If you like Korean food – or even Korean-style food – you will know about gochujang. It is the richly sticky, piquant spice paste essential to many Korean stews (jjigae), and of course the deeply sensory, sizzling stone bowl rice dish, bibimbap. It is also often added into the unofficial national South Korean dish, bulgogi.
Its deeply umami, sweet, salty and spicy taste is hard to pin down as it is also about the texture too: authentic gochujang will have a delightful stickiness – perfect for gripping onto and permeating anything in which it is marinated. It is not a drizzling, finishing type of sauce like sriracha, but rather a paste that usually goes into and adds depth to other dishes. But adding a little thinning and sharpening vinegar to a tablespoon of the paste does make a lovely finishing sauce for a stir-fry, noodles, omelettes and other savoury dishes, so it is much more versatile than first seems. I have also used it straight instead of harissa in vegetable tagines. And it lasts for ages in the fridge.
The thing about gochujang is that the squat tubs of paste that we tend to get here in the West do not hold the best quality ingredients: corn syrup, calcium phosphate and bulking wheat are often added as shortcut-cuts. I have also found most brands that I have tried are too sweet for my taste.
To make gochujang authentically and healthily one needs serious devotion to the art of fermentation, and space outside in the sun for some clay pots (!). But luckily there are shortcuts. Scan homemade gochujang recipes on the internet and you will find much advice and variation. Even in South Korea there is a lot of latitude as to what goes into the paste and how it is made. This is probably the best English language description of making authentic gochujang. Note the barley malt powder, sweet rice flour, fermented soy bean flour. Not quite supermarket ingredients.
I won’t claim that my version tastes anything like a homemade authentic recipe (it takes ten minutes rather than three months or three years), but rather it is to my less sweet taste. Where I differ from other “cheat’s” recipes you will find is that I use date syrup rather than honey, agave (ugh!) or straight sugar. The date syrup has a more subtle sweetness, a pleasing density, but also lends more depth than agave or sugar could hope to bring. My testers loved it straight off the spoon, as well as in the couple of dishes I made with it.
It is seriously lickable stuff.
I will pop back very soon – possibly later today – with a simple recipe in which to showcase this addictive crimson paste. I have others lined up to share so don’t think that your jar will get lonely in the back of the fridge. No danger. The only danger is running out of gochujang.
Do you like Korean food? Have you made your own kimchi or gochujang before? Do you use either condiment in any unusual or unique ways?
Cheat's Homemade Gochujang Korean Spice Paste
This thick, spicy crimson paste is an easy way to liven up homemade Korean, Chinese and Japanese dishes, as well as more Western omelettes, stews and pasta bakes. Once you put your thinking cap on you will find many many ways to enjoy this delicious, addictive paste.
In the first instance try adding it into ketchup, stirred through cooked noodles with toasted sesame oil, dabbed into a hot vegetable and rice bowl, or even whisked into eggs for a spicy, umami omelette. That’s just for openers.
Find the miso and Korean chilli powder in good Asian grocers or online. xx
100g (1/2 cup) organic white miso paste (Clearspring brand is available in many UK supermarkets)
100ml (1/2 cup) water
120g (2/3 cup) organic date syrup (health food stores and some supermarkets, with the sugar substitutes and syrups)
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp yuzu juice or 1 tsp yuzu powder (optional – no one else does this, but I like it!)
1/4 cup gochujaru (Korean red pepper flakes)
All you do is put all of the ingredients into a small steep-sided pan and whisk together until amalgamated, then bring to a steady simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about ten minutes; it will thicken up nicely. Scrape into a small lidded jar and store in the refrigerator for up to three months.
What will you be doing with your gochujang??