Get to know Gochujang
Everything you need to know about the spicy Korean condiment
The love for Korean food is at an all-time high right now. The famously healthy cuisine makes use of minimal cooking oils, and packs a breadth of flavours into every bowl, using a variety of fresh, pickled and fermented ingredients. But alongside the fresh cuts, seasonal veggies and sticky rice, there’s room for a little something extra… and its name is gochujang.
What is gochujang?
This thick and flavourful paste is the must-have condiment in Korea. It’s incredibly versatile, complementing a range of dishes, with its sweet, savoury and spicy palette. It’s got a very potent smell thanks to the fermented ingredients, and in terms of consistency, it’s halfway between tomato purée and miso paste. Gochujang is typically made using Korean red chilli peppers, barley malt, sticky (glutinous) rice, soybean powder and salt, but there are many variations.
Contrary to popular opinion, gochujang isn’t meant to be used as a dipping sauce, like Western favourite, ketchup. Instead, it’s used as a cook-in sauce, a glaze to Korean BBQ, or as a base for stews. That said, each to their own – if you feel compelled to dip, dip away. Just bear in mind the taste can be quite overwhelming when undiluted .
Gochujang paste and sauce
The most important thing to know about gochujang is that it’s a thick, powerful-tasting paste when you scoop it out of the tub. This is the form you’d use to cook it into meals. It only becomes a sauce when you dilute it with a few other ingredients. If you wanted to use gochujang as a drizzle for a salad, for example, you could add the likes of fish sauce, soy sauce and vinegar to thin it out. Consider adding some brown sugar to reduce acidity.
Where does gochujang come from?
The South Koreans have been making gochujang for centuries. It was originally fermented in large clay jars, perhaps originating from the Sunchang Country in South Korea’s North Jeolla province – famed for its gochujang production in the history books.
Nowadays, gochujang is mass-produced and most commonly sold as a pre-made paste, as it can take months to make from scratch. If you find yourself in a Korean supermarket this weekend, keep an eye out for the bright red plastic tub, with chili peppers all over it.
How to store gochujang
Given gochujang’s intense flavour, it’s unlikely you’ll go through an entire tub in one sitting. But luckily it can be stored in the fridge once opened, just check the packaging for guidance on how long it keeps for, as some brands can differ. It can also be frozen for up to 12 months. However, if you’re itching to get the fiery bite into another meal, we’ve got a few ideas to get you started.
Best gochujang recipes
1. Bibimbap is a simple dish made with just a few ingredients. Drizzle sesame seed oil over some boiled short-grain rice, add a handful of watercress, place a fried egg (with golden runny yolk on top), and serve with gochujang sauce on the side, so it can be mixed in using chopsticks.
2. Bulgogi is a spicy stir-fried pork dish, flavoured with delicious gochujang. To make your marinade, mix gochujang paste with corn syrup, soy sauce, oyster sauce, brown sugar, black pepper, minced garlic, and pineapple juice. Add to thinly-sliced cuts of pork shoulder. And toss with onion, spring onions, chilli peppers, and garlic in a wok.
3. Jjigae is a stew made with courgette – a summer fave in Korea when courgette is in season. Start by sautéing some sliced pork over a medium heat, and add gochujang paste and water. Bring to the boil and add chopped potatoes. Two minutes later add diced courgette, spring onions, potatoes and chilli peppers. Serve with soft, fluffy rice.
The only problem with Korean food is that once you get a taste for it, it’s tricky to stop. So if you’re looking to expand your repertoire after master gochujang, why not turn your hand to kimchi? We’ve got a delicious recipe for the traditional, cabbagey banchan right here.