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    Wednesday, May 29, 2024

    Gochujang: Put Korean chili paste in anything, anywhere, right now

    Gochujang, the happiest addition to your culinary palette (googly eyes not included).

    Even if I hadn’t added the googly eyes to my one-pound tub of gochujang, this would be the liveliest thing in my fridge. This little red treasure chest of concentrated flavor, heat and umami is a triple threat in anything I add it to. And over the years, I’ve found more uses for it in my everyday cooking.

    Gochujang is a traditional Korean condiment, a fermented paste known for its sweet, savory, and spicy flavor profile. Its deep red color and unique taste make it a staple ingredient in many Korean dishes. The primary ingredients include glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, red chili peppers, and salt. The mixture is typically fermented over years in large earthen pots outdoors, enhancing its complex flavors. Commercial gochujang is produced on a larger scale, often using faster fermentation methods and additional ingredients like sweeteners, preservatives, and flavor enhancers to ensure consistency and prolong shelf life.

    The first time I bought a tub of it was about 10 years ago; I was doing a deep dive into pickling and fermentation. And after I started my making homemade sauerkraut, I thought I would have a go at making kimchi. My co-worker, reporter Jenna Cho, had made a great batch of pickled daikon and gifted me a jar of it. I returned the favor and gave her a jar of fermenting kimchi made with gochujang, and she, in turn, shared it with her mother. Jenna’s mom paid me a compliment that might end up on my tombstone.

    She said, “He cooks like a Korean grandmother.” When someone is paying you a compliment and they invoke ancestors who carry the culinary traditions, you can wear it like a badge. I probably got googly eyed when she told me. That might even be better than a Paul Hollywood handshake.

    You can find gochujang at any Asian market; I’ve been buying it over at New Asia Market at the top of Hamburger Hill in Groton for years, but it’s also available at Lee’s Oriental Market in New London, Catalina’s Asian Grocery in Ledyard and S&A Market in Norwich if you want to buy the authentic, full strength stuff in 1, 2 or 6 lb tubs. Also, Tri-Town in East Lyme is carrying the small tub from U.S. distributor Roland, but I’ve found this one a bit on the sweet side (corn syrup is the first listed ingredient). Some of the labels are in Korean, with ingredients listed in English. My favorite has the heat levels indicated with a cartoon thermometer marked from 1 to 5. I always buy the Level 3. In addition, Stop and Shop, Big Y, Target and Shop Rite all have domestic squeeze bottle versions of Gochujang Sauce for use as a condiment, just like Sriracha.

    I looked through my database of test recipes and found a few instances where I used it for maximum impact.

    Hummus: I love red pepper hummus so this was a no-brainer. Add 1 Tbsp gochujang for every 15 oz can of chick peas in your favorite hummus recipe.

    Compound butter: 2 tsp blended into a stick of softened butter could literally toast your toast. OR you can shape your scoop of mashed potatoes into a volcano and have this running down like spicy, buttery red lava. Maybe a Korean spin on Mexican Street Corn?

    Meatloaf: Whether you add ketchup to the loaf or just to the glaze, how about replacing some or all of the ketchup with its spicy Korean cousin?

    Mac & Cheese: This is for that special someone who puts hot sauce on everything. Blend some gochujang to taste into your cheese sauce. And how about this: add some of the paste to the pasta water to infuse the elbows with a little kick?

    Gochujang/Miso dip

    This is one of my gochujang recipes that I keep going back to. Every time I’ve made this dip, people comment on it. They can’t quite figure what’s going on in it, but they start eating, and before they know it, the bowl is empty. Asian cuisine rarely utilizes dairy, so the pairing of miso, gochujang, fish sauce and ginger with gobs of cream cheese and sour cream really stands out. Salty, spicy, creamy and funky; it covers all the bases. Leave the French Onion, Ranch and Queso at home; bring this one to your next picnic or party. Wake ’em up.

    Ingredients

    8 oz cream cheese, softened

    1 cup sour cream

    1 Tbsp miso paste

    2 tsp Gochujang

    2 tsp fish sauce (or 1 tsp dashi powder)

    1 tsp grated ginger

    1 finely chopped scallion (white and green parts)

    1. Place all ingredients into a small mixing bowl and blend together with a hand mixer or immersion blender. Blend until fully combined.

    2. Place into the fridge for at least 1-2 hours to chill and let the flavors marry.

    3. Serve with chips, crackers or cut veggies. Enjoy!

    Gochujang as a gateway foodie drug

    If you pick up a tub, start exploring the possibilities. There’s no better place to start than with the Internet’s queen of Korean food, Maangchi. She’s got tons of recipes and videos that are tasty, fun and approachable on her website, Facebook and YouTube pages. Start here: https://www.maangchi.com/

    Upcoming and Ongoing

    My broccolini exploded! I bought four 6“ plants a month ago and planted them in an old laundry basket full of dead leaves and composted lawn clippings with a little chicken manure. As of today, they are 18” tall and I’ve already had to trim the crowns to stimulate more stalk growth. They are total water hogs, though. That basket alone gets a gallon a day.

    Intermittent fasting update: down another 2 lbs. I've lost 20 lbs since 1/1/23; cumulative loss of 57 lbs since 1/1/20. Another 41 lbs to go.

    Rich Swanson is a local cook who has had numerous wins in nationally sponsored recipe contests. He is also the layout specialist here at The Day.

    Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Rich Swanson can be reached at TheSurlyTable@gmail.com

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.