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Recipe: Pump up the flavor of grilled chicken with Korean Gochujang

This July 13, 2015 photo shows grilled gochujang chicken thighs with feta and fresh mint in Concord, N.H. The gochujang has kick, but doesn't overwhelm, being both salty and savory with a touch of sweetness. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

This July 13, 2015 photo shows grilled gochujang chicken thighs with feta and fresh mint in Concord, N.H. The gochujang has kick, but doesn’t overwhelm, being both salty and savory with a touch of sweetness. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

By J.M Hirsch, AP Food Editor

For many years, I was hooked on Thai red curry paste, a thick, unctuous seasoning that packs a little heat and a lot of savory deliciousness. It’s great whisked into vinaigrettes and marinades, smeared straight up onto steaks and chicken, blended into meatloaf and burgers, even pureed into hummus.

This July 13, 2015 photo shows grilled gochujang chicken thighs with feta and fresh mint in Concord, N.H. The gochujang has kick, but doesn't overwhelm, being both salty and savory with a touch of sweetness. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

This July 13, 2015 photo shows grilled gochujang chicken thighs with feta and fresh mint in Concord, N.H. The gochujang has kick, but doesn’t overwhelm, being both salty and savory with a touch of sweetness. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Prior to that, I was smitten with miso, a Japanese seasoning paste made from fermented soybeans. It is crazy salty and savory and just a little sweet, and it can do so much more than just make the soup we all slurp at sushi restaurants. Vinaigrettes and marinades? Check. Corn and seafood chowders? Definitely! Meat rubs? Absolutely.

But lately I’ve fallen for yet another Asian seasoning paste — gochujang, a Korean condiment made from chilies, rice, fermented soybeans and a host of other ingredients. It tastes like a blend of sweet white miso and Sriracha. It’s got kick, but it doesn’t overwhelm. It’s salty and savory, but sports just a touch of sweetness.

And it is awesome on so many things. In this recipe, I turn it into a quick marinade for chicken thighs. You could stop there, just grilling the chicken, then slapping the thighs on buns with a dollop of mayo and a slab of tomato. But I like to arrange the thighs on a platter and dress them up a bit with feta cheese and fresh mint. You then could eat them as is, or with hunks of flatbread.

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GRILLED GOCHUJANG CHICKEN THIGHS WITH FETA AND FRESH MINT

This July 13, 2015 photo shows grilled gochujang chicken thighs with feta and fresh mint in Concord, N.H. The gochujang has kick, but doesn't overwhelm, being both salty and savory with a touch of sweetness. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

This July 13, 2015 photo shows grilled gochujang chicken thighs with feta and fresh mint in Concord, N.H. The gochujang has kick, but doesn’t overwhelm, being both salty and savory with a touch of sweetness. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Gochujang is increasingly popular in the U.S., and that’s making it easier to find. Check the international aisle at most larger grocers. It’s also widely available online and at Asian grocers.

Start to finish: 20 minutes, plus marinating

Servings: 6

3 tablespoons gochujang

3 tablespoons rice vinegar or cider vinegar

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1/2 lemon

Ground black pepper

Flatbread (optional)

In a large zip-close plastic bag, combine the gochujang, vinegar and soy sauce. Mix and mash until well combined, then add the chicken. Seal the bag, then overturn several times, or until all of the chicken is well coated with the marinade. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours.

When ready to cook, heat the grill to medium-high. Just before cooking, use an oil-soaked paper towel held with tongs to coat the grates.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and grill for 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until the chicken reaches 165 F at the thickest part. Transfer the chicken to a platter. Top the chicken with the tomatoes, then sprinkle the feta and mint over them. Squeeze the juice of the lemon over everything, then season with pepper. Serve with flatbread, if desired.

Nutrition information per serving: 240 calories; 80 calories from fat (33 percent of total calories); 9 g fat (3.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 140 mg cholesterol; 610 mg sodium; 8 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 30 g protein.

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