Sticky Spicy Korean Chicken Thighs (Gluten-Free, dairy-free)

This recipe is a healthy-fied homage to a childhood favorite. Growing up in Korea, there was a chain of fried chicken restaurants, Pelicana Fried Chicken, that made the most glorious spicy fried chicken. It was crispy fried popcorn chicken covered in a bright red spicy sauce. Though I could NOT tolerate spicy foods at all as a child, I still risked having my mouth completely catch on fire for these flavor bombs. The juicy, crispy chicken with the fire-hot spicy yet subtly sweet sauce was so worth having my face turn beet red. 

I haven't had that chicken in about 20 years, but I still think about it from time to time. I am not even sure if the chain still exists, but even if it did, I wouldn't try the chicken again because it likely would not live up to how I've built it up in my head. Plus, I definitely don't want to find out what kind of mystery ingredients make up that delicious sauce or what kind of oil the chicken is fried in. 

Clearly, I had to come up with my own healthy version of this chicken. Instead of fried chicken, I opted for baked chicken thighs, which retains the juiciness and flavor without being deep fried in oil. Baking the chicken thighs on a wire rack crisps up the chicken while making clean up a breeze (winning!). In the sauce, I replaced the sugar for honey, which still gives this sauce the amazing sticky sweetness without being cloyingly sweet. And, of course, I also upped the umami factor by adding fish sauce and ginger, which adds an incredible depth of flavor. This results in a much lighter yet still indulgent-tasting dish that is a perfect complement of spicy, garlicky, sweet flavors.

This dish, paired with white or cauliflower rice has easily become one of our favorite meals in our household. It is also perfect for entertaining because you can scale the recipe to a bigger portion very easily - plus it seems super impressive (I've been told that it is restaurant quality!). Hope you try it out and enjoy!

sticky spicy korean chicken thighs (gluten-free, dairy-free)

Servings: 4

Time: 1 hr

Difficulty: Easy



  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and place a wire rack on the sheet. Spray the wire rack with avocado oil. Pat the chicken thighs dry and place the chicken on the wire rack and bake for 30-40 minutes until the skin is crisp and the internal temperature reads 165 degrees. 
  2. While the chicken bakes, place all the remaining ingredients (except for scallion and cashews) into a sauce pan. Turn heat to medium and whisk the ingredients together. Simmer the sauce for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until it has thickened into a shiny sticky sauce and coats the back of a spoon. Once thickened, turn the heat down to low until chicken is ready. 
  3. Once the chicken is done, place chicken on a serving dish and spoon the sauce over the top (make sure to use all of the sauce because you won't want to waste this goodness!). Top with chopped scallions, cashews, and sesame seeds and serve with white or cauliflower rice. Enjoy!