Korean Barbecue-style Chicken Lettuce Wraps

This post was created in partnership with the Korea Agro-Fisheries and Food Trade Corporation. Time for another of this summer’s series of Korean recipes and today I’m sharing an easy, at-home recipe for one of my favourite Korean eats: Korean barbecue!

Ever since I had my first taste of Korean food at Soot Bull Jeep in Los Angeles’ Koreatown as a student Korean barbecue has been one of my favourite things to eat, not just because of the delicious flavours, but because of the whole event and ceremony of the meal, from the big bowls of meat arriving at the table for you to cook yourself over the central grills, and the little plates of banchan – a mixture of pickles and salads as essential to every good Korean meal as the rice – that litter the table for you to build your own lettuce wrap with your freshly charred meats.

I’m going to tell you know this is not a traditional Korean barbecue recipe, far from it, but it is something simple you can make for a fun self assembly weeknight dinner that captures the flavours and the spirit of Korean barbecue at home which I hope will encourage you to either go the whole hog and get more elaborate with Korean barbecue nights at home (Steph and Mike have a fantastic guide if this is the route you want to go down), or to go out to find Korean barbecue at an authentic restaurant – if you’re in London, I love Superstar Korean Barbecue in Fitzrovia, and Little Korea on Lisle Street in Chinatown.

Anyway, these lettuce cups. As I mentioned, they’re super easy to make. Marinate the chicken in the morning, then simply griddle it either in a griddle pan (I have this one which is great for replicating a barbecue effect indoors) or cook it on the barbecue while you’re preparing everything else. I’ve kept it simple here with gem lettuce cups, cooked Jasmine rice (rice is essential to any truly Korean meal, you can of course use Korean short grain rice here instead if you have some to hand), my favourite homemade Korean sweet chilli sauce (ssamjang, a dipping sauce made with doenjang, gochujang – more on those in a second – sweet rice syrup or honey and toasted sesame oil is more traditional with Korean barbecue, but I find ssamjang only goes with Korean barbecue, while my sauce is super addictive kept in the fridge to drizzle on fried eggs, salads etc.) and a good sprinkling of Korean sesame seasoned seaweed flakes for an essential hit of umami.

As I said, I wanted to keep these as simple and as accessible as possible, but of course more the merrier when it comes to setting out banchan / add ins for people to help theirselves to on the table – of course kimchee is a prime candidate, but pretty much anything I mentioned that would make a good kimbap filling would also be a great addition to these lettuce wraps.

So, what Korean ingredients have I included in my marinade for that Korean barbecue flavour?

Well, regular readers of my recipes won’t need any introduction to gochujang, the sweet, spicy, fermented Korean chilli paste that has a permanent place in my fridge door and I like to use in everything (you can read more about gochujang in my love letter to it here) but doenjang may be less familiar, a dark, savoury, funky fermented soy bean paste which most certainly is not miso, but if you’ve never tried it before, brown rice miso paste would be your closest point of reference for both flavour, texture and usage. You can find both in the Asian section of some of the bigger supermarkets these days (Sainsbury’s is rather good for this) but I usually get them both when I do a big Sous Chef order for specialist ingredients a couple of times a year as they have a fantastic Korean section.

There is a third magic ingredient in my marinade, however, that since becoming introduced to it I’ve become slightly obsessed with: Korean plum extract (meshil extract). It is simply a sweet, tangy plum syrup you find in lots of Korean marinades and drinks, and what gives this chicken a little extra something. It is also my solution to not being able to easily get hold of Asian pears here in the UK which is usually the ingredient I stumble up on when making very traditional Korean marinades – the plum extract adds that sweetness and fruitiness and the bottle is just always there in your cupboard! It also does the pears job of softening and tenderising the meat, too.

Where can I find meshil extract?

Check your nearest Asian supermarket or grocery store. You can also Amazon Prime a bottle, but it is much cheaper to go to a specialist online Asian grocery and stock up (also, to do what I do and find so many random cool and yummy snacks to sneak into the basked!): StarryMart have it in at the moment.

How can I use meshil extract?

Well obviously here I’ve used it in a marinade, but try it in cocktails, or simply as a halfway house between a cordial and a shrub by topping a little up with sparkling water over ice. It sort of is a shrub anyway, because it is made by steeping Korean green plums in honey or sugar for a few months. Also, it is great in sauces where you’d usually expect sugar or tang – I’ve had great results recently using it in place of Korean corn syrup in recipes.

Something else I’ve used here is seasoned seaweed, which is a recent discovery I’m very obsessed with sprinkling onto all my Asian-inspired rice and noodle dishes. You can of course sub in toasted sesame seeds or toasted seaweed sheets cut into strips or crumbled in a food processor, but nothing beats the real thing – honestly, it is seriously addictive! Again, check your nearest Asian grocery store or wherever else you go to stock up on authentic. Asian flavours, but again you can add the exact brand I use to your StarryMart order (I’ve linked to soy sauce as it is the most popular, but personally I love the sesame flavour if I can get it!)

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Korean Barbecue-style Chicken Lettuce Wraps

  • Author: Rachel Phipps
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes (plus marinating time)
  • Yield: Serves 2 1x
  • Category: Dinner
  • Cuisine: Korean

Description

These easy Korean Barbecue-style Chicken Lettuce Wraps combine crisp lettuce, aromatic white rice, an addictive homemade Korean sweet chilli sauce and delicious griddled chicken for a Korean barbecue-inspired experience that is quick and easy enough for busy weeknights!


Ingredients

Scale

For the Korean Barbecue-style Chicken

  • 1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp gochujang
  • 1 tbsp doenjang
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Korean plum syrup 
  • 1/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 small brown onion
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • thumb size piece ginger 
  • 4 skinless boneless chicken thighs

For the Korean Sweet Chilli Sauce

  • 2 tbsp gochujang
  • 1 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp runny honey
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil

For the Lettuce Wraps

  • 2 gem lettuces
  • 60g (2 oz) jasmine rice
  • seasoned Korean seaweed flakes 

Instructions

  1. First, marinate the chicken. Combine all the marinade ingredients – the onion, garlic and ginger without their skins – in a blender and blitz until you have a smooth marinade. Cut each chicken thigh into 4 pieces and using the palm of your hand bash them down to flatten them a bit so they’re all of an even thickness. Leave to marinate for at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight.
  2. Cook the rice and separate the gem lettuce leaves into cups. Meanwhile, whisk together all the Korean sweet chilli sauce ingredients and set aside.
  3. Heat a griddle pan on high or get the barbecue going. Cook the chicken pieces for about 5 minutes on each side until they’re nicely charred and totally cooked through – if you’re working inside you’ll want to open the windows as the sugar content in the plum syrup does produce a bit of smoke along with a beautiful char! 
  4. Bring everything to the table so everyone can build their own lettuce cups!

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