Secret ingredient: Gochujang
Love the fiery taste of Korean cuisine? Here's how to use Gochujang in your cooking.
WHAT IS GOCHUJANG?
This remarkable, and frankly addictive, fermented paste is made from chillies, glutinous rice powder and soy beans. After kimchi, (the famous and fiercely hot Korean Sauerkraut) gochujang is the most recognisable and ubiquitous flavour of the Korean peninsula. Actually, nobody’s sure of what they eat in North Korea these days (apart from the radiance and basketball prowess of Kim Jong-un, of course), but chances are there’s at least a bit of black-market gochujang doing the rounds.
WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?
If you’ve ever eaten in, or even walked past a Korean restaurant, you’ll be familiar with the rich, yeasty fragrance of gochujang. It tastes a bit like a fiery blend of marmite and miso paste, but sweeter, fruitier and more complex.
WHERE CAN I FIND IT?
Gochujang is available from practically all Asian supermarkets, and many regular supermarkets, too. The best known brand is sold in a distinctive red tub, which once opened will last in the fridge for many months.
WHAT CAN I USE INSTEAD?
The closest comparable (and probably related) product is Sichuan chilli-bean paste or doubanjiang. It’s not a perfect match, as doubanjiang is saltier than gochujang and often tastes strongly of Sichuan pepper, but it might just about do at a pinch.
HOW CAN I USE IT?
Rather like fish sauce in Thailand or dashi in Japan, gochujang is a touchstone flavour of Korea. It’s used as both a condiment – most famously in Korea’s unofficial national dish, Bibimbap – and ingredient flavouring in untold soups, and braised and grilled (Korean BBQ) creations. Gochujang is hot stuff, but nowhere near as incendiary as the various fermented chilli products of South East Asia. Try a small dollop with some steamed rice to acquaint yourself, then use judiciously as per recipe instructions. Heat-thresholds notwithstanding, it’s a hard product not to love.
Tteokbokki is among the most famous and beloved dishes of the entire Korean repertoire. It consists of glutinous rice cakes, noodles and slices of fish sausage cooked in a fiery sauce made from onions, garlic, sugar and loads of gochujang. Although little known outside of Korea (unless you know where to look!), it’s a truly world-class dish. This recipe for Tteokbokki, from Korean-American food blogger (and government auditor!) Hyosun Ro, is the most authentic I’ve tasted. If you want a proper grounding in Korean food, check this out.
Virgil Evetts is a member of the New Zealand Guild of Food Writers. Follow his adventures in food, gardening and urban farming here.