Like many of you out there, I’ve long been a fan of sriracha. The bright red sauce made of ground chilies and garlic is a staple in Asian cuisine, yet like so many other condiments it’s a multicultural star that enlivens everything from eggs to hamburgers.
On a recent trip to South Korea, I found something even better: gochujang. Like sriracha, gochujang is a condiment made from red chilies. And as with sriracha, it pairs well with a variety of foods. It’s also absolutely addicting. Gochujang is a regular at the tables in Korea (it goes great with barbecue, as seen below in Seoul), but like sriracha it deserves a place at yours.
Gochujang differs from sriracha in a few ways. First, it’s thicker, with a paste consistency. It doesn’t squirt out of a bottle like sriracha, but is instead scooped out of a container. And gochujang differs even more in the way it tastes. Where sriracha’s profile is mostly about heat, gochujang – at least the kind I like and recommend here — has an excellent balance of sweetness.
While sriracha can be thought of as a simpler Asian hot sauce made from chilies, vinegar, garlic and a touch of salt and sugar, gochujang uses chilies, rice, and fermented soybeans. And then there’s the sweetness. Traditional ingredients include sugar and honey, but for a real punch some makers use corn syrup. In fact, in tubs of the stuff I get, it’s the first ingredient. (Like other condiments such as soy sauce, this stuff has a high level of sodium, so beware of that if you’re watching yours). Acting as a team, these ingredients give gochujang a spicy-sweet-salty-savory characteristic.
Because gochujang has such a range of flavors, it goes with a variety of foods. It’s awesome on rice, can be smeared on vegetables such as green beans, or spread on sandwiches. I regularly do my own East meets West thing by pairing it with fried chicken. I’m a sucker for the deep-fried chicken fingers at my local market, and I use gochujang as a spread before devouring (again, because of its paste consistency, it’s not really a dip such as barbecue sauce). If you’re new to gochujang, try it with some rice and a meat of your choice, and remember to go easy because it can pack a spicy kick.
Gochujang isn’t quite in the mainstream – yet – but it’s not impossible to find. If you live near an Asian market such as H Mart or 99 Ranch, that should be your first stop. You can find it in the condiment aisle, and remember to refrigerate after opening. If that doesn’t work there’s always Amazon.com, which sells everything, including this addicting red pepper paste.
So next time you plan a meal with some sriracha, try a dose of gochujang with it. If you’re like me, a tub of it will become a staple in your refrigerator.