For those of us who love McDonald’s Sweet and Sour Sauce
In May, when McDonald’s started offering a BTS-branded meal – Chicken McNuggets, a medium coke, and fries with two new sauces, Cajun and Sweet Chili – fans of the K-pop boy group took to stores around the world. to taste. Others have collected the sauces to resell them on eBay. I struggled to escape the marketing and chaos. I’ve seen commercials for the meal everywhere: in my Twitter feed, on TikTok and YouTube, and one night in early June, on my way home from a drink with friends in Manhattan. There he was, splashed on the front of a McDonald’s store. I stopped to try the meal for myself.
With the exception of the two limited-edition sauces and the purple packaging – a color deeply associated with the group and its fandom – there was nothing particularly special about the food. It was a regular McNugget meal (which, to be clear, is great). The Cajun sauce, an avant-garde act, enchanted me with its spicy mustard, the kind to clear the nose. The sweet chili sauce tasted like hard candy accented with red pepper flakes and reminded me of my favorite McDonald’s sauce growing up: sweet and sour.
The real joy of a nugget lies in the soaking.
As a food writer, I often feel compelled to write about home cooked meals. But as a reader, I know that there are many culinary experiences outside of the kitchen that can also make an indelible mark on us. It’s easy to talk about a perfect roast chicken, but what about a Chicken McNugget dipped in a sweet and sour sauce? While the sauce, a mainstay of American Chinese restaurants, typically has a tomato element, the appeal of the McDonald’s version is its simpler taste and use of apricot and peach puree. But it’s the texture that makes sweet and savory a work of art. You can see this every time an ASMR YouTuber dips a McNugget in the sauce: the amber liquid swells around the chicken like a raindrop that grows bigger and bigger on an impermeable surface. When the nugget emerges, it appears to be draped in a perfectly even thin layer of sauce each time – without excess. The two were made for each other.
I have dipped many chicken nuggets in my life. But when I was a kid in Georgia, McDonald’s special draw was the PlayPlace, a plastic fantasy world of slides, tunnels, and, most often, a ball pool. I remember how everything in the ball pool was covered in grease, every plastic sphere and surface sticking to my skin as I played Marco Polo with my brother. The PlayPlace was also where my mother would meet other Korean parents with small children. I still hear his refrain: “Excuse me, are you Korean?” At the time, there weren’t many Koreans in Georgia, especially when my parents immigrated to the United States in 1983. These outings were a balm for all of us: as my mother and her new friends chatted about. fries and the Sprite, my brother and I jumped into the playground, intermittently running over to her for that chicken and gravy.
Years later, when I ordered this BTS meal, I requested a few packets of sweet and sour sauce in addition to the two special sauces. As I was working from home the next day, I looked at the leftover sauce on my desk and thought: how hard could it be to recreate this for lunch? I went into the kitchen to try a homemade version that hit the same notes as this rectangular packet with the lime green label that I grew up loving. I found that canned apricots gave me the fruity sweetness I wanted, especially when mixed with a little rice vinegar, soy sauce, and onion powder. While I couldn’t say this sauce was an exact replica, the flavor was awash with a tasty, lip-smacking quality. For more intrigue, I sprinkled this shiny honey orange surface with a pinch of red pepper flakes, inspired by the sweet chili sauce from BTS Meal. The pepper made him sing.
Now I needed something to soak. My mom taught me that a potato starch coating helps you get the greatest crunch on fried foods, so I dredged some tofu that was in my fridge and baked it in a pan. It’s definitely not the same, but it’s wonderful to see how the texture of squeezed tofu, seared until crisp, eats a lot like a Chicken McNugget, and cooks beautifully every time. But the real test was how the house sauce draped over the tofu – after all, the real joy of a nugget lies in the soaking. When I slid a piece of tofu through the glitter sauce and lifted it up, the coating was thin and perfectly even. They were, as they say, made for each other.