Spice up your life with the next big flavor sensation — Korean hot-chile paste known as gochujang (go-choo-jang). It has a distinctive savory (umami), sweet flavor with an enjoyable burst of heat.
Gochujang is a beloved Korean condiment, but it’s about to have its moment in the States.
It is a thick, red paste made from chile peppers, rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. It’s too strong to be used as a finishing sauce like sriracha or Tabasco, so it’s normally used in combination with other ingredients like soy sauce, chopped garlic, sugar, or toasted sesame oil, or added into a dish as an ingredient (rather than a condiment).
Gochujang delivers heat, sweetness, and body to deliciously thick Korean stews, Korean bulgogi (marinated grilled steak), spicy rice cakes, and Korean bibimbap (fried rice, meat and vegetable bowl).
Cooks are finding that gochujang pairs well with foods that are well-loved here like grilled steak, tacos, pulled pork, grilled cheese, chicken wings, and burgers. It adds a depth of flavor to everything into which it is stirred like soups, marinades, or salad dressings.
You can find gochujang paste at any Asian market, where it's commonly sold in small, red square tubs. Because the sauce is so thick it can be challenging to add only a little at a time. Korean-born Kentucky chef Edward Lee has solved the problem with the Chung Jung One brand squeeze-bottle version of gochujang (available on Amazon) which is easier to use than gochujang in a tub. It is also gluten-free and vegan (unlike some brands). Stored in the refrigerator gochujang will keep for months, even a year. The bright red color may discolor, but that’s OK.
For wafer-thin slices, wrap the beef in plastic wrap and freeze until firm (but not rock hard). Once firm, slice the beef thinly across the grain.
Korean Beef Bulgogi Stir-fry
Yield: 2 servings
Adapted from Stir Crazy by Ching-He Huang, Kyle Books ($24.95)
Bulgogi is smoky, sweet, and full of flavor, so a bright and simple red wine is your best bet. The ripe black-cherry and black pepper notes in the 2016 Bonterra Organic Zinfandel ($16.99) from California’s Mendocino County won’t compete with the explosion of flavors in this Korean recipe, making it a good pairing choice.
Ching-He Huang writes, “In the classic Korean dish, the beef is marinated and cooked on a hot table-top hibachi grill, but I marinate the beef and wok it with onions and green bell peppers. A bit of creative license here by adding the Korean gochujang chili paste—and why not, it’s delicious! Perfect served with steamed greens and rice.”
For the marinade:
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
2 tablespoons low sodium light soy sauce
1 teaspoon Korean gochujang chili paste
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1⁄2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon pure sesame oil
For the stir-fry:
10 ounces sirloin steak, fat trimmed off, sliced against the grain into wafer-thin 2-inch pieces (see Tip)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1⁄2 white onion, cut into half-moon slices
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
pinch of Korean gochugaru chile pepper flakes (or other chile flakes)
pinch of cracked black pepper
2 scallions, finely sliced on an angle
To serve toasted white sesame seeds, (optional)
1 cup steamed greens
11⁄2 cups steamed jasmine rice (optional)
Whisk together all the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl. Pour over the beef slices and let marinate for 10 minutes.
Heat a wok over high heat until smoking, then add the canola oil. Toss in the white onion and stir-fry for 20 seconds until golden and seared at the edges, then add the marinated beef and stir-fry for 5 seconds to sear the edges. Add the Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry and toss in the green bell pepper pieces. Stir-fry over high heat until all the liquid has evaporated, the green bell peppers are al dente but have softened, and the beef is cooked through but still tender. Season with the chile flakes and black pepper. Take off the heat and stir in the scallions. Transfer to a serving plate immediately, sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds (if you like).