Is your refrigerator bursting at its seams with dozens of bottles of hot sauce? Better make some room, because gochujang is a must-have ingredient for any thrill-loving heat-seeker.
Gochujang is a bold and spicy Korean condiment that is on its way to becoming one of this year’s hottest ingredients. If it’s not already on your radar, you’ll soon be seeing it popping up on restaurant menus, but this robustly flavored red pepper paste has been around for centuries and is one of the staple ingredients in every Korean home kitchen.
Gochujang adds a punch of flavor to hearty stews, soups and marinated meat dishes. But while gochujang excels at making dishes spicier due to the fiery ground red pepper it contains, it also adds a pleasing hint of sweetness which balances both its heat and flavor.
Gochujang, frequently labelled in English as “red pepper paste,” is a potent blend of red chili peppers, glutinous rice, soybeans and salt which gains flavor and complexity from its long, natural fermentation, which traditionally takes place outdoors in large, earthen pots.
In Korean households, gochujang is considered indispensable to traditional home-cooking. In this country, you’ll find it in any Asian market and even in many of the better-stocked American grocery stores. It’s easily recognizable by the bright red plastic tub that most brands come in, although it’s frequently packed in jars or bottles.
However it comes, gochujang is an ingredient worth keeping on hand. Not only is gochujang essential in many Korean dishes, it easily crosses cultural barriers and can add unique flavor (and heat) to many western-style dishes.
Like miso, gochujang is quite thick (much thicker than ketchup, which it vaguely resembles) with a slightly grainy texture and a hard-to-define sweet-savory-salty flavor that adds body, depth and complexity to any dish that it appears in. But it’s the slow-burn of Korea’s signature red chilis that really defines this interesting ingredient. Gochujang doesn’t have the sharp, explosive heat of fresh chile peppers; rather it’s a slowly building heat that never quite becomes too much, yet never relents until well after the last bite has been consumed. Gochujang gives dishes a gratifying, sinus-clearing, mouth-filling heat that is much more enjoyable than painful. For those who love Korean food, it’s an ecstatic experience.
Gochujang is concentrated, so a little goes a long way. Use it here and there, in varying amounts, depending on the level of heat and amount of flavor desired. It’s versatile too. Mix it with other ingredients, like mayonnaise, vinegar or oil to make your own signature spreads, dips, sauces and dressings. Add a little to stir-frys and marinades, as a grilling or basting sauce or as your secret ingredient in a one-of-a-kind barbecue sauce. It’s your choice – use it wherever and whenever you want, but you’ve got to try it. Otherwise, you’ll be missing out on a whole new deliciously spicy world of flavor.
Gochujang Chicken Stew
- 1 1/2 lb baby or fingerling potatoes
- 2 large or 6 small carrots, peeled & cut in 1/2 inch chunks
- 3 medium onions, peeled & cut into 1/2 inch chunks
- 1 organic or free-range chicken, about 4 lb
- 4 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled & crushed
- 3 green (Serrano) chile peppers, seeded and finely chopped
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 – 3 small dried red chile peppers (optional)
For the marinade:
- 4 Tbsp rice wine (we use Shaoxing)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the seasoning:
- 2 Tbsp tahini (ground sesame paste)
- 4 tsp light soy sauce
- 4 Tbsp Gochujang red pepper paste
- 6 Tbsp coarse Korean red pepper powder
For the garnish:
- Sesame oil
- 4 spring onions
If the potatoes are large, cut into them into bite-size chunks and place in a bowl of cold water. If they’re small, just skip this step.
Cut up the chicken, including skin and bones, into pieces. Pour the rice wine over the chicken and salt & pepper generously. Stir to coat thoroughly and set aside for 10 minutes.
Heat 2 Tbsp of the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the crushed garlic and quickly stir fry for a minute or two. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the chicken. Cook, turning frequently, until lightly browned. Remove the chicken from the pan and place on a large plate lined with paper towels to drain the excess oil.
Mix all the seasoning ingredients thoroughly in a bowl.
Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp of oil in a large pot over medium heat and add the potatoes, onions and carrots. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, then add the browned chicken pieces. Season generously with salt & pepper and add the dried red chiles, if using.
Pour over enough boiling water to come about two-thirds up the meat & vegetable mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, add the seasoning mixture and stir into the stew. Simmer 30 – 45 minutes until the volume of the liquid has reduced slightly.
Add the chopped green chile peppers and continue to simmer until the liquid has thickened a little, approximately 30 minutes.
Ladle the stew into deep serving bowls and garnish with a few drops of sesame oil and a sprinkling of the sliced spring onions.
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