T vegetable oil
3 inches ginger, sliced
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 tsp kosher salt
8 boneless skinless chicken thighs
Juice and zest of 3 limes
1/3 C creamy peanut butter
1/4 C water
Fresh herbs, sliced cucumber, and crushed peanuts for garnish (optional)
In a large bowl, combine soy sauce, gochujang, dark brown sugar, vegetable oil, ginger, garlic and kosher salt. Whisk to until sugar and salt are dissolved. Set aside half of the marinade for the peanut sauce. Add the chicken to the remaining mixture, tossing to coat. Cover, chill, and let marinate for four hours, or up to one day.
Make peanut sauce by combining reserved marinade with lime juice and zest, peanut butter, and warm water in a food processor or blender. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, sugar, or gochujang as you see fit.
Preheat a grill, grill pan, or heavy skillet over high heat. Remove chicken from marinade, letting any excess drain away. Place chicken on preheated pan, being careful not to crowd the pan (I cooked mine in two batches). Cook chicken until first side takes on a medium char, about 5 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until chicken is firm and opaque, or reaches an internal temperature of 170°F.
Top chicken with peanut sauce, fresh herbs, sliced fresh cucumber, and crushed peanuts. Serve with rice, noodles, or whatever.
This recipe calls for boneless, skinless thighs because they will finish cooking before the marinade has the chance to burn. If you choose a longer cooking cut of chicken (bone in thighs, breasts, etc.) then just lower your heat to medium, cook on both sides until you have some nice color and transfer to a 350°F oven to finish.
If you can’t find gochujang, feel free to substitute sriracha or sambal (chili garlic paste), but make sure to taste everything along the way so you don’t get in over your head, spice wise.
I used standard, creamy, not so good for you, peanut butter here. Natural peanut butter, almond butter, or cashew butter will also work fine, but you may need to adjust the sugar levels a little bit.
If you don’t have a food processor or blender you can still make the peanut sauce, just grate the ginger and garlic instead of slicing, and then whisk the sauce together in a bowl.
Don’t let the chicken marinade longer than 24 hours, the intense amount of salt in the marinade can make the meat a little spongey if left too long.
Keywords: gochujang chicken, grilled chicken thighs, asian grilled chicken, easy peanut sauce, easy grilled chicken