I’m a little bit addicted to gochujang – definitely one of my pantry essentials! If you’re not familiar with it, gochujang is a thick Korean paste made from red chillies (well, actually a type of dried chilli flakes called gochugaru), glutinous rice, salt and fermented soybeans, and has a gorgeous, bold crimson colour. At its core, it’s like the heat of sriracha had a love child with the funk of miso paste!
It’s a bit spicy, a bit funky, salty and deeply savoury. Gochujang traditionally also gets its gentle sweetness from its fermentation process, which takes place over several years and sees the starches in the rice convert to sugars. The chilli component gives the paste its spiciness, but there’s also a slight smoky flavour and a touch of funk and umami. All this means it’s hard to use just the one adjective to describe it… other than ‘delicious’, of course!
Heat levels can vary between brands, so you may want to check the packaging to see if there’s any indication of spiciness. Otherwise you may want to try out a couple of brands to find out your preference. Don’t forget as well that a little goes a long way – start with a small amount to begin. You can always add more in… but you can’t take it out once it’s in a dish! I love the smoky, funky, spicy, salty addition it gives to my Korean Army Stew.
Also known as army base stew or budae jjigae, my Korean Army Stew recipe takes simple, basic ingredients and transforms them into a mouth-wateringly spicy dish.
As gochujang is very concentrated, it’s typically used to add depth to dishes in collaboration with other ingredients, rather than as a standalone condiment. Try it as a baste on chicken wings or pork ribs, or added to soup broths like in my Spicy Pork Miso Noodle Soup.
Gochujang can be used in marinades for meat dishes like Korean bulgogi, stirred into dipping sauces, or used to punch up stews. It’s also surprisingly versatile in fusion and more European-inspired dishes – it adds a wonderful smoky intensity to my Quick(ish) Asian Ragu, for example.
My Asian-spiked version of spag bol uses some untraditional ingredients, and is all the better for it.
Gochujang is readily available in Asian grocers, although you can also typically find it in many major supermarkets in the Asian aisle. It’s relatively inexpensive and, since you only tend to use it in fairly small quantities, it should last you quite a long time.
Once opened, keep your little red pot of wonder in the fridge. As it contains fermented ingredients (a bit like kimchi, in that sense), it typically has a long shelflife, but do check the packaging for a use-by date and be sure to finish it before then. If there tends to be a long time between uses, you might like to tightly wrap it in some clingfilm to help prevent it drying out.
If you can’t find a date on the box, you may want to try and use the paste within three months of opening, provided it is kept refrigerated.