The Olympic Seoul Chicken Recipe

I’ve been doing a dance with my oven all week. We’ve been circling each other; it mocking me because I’m afraid of being nailed by the door.

I, on the other hand, have a thing about eating. Call me crazy.

So we’ve tentatively called a truce for the next few days until I can get a handle on things around here.

Korean Chicken

Because I also need to get a handle on the massive amount of kimchi I’ve got fermenting around here (and there’s more to come, if you can believe it…), I pulled up a great recipe that I’d tucked away from Arthur Schwartz’s website for Olympic Seoul Chicken.

New Yorkers will remember Arthur as the host of a popular radio program in the city for well over a decade and he’s knowledgeable about everything from traditional Neapolitan cooking to where to get the best babka in the Big Apple.

He rightly points out that this recipe is probably more Japanese-inspired than Korean. But since the Olympics were held in Seoul when the recipe first appeared, guesses were that all-things Korean were in vogue at the time—just like here! So I guess it’s true that if you wait long enough, everything comes back in style.

Still, you can tell the original recipe is pretty ancienne since it calls for a whopping ¼ teaspoon of ginger for eight chicken thighs. Plus you can tell it’s an American recipe, since the portion sizes call for 2 thighs per person. In France, one thigh would be sufficient for a meal and if you want to see surgical precision, skip the l’hôpital and watch a French person eat chicken. I don’t know how they manage to scrape of every morsel clean from the bones with their utensils, even from those teeny-tiny quail wings. But it’s pretty impressive to watch.

Still, if given the opportunity, they can indeed get down with their food: I served this the other night and my friends liked it so much they picked up the pieces and started gnawing away. (And one guest was a Rothschild—you go girl!)

But because we Americans are known for our outstanding table manners, I used my chopsticks. ; )

The great thing about this recipe is that it can be cooked very quickly on the stovetop. So if you’re afraid of a noix-nailing oven door, that’s a big plus. You can certainly fiddle with the seasonings and next time, I’m going to add a pour of kimchi juice, which is sure to be anything but sans odeur.

The skinned chicken thighs do tend to stick to the pan, and every time I recommend non-stick cookware, I get messages that I should be using cast-iron, so I’m side-stepping that issue this time. (Okay, okay…I got one.) But removing the skin ensures that the flavor of the marinade permeates the chicken and doesn’t get pushed to the side of the plate. If the skin doesn’t get crisp, I push it aside. Who wants to eat flabby skin? What’s the point?

So when you add the marinade, be sure to scrape up any tasty browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. If you don’t have a skillet large enough, brown them in two batches in a Dutch oven or large casserole. I’ll leave it up to you whether or not to use non-stick or not.

Olympic Seoul Chicken
Serves 4 Americans, or 8 French People

Adapted from Arthur Schwartz, author of Arthur Schwartz’s New York City Food and Arthur Schwartz’s Jewish Home Cooking.

  • ¼ cup (60ml) rice vinegar (unseasoned)
  • 3 tablespoons (45ml) soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) honey
  • 1-inch (3cm) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 8 chicken thighs, skinned
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1½ teaspoon chili powder (I used cochutgaru, but any will do)
  • a handful of chopped green onions, including the dark green part

1. Mix together the vinegar, soy sauce, honey, and ginger.

2. Heat enough oil in a large skillet until it just covers the bottom. When it’s hot and shimmering, sauté the chicken thighs until well-browned on all sides, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the garlic and chili powder and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t burn.

3. Pour in the vinegar mixture, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until done. While the thighs are cooking, turn them a couple of times in the marinade.

4. Once they’re done, remove the cover, add the green onions, and cook for another minute or so, until the sauce is slightly thickened.

Serve with rice, kimchi, toasted nori, or any other accompaniments. Also good with a pile of steamed green beans drizzled with sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds sprinkled on top.

Related recipe: Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Ribs


  • The chicken looks good, even if the name isn’t quite fitting.

  • i love the picture ! This perfectly white rice with the rich meat covered with sauce, such a nice contrast.

  • I saw you on Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie. What a wonderful life you have! :) I will try this recipe. I am going to spend some time reading your posts, this is my very first time reading anyone’s blog!
    I am a middle aged woman who LOVES to bake and cook. I have even made alittle ice cream, but I haven’t mastered yet.
    Have a wonderful day :)

  • Do the 10 garlic cloves and the chili powder go in with the rice vinegar, soy sauce, honey, and ginger to be added after the thighs are browned? Can you tell I’m anxious to give this a try?

  • I’ve been thinking about trying kimchi ever since I read Jeffrey Steingarten’s essay about getting over his food prejudices by trying things repeatedly. A technique which has worked on my aversions to cantaloupe and coleslaw, by the way. But there is a serious dearth of Korean restaurants – by that I mean none – in my area, so I’m taking this recipe as a reason to hunt down some kimchi. (or make my own? you can do that?)

  • this also sounds good with couscous… despite how un-asian that is. or some angel hair in garlic and olive oil. love the recipe! thanks!

    on a separate topic… lately, i’ve tried making flourless chocolate cake(idiot cake, accdg to you) and i wanted a flourless white chocolate cake. my own recipe calls for adding the sugar first, before the eggs, but the mixture seized, the butter oil separating, upon blending in the sugar. any thoughts about why this happened? i used a white chocolate compound, but the same brand dark chocolate compound i usually use works ok.

  • Tucker: Welcome!

    Martin: Yup. Add them after the thighs are browned, before adding the vinegar mixture. It’s a great dish—I urge everyone to try it. (And super-easy, too.)

    Kayenne: White chocolate is totally different than dark and can’t, unfortunately, be swapped.

    Charcuterista: If you can make bacon, you can make kimchi. Click on link in post for my recipe. I have another one coming up soon too…

  • This looks great. Asian flavors are so missing in la France profonde it could almost make one weep. But what are the little red flecks, as if there were a fresh red pepper in the sauce? Is that the cochutgaru (which Google refuses to recognize).

  • I’m making this for dinner tonight. YOU ARE TOO COOL.

  • i love the picture, and this seems simple enough to go into weeknight dinner rotation. yum.

    i wish i could eat more like a frenchwoman. i’m trying, i really am!

  • Yum…I am making this soon.

    David, can you define what you call chili powder? Here in Cali (very near your home town :) ), there are a multitude of things called “chili powder”. They rang from different varieties of chilis dried and ground, to a combination of spices (cumin, etc.) added to dried chili.

  • What wine did you serve to the Rothschilds with this course? Was that intimidating? I might have chosen a dry Austrian Riesling or just served mojitos in coconut shells to a avoid wine faux pas.

  • Veranda: The chili powder I mentioned that I used was Korean chili powder. But I’ve made this with regular, pure red chili powder, the kind they sell in supermarkets and the kind you can get in Mexican stores, and both work great.

    Kirstin: She brought a (very nice) bottle of red, but to me, this is more white wine kinda food. Or beer. Although I do like your idea of mojitos. Next time! : )

  • Hi David! I am sitting here watching you on TV on PBS! Oh, isn’t this so cool! I am thrilled and the show is so much fun.It’s so true what you are saying about blogging. I feel I know you a little bit better now and it’s a nice feeling.

  • Making this tonight. You are winning the race of blogs of which I cook things off of. I think I’ve now cooked about 20% of your site. Delicious!

    You are a kitchen muse!

  • It was a pleasure watching you on PBS yesterday David..this is my first visit here and I can tell I will enjoy it..

  • Honey, soy sauce, garlic, red pepper… definitely Korean-inspired. There is a Korean dish called dak-kalbi (chicken-kalbi); kalbi I’m sure you know is Korean BBQed ribs. It looks like this is a take on dak-kalbi. Looks good. I would have a beer with this.

  • Wow….!! Its delicious.

  • Korean fried chicken basically uses this sauce/marinade as a topping over crispy fried chicken, sprinkled with sesame seeds and served with little cubes of white pickled radishes. It’s to die for.

  • yum, I had this last week at a bar in LA’s Koreatown. very spicy but delicious. Now I know how to make it, thanks David (my grandma should be teaching me these recipes, not you! :D)

  • Oh so tasty! Super quick (and cheap) to make – perfect dish for the hungry graduate student.

  • I just made this and it was very good! Easy to make with really bold flavours. The sauce reminds me of a ‘Chili Crab’ dish we get here in Singapore (but Chili Crab is more ‘saucy’ and has eggs in the sauce to thicken it). Thanks David!

  • So, I said I was going to make this, and I did. It was so good! Thanks for your always reliable recipes.

  • Glad you’re all enjoying this recipe as much as I do. I’m thinking I might try a variation with prawns next!

  • Made this last night!
    Quick and tasty and easy.
    Had it cold for breakfast as well.

    I think my sister would love it.
    However, she only eats fish.
    And, as I am not too experienced in cooking fish, can you give any pointers as to what fish would work for this? And if there would be any drastic changes to the steps?

    Thanks so much for your wonderful posts and recipes.

  • I have visited here few months, and quite a shock to see you cook this. It is called Yangnyum Tongdak(sorry, no italics here). ‘Yangnyum’ means spice or spiced, and ‘Tong’ means whole, and Dak is chicken. The origin of the name is that the fried chicken once used to be just battered and fried pieces of chicken(whole means chop up one chicken, so you can have all the body parts when you buy ‘Tongdak’), but one day some started made sauce of glazing and toss chicken with it as people in US do their buffalo wings, and it got popular, so here it comes, Yangnyum Tongdak.

    As a Korean, I am sure there will be a lot of different recipes to cook chicken like that, but probably Korean chili paste(gochujang), soy sauce, and even Ketchup would be the main ingredients for the glazing, and maybe some corn syrup for shine and tackiness. So you can play with those ingredients next time…

    Oh by the way, could you cook kimchi?

  • jenmoocat: I would imagine any firm-fleshed fish, like swordfish or monkfish, would be great. I would shorten the browning time and just cook it just ’til it’s done, much less than 15 minutes.

    bluexmas: Yes, I make kimchi fried rice and tofu soup with chopped kimchi.

  • Made this last week but subbed some Vietnamese chili -garlic sauce for the chili powder. It was tasty! Thanks for the recipe David.

  • Hi David,

    I have enjoyed your site for a while now, but never posted. I made this chicken last night and followed it up with your mango sorbet for dessert. It was wonderful – thank you for the insipiration & recipes!

  • I have to say, I love, love, love this chicken! I made it for the third time last night and thought I should let you know how great it is – so quick, simple and tasty! Thanks for the addition to my repertoire!

  • I stumbled on your blog during my quest to find a Pinkberry-esq recipe and have been reading faithfully since. I saw this recipe and wanted to try it when I was finally ready to inaugurate my new house with a home cooked meal. It doesn’t matter that I’m Korean-American and can’t eat a dish without manipulating it…this recipe is FABULOUS!

    I do have to admit I did add a few things (korean chili paste, 2 heaping spoonfuls of korean chili powder!, and just a dash of sesame seed oil). I was also happy that my homemade dish actually looked like the picture posted with the recipe…that never happens.

  • It’s great to see Olympic Seoul Chicken on your blog, and intriguing to see your speculations about its origins. See the true story revealed after more than two decades at my new recipephany blog (all about recipe epiphanies) ( It remains a blue-ribbon recipe, and I am proud to be the daughter of the originator!