The People’s Sauce is Deepest Red

Editor’s note: When I encountered one Gochu-Juan on Twitter, I could hardly believe my good fortune. Here at last one was someone who described himself as a *one-stop shop for fusion recipes, angry socialist politics, and education policy.* And so I extended a invitation. Would Gochu-Juan consider writing something that combined all of these loves into one edible delight that I might share on this page? Happily, he accepted my challenge and, in what I will hope will be merely the first dish of a multi-course meal, the fruits of his deep red labors appear below…

By Gochu-Juan
The people’s sauce is deepest red – or, at least, it will be, if I have anything to say about it.

Displaying (5) Buldak Pastelón - 5.jpgWhile I understand that the agreement that the Chicago Teachers Union was able to strike with Chicago Public Schools a week and a half ago isn’t quite perfect, the fact that teachers were able to flex enough working muscle to force a large public school district to actually negotiate inspired me to try and honor CTU’s victory with the angriest, most passionate red sauce I could find.

First, I tried various things based off of roasted red peppers, figuring the darker tint from the oven would help, but there was no way to turn them into sauce that didn’t come out looking orange.

In my desperation, I stumbled upon Maangchi’s recipe for chijeu-buldak, which involved three of my favorite things: chicken, mozzarella cheese, and most importantly, gochujang, the thick, dark red pepper paste used for a lot of Korean cooking.

Then, like a jolt from my favorite Korean chili paste, I remembered my mission—to synthesize Korean and Puerto Rican cooking into a glorious, red-gold apotheosisand the light went off.

Pastelón, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the closest thing Puerto Ricans have to lasagna. It’s a layered dish of plantains, meat, cheese, and various other ingredients, depending on what you want to do with it. The starchy yuca I planned to use would certainly do for a *spice sink,* counteracting the heat of the deep, dark red sauce that I was after.

Here’s how I did it.

What you need (serves 4):

Buldak Sauce

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • ¼ cup gochugaru (Korean hot pepper flakes)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (or honey)
  • 1½ tablespoon gochujang
  • 1½ tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ½ tablespoon soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ginger, minced
  • ¼ cup water

Pastelón

  • 1 pound Goya frozen yuca
  • ¾ pound Goya sweet fried plantains (maduros)
  • ½ pound mozzarella cheese, cut into small chunks
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • Fresh parsley

Since yuca takes forever and a day to tenderize, stick it in a saucepan. Cover it with water. The packaging, and most recipes, tell you to thaw frozen yuca before sticking it in a saucepan. They are lying. Note also that yuca is spelled with one ‘c,’ despite Microsoft Word’s insistence to the contrary.

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Bring it to a rolling boil, cover it, and set a timer for 30 minutes. Do not even bother pulling the lid off before at least 25, unless your frozen yuca came in infinitesimal chunks.

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As the yucca accepts its role as the starchy foundation of our flavor castle, get on building the sauce. Stick all the ingredients (yes, all the ingredients) from the *Buldak Sauce* section into a bowl.

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Make sure to mince or grate the garlic and ginger as finely as possible. This is not the kind of dish where your aromatics should have structural integrity.

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Once all the ingredients are in, use a spoon or shake the bowl until everything is a beautiful blood red. If you used sugar instead of honey, this may take a while; the sauce is not especially liquid.

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Get just a little vegetable oil in a cast-iron pan, swirl it around, and set it over medium-high heat, wait until 20-25 minutes have elapsed, and check the yucca. If it’s tender, pull it off and set it aside in a colander to drain and cool.

Now, while everything else marinates for a bit, we can assemble the crenellations, othewise known as the battlements of our flavor castle. Get your sweet plantains on a cutting board and slice them in half, lengthwise.

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Once the vegetable oil is hot enough – 350 degrees will do – put one batch in the pan, stand back so you don’t get hit in the face with sudden globules of leaping fire, and let rest in the heat for a minute or two, especially if they’ve just thawed.

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Flip them. The side you just fried should have a decent amount of caramelized char on them, which is what you want. Keep working in batches until they’re all done. Stick them on a plate and set aside.

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Once the yuca is cool enough to touch, or you, like me, run out of patience and grab it while it’s still hot enough to annoy you but not hot enough to burn you, dig into each chunk and pull out any pieces of root. They’re fairly easy to find and extract from tender yuca, and you shouldn’t lose much of the starch doing it. Try to keep the chunks fairly intact.

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Get your butter melted, however you do it, and pour it onto the yuca.

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Using a fork for fine motor control and a potato masher for therapy, mash until you get a nice, even surface from your yuca. Top with fresh parsley and set aside for a bit.

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Once all the plantains are done, take the chicken you’ve sauced, stick it on the cast-iron, make sure it’s in an even layer, cover the pan, and set your timer for 10 minutes. Unless you see smoke coming out of the pan, leave it the hell alone.

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As the chicken cooks, get your mozzarella and slice it. You’ll want slices to be about the length of your average plantain slice, with maybe a few smaller ones left over for close quarters work. Also, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

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This should take no time at all, so get a baking sheet, spray it down with cooking oil or apply a very, very thin coat of fat, and then assemble your starchy bases on there.

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The moment the chicken is done, top the yuca with it, careful to keep all that deep red goodness in one layer.

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Stick the plantains on top and press gently down to ensure the chicken and yuca flatten out and form a nice base.

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Finally, stick them in the oven for at least ten minutes. You can use the broiler to give the cheese a little bit of brown.

Use a spatula or turner to pull the pastelón off the baking sheet, then stick it in the middle of a plate, surrounded by some kind of vivid green vegetable. French-style beans, steamed until they’re past al dente, are a good choice. Top with sliced green onion.

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Now, I do have to warn you: unlike most of what I cook these days, this is not remotely healthy. The above plate would set you back 841 calories, which is less than a lot of restaurant meals but quite heavy for home eating. It’s also a heck of a carb bomb, with 117 grams of carbs, mostly from the yuca, and 46 grams of sugar, mostly from the sweet plantains.

But it is delicious. Mashed yuca is always a treat, and the spicy chicken and sweet plantains were absolutely made for each other. The oozy creaminess of melted mozzarella enriches the flavor profile of the dish, and (in this case) the fresh green beans add crunch and brightness.

Best of all is the sauce: angry, passionate, red. And that’s just as it should be, for it is the people’s sauce.

Displaying Self 2.jpgGochu-Juan is the pen name of a schoolteacher on two culinary missions: to synthesize Korean and Puerto Rican cooking into a red-gold apotheosis, and to cook low-calorie food that tastes like every day is cheat day. He lives in Western New York, speaks four languages (one dead), and is generally irritable. You can follow him at Gochu-Juan or find more of his recipes at