What is gochujang?
Gochujang (고추장) is a very spicy Korean fermented condiment seasoned with red peppers.
Its salty taste comes from meju, a fermented soybean paste. Glutinous rice flour and wheat germ are also added to it.
Gochujang literally means “bitter chili sauce”. Traditionally, this paste is left to ferment for weeks in large jars called jangdok. Gochujang is essential for preparing the famous tteokbokki, an extremely popular Korean appetizer made with rice cake and this condiment.
Eggs, meat, spring onions or vegetables and sesame seeds are added on top of it. It is found throughout the streets of Korea because it is an appetite suppressant, quick to eat and very nutritious. It is also used in many Korean recipes.
What are the origins of gochujang?
Gochujang is one of the three basic condiments in Korean cuisine. The other two are ganjang, made with soy sauce, and the thicker doenjang.
The story of gochujang begins in the 16th and 17th century during the Joseon period. It is mentioned in two 18th century works, Somum saseol and Jeungbo sallim. It was once spelled gochojang. The fermentation process plays an essential role in Korean cuisine, which is reminiscent of the famous fermented kimchi cabbage.
How to make gochujang
To prepare gochujang, it is essential to get quality peppers. The other ingredients are yeotgireum-garu (barley malt powder), water, glutinous rice flour, rice syrup, mejugaru which is fermented soy powder, salt, chili powder and water.
The yeotgireum-garu powder is mixed with 4 liters of water. This preparation must imperatively be filtered to avoid the formation of lumps and placed in a non-stick large pan. The preparation should heat up for around twenty minutes.
The sticky rice flour is then added while mixing. The preparation must then stand for two hours. At this point, it will already taste somewhat sweet. It is then brought to a boil, left to cook for two hours, the time necessary for the mixture to reduce in quantity and to concentrate.
The rice syrup is then added, and the mix is left to cool completely. Mejugaru and chili powder are added at the end as well as the salt. The resulting paste must be smooth, homogeneous and above all not contain lumps.
It is then transferred to glass jars or traditional terracotta jars such as jangdok. The seal must be airtight because the fermentation will take place over 2 to 3 months. The preparation should be exposed to the sun during the day and closed at night.
How is gochujang used?
Gochujang is a condiment, it is therefore supposed to bring more flavor to the preparations. It can for example be used to make a sauce for the noodles. It is also used to season a bowl of rice (like the traditional bibimbap) or a soup or broth.
It can be placed in a ramekin and used with meat or fish as we would do with mustard for example. In an onion or fennel confit, it will bring a lot of flavor and spiciness and can thus replace chutney or pickles.
Finally, it can be used to marinate meat or even lacquer it before cooking it. You should not season any preparation containing gochujang with salt since it is already salted.
What are the variants of gochujang?
The cousin of gochujang is chojang, a vinegar version generally used with raw fish or seafood.
By mixing gochujang and doenjang, you will obtain ssamjang which is traditionally enjoyed with pork recipes such as bossam.
- 16 oz. yeotgireum-garu barley malt powder
- 7 cups glutinous rice flour
- 5 cups rice syrup
- 16 oz. mejugaru fermented soy powder
- 2 lb hot pepper powder
- 14 oz. salt
Mix 4 quarts (4 liters) of water with barley malt powder (yeotgireum) in a large bowl.
- Filter the mixture and pour it into a large heavy-bottomed pan.
- Place the pan on medium heat for about 20 minutes until the mixture is hot but not searing.
- Remove the pan from the heat and add the sticky rice flour. Mix well with a wooden spoon.
- Leave to stand for 2 hours. The liquid on the surface will be much clearer and will have a slightly sweet taste.
- Bring to a boil and cook for 2 hours over medium-high heat, until it decreases by ¼ to ⅓.
- Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon so that the bottom does not burn.
- Add the rice syrup and mix well.
- Remove from heat and wait for it to cool completely.
- Add the mejugaru and mix well.
- Then add the hot pepper powder and mix well.
Finally, add the salt and stir until there are no more lumps in the paste.
Transfer the paste to one or more terracotta pots or glass jars and cover with a net or cheesecloth before closing the lid tightly.
It will take about 2 to 3 months for the paste to be fermented.
During this time, it is best to open the lid and let it sit in the sun during the day, and close the jar at night.