Asian cooking can be intimidating. There are many pastes, sauces, and liquids that are specific to certain regions and countries. You’ll be told there aren’t any substitutes, so you buy sauce after sauce, cluttering your refrigerator. So it is understandable if you want to really know about what you are buying.
But if you are into Korean food you’ll notice a common ingredient- gochujang. It is a fermented soybean chili paste that goes on a lot of various dishes. It is either really easy or extreamly hard to find. It usually depends on where you live. In New Jersey I can find some at a few generic grocery stores chains in their “international” aisles. But I am aware that there is a large Korean population in the area. It is easy to order through HMart or Amazon, with many brands to choose from. Each brand has their own heat and sweetness levels, so keep that in mind with your recipes and shopping.
How to Make It
Gochujang is made by taking fermented soybeans and mixing them with chili powder and rice. The mixture is put into earthenware and left out into the sun to ferment further, developing a unique flavor. Modern gochujang is sweetened and pasteurized to stop the fermentation process. This makes a shelf stable product, making transportation cheaper.
You can make your own gochujang but you’ll need a sunny backyard as sunlight is vital for the fermentation. If you want to give it a try Maangchi has directions to make you own gochujang. Her recipe uses various powders that are made to make process easier.
But what if you live in the middle of nowhere? There are no Asian food markets? You can still buy tubs pre-made, but it can be intimidating to buy online. Plus gochujang can have coloring and preservatives. If you want to avoid that you can make cheaters gochujang No, it isn’t authentic, but it tastes very similar and it’s pretty damn good. It will also give you a taste before buying the tub.
- 1/4 cup miso
- 4 tbsp agave syrup
- 1 tsp-1 tbsp korean chili powder
- Stir all ingredients together until combined
- If you can't find korean chili powder you can use 1/2-2 tsp of cayenne powder
Although Wikipedia says that gochujang is made with soybeans, rice, and pepper, wheat sneaks in there with modern recipes. I have not sat down at the market and read the backs of all the gochujang cases, but I haven’t come across one without wheat. If you want a gluten-free version you can make gochujang at home with Maangchi’s directions, which is good for people with wheat allergies. The recipe uses barley malt flour, which barley contains gluten, so that might be a problem for you.
Or you can find a gluten-free miso and make my faux gochujang! This also extends to whatever miso you want including chickpea miso, making a soy friendly version. Realistically, the amount of gluten in gochujang is very small. If you eat normal miso without a problem, gochujang shouldn’t be a problem either.
Gochujang is often used as major component in Korean cooking. It is often mixed with other ingredients to make sauces or vinaigrettes. Most of the time it is used to coat food while being cooked, such as spicy Korean rice cakes or in a veggie stir-fry. The key to unlocking the power of gochujang is letting it caramelize when grilling or baking.