It’s a truth universally acknowledged that you can never have too many hot sauces. The latest darling in our test kitchen is gochujang (pronounced go-choo-jang), a spicy, slightly sweet fermented chili paste that hails from Korea and is quickly becoming as ubiquitous as sriracha in the U.S. As Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark, the chefs behind the modern Korean-American restaurant Parachute in Chicago and finalists in the “Best Chef: Great Lakes” category at this year’s James Beard Awards, tell it, “Gochujang has been popping up on so many different menus. 10 years ago, you hardly even saw kimchi outside of Korean restaurants, and now Korean ingredients are everywhere.”
Gochujang has a long history preceding its current trendy status -- it has been a staple in Korean cooking for centuries. Traditionally, it was made by combining red chiles, glutinous rice, soybeans, and salt in large earthenware pots and leaving them outside to ferment. While that process has since been modernized, the gochujang produced today still undergoes a months-long fermentation that gives it a complex, earthy flavor that sriracha, as much as we love it, just can’t compete with. Gochujang also has a thick, tomato paste-like consistency that makes it a better building block than finishing sauce -- it can be cut with everything from soy sauce and rice vinegar to citrus and kimchi juice. The versatile paste is used in every corner of Korean cooking -- it adds kick to banchan, the side dishes that accompany every Korean meal, ties the competing flavors together in the Korean meat-and-vegetable rice bowls known as bibimbap, and turns up the volume on soups, stews, and marinades for grilled and braised meats of all stripes.
The unique flavor profile also lends itself well to dishes outside of Korean cuisine. Our test kitchen's latest discoveries? Incorporating gochujang into pot roast, tacos, and cocktail meatballs. We also love serving it alongside a crudite platter (it’s especially good with crunchy garden-fresh cucumbers), mixing it with mayo for a killer sandwich schmear, and adding a dab to instant ramen for a punch of umami. Or follow Kim and Clark’s lead: “Try marinating fish or vegetables with it overnight, the same way you would with miso, then broiling or grilling. Stir a couple spoonfuls into a homemade barbecue sauce. Or throw some into a Bolognese or ragu -- we've noticed that Korean food and Italian food work surprisingly well together. We also really like thinning gochujang with a little vinegar and putting it on pizza.”
Ready to try it? You can find gochujang at any Korean market, as well as most specialty grocery stores. It’s usually sold in plastic tubs or glass jars and comes in a variety of heat levels. Once opened, gochujang should be stored in the refrigerator. The paste should last up to two years, but take it from us, it'll be gone in no time once you start experimenting!