Meet Gochujang: A Must-Have Korean Condiment
Why you should keep this versatile paste on hand
When it comes to pantry cooking, there are a few specific ingredients I tend to lean on to turn a handful of things into a satisfying, flavorful, and hopefully quick meal. One of my favorites of late is the Korean chili paste, gochujang. I’ve experimented with using it in place of tomato paste in pasta sauces (it’s delicious, highly recommend!), mixing it with toasted sesame oil and rice vinegar for a quick slather on roasted vegetables, and whipping it with butter for the sweet and spicy compound butter. It’s delicious in every use I’ve tried, lending a beautiful orange-y or deep red color in addition to its subtle funk, heat, and miso-like sweetness.
What is gochujang?
Gochujang is a fermented Korean red chili pepper paste with a complex, sweet and spicy flavor. Traditionally, it was made by mixing gochugaru (Korean chili powder), glutinous rice, mejugaru (a fermented soybean powder) or fermented soybeans, and salt before being left to ferment in huge earthenware pots (called jangdok) for many years allowing the slow fermentation to break the starches in the rice down to sugar for a subtle sweetness. These days, most gochujang is commercially produced, keeping the thick, red paste consistent and accessible all over the world.
Gochujang vs. gochugaru
In most cases, gochujang should not be used as a substitute for Korean chili flakes, gochugaru, or vice versa. While gochugaru is a key ingredient in gochujang, the flavor and texture offered by the dry chili flakes versus the fermented chili paste, are completely different, so using them interchangeably is not recommended.
Where and how to buy gochujang
Depending on where you are, gochujang can be easier or more difficult to find in a shop. Here in Berlin, just about every Asian supermarket will have the red tubs of gochujang on their shelves, so if you can’t locate it on your own, just ask! If your local Asian supermarket doesn’t have gochujang, you can also order it online.
They usually come in relatively large containers (approximately 1 pound or 500 grams), so just one tub can last you through a number of recipes! Keep it in the fridge after opening, and it will keep just about forever.
One thing to know when you’re shopping for gochujang is that there can be different spice levels, depending on the brand, so you may have to try a few different brands before you find the one that has just the right spice level for you. I like mine a bit sweeter so I can control the heat in the final dish, and use the classic red pepper paste from Sempio.
How to use gochujang
Gochujang is a condiment, but is too intense to use directly for dipping, so it’s often cut with other ingredients. One of the most common uses in Korean cooking is in ssamjang, a sauce usually served with Korean barbecue or grilled meats in general, which combines gochujang with doenjang (Korean fermented soybean paste), roasted sesame oil, onions and/or scallions, and garlic.
Taking a note from how it’s used in Korean American cooking, you can mix it with a little bit of sesame oil or citrus juice as a sweet and spicy upgrade for mayonnaise, or mix it with soy sauce, honey, and softened butter to create a gochujang butter worthy of topping some grilled fish, shrimp, or a pile of roasted vegetables. Add it to salad dressings for some spic or sweetness and by the teaspoon to soups and stews where a bit of color and depth might be a nice addition—like in this recipe, or this one, maybe even this, and definitely this one!
One of my favorite ways to use gochujang? Pair it with heavy cream and turn it into a super creamy pasta sauce!
Other recipes with gochujang:
— Kimchi shirataki noodles
— Spicy mushroom ragú
— Jaengban guksu (Korean cold spicy noodle platter)
— Korean Fried Chicken in a Tangy Sauce (양념치킨)
— Sundubu jjigae (Korean soft tofu stew)
— Buttery kimchi fried rice
— Korean fried chicken with cucumber salad
— Korean-inspired white bean soup with tofu
Published on May 1, 2022