Gochujang and chillies

"Chillies great gift, for us, is their ability to somehow marry together a range of flavours - or even to wake up the palate to the existence of these other flavours - and, in so doing, to create a singular harmony."

Yotam Ottolenghi - Flavour

Moving on to my second Christmas cookbook - Yotam Ottolenghi's Flavour about which there are a few things to say, I'm going to start by focussing on chillies in general and gochujang in particular. That's it above -


"a thick, crimson paste made from chile peppers, glutinous rice (also known as sticky rice), fermented soybeans, and salt. The chile peppers provide a healthy amount of lingering heat that's not burn-your-mouth spicy; the sticky rice brings a touch of sweetness that's sometimes enhanced by added sugar; and the fermented soybeans act as the miso-like ingredient that anchors gochujang's "umami" flavor." Christina Chaey - Bon Appétit


I'm focussing on chillies, even though it's a somewhat pointless exercise in this household, because it was absolutely what struck me about the recipes in this somewhat challenging book. Chillies were everywhere. So much so that you wonder how big a part his co-author for this book Ixta Belfrage played in creating it. For she has Brazilian heritage and Mexican heritage. In his introduction to a section on chilli heat - yes there's a whole section on chilli heat, as well as the use of chilli dotted throughout the book. In this introduction the dominance of chilli in this book is admitted:


"Every time we publish a book, it feels like the Ottolenghi pantry needs a new shelf. A place to house our latest discoveries and obsessions. For Ottolenghi Flavour, this new shelf would be full of chillies. Fresh chillies, dried chillies, chilli flakes, chilli pastes, chilli oils, chilli butters, chilli spice mixes, pickled chillies." Tara Wigley - Ottolenghi Flavour


And the book reflects this, which sadly eliminates a whole lot of recipes for me. Not all though - not every recipe has chillies in it. Just lots.


I have already mentioned Ottolenghi's list of new ingredients at the front of the book and amongst them is gochujang. I'm not focussing on gochujang just because of Ottolenghi though. It seems that everyone is using it. And yes, you can even buy it in Coles and Woolworths for a mere $2.00 this week in Coles (it's on special). Mind you I suspect that even though this is a genuine Korean product it is probably of inferior quality, because it doesn't seem to have soy in it - they just say it 'may' contain soy products, and it has things like corn syrup that somebody said was really not on. So I recommend, if you decide to buy some, that you search out an Asian supermarket. We live in Australia - there are lots. Mind you Ottolenghi does say that you can use supermarket brands, but just taste them first in case you need to use more to boost the flavour.


Like the Aleppo flakes I found somewhat contradictory statements about the hotness or otherwise of gochujang. On the one hand you have this:


"Unlike sriracha or Tabasco, gochujang isn't meant to be used as a finishing sauce on its own — it's too aggressive." Christina Chaey - Bon Appétit


and on the other you have people saying that it is mild. I suspect hot rather than mild.


Gochujang, though is more than a straight chilli sauce, and like Tabasco it is fermented over long periods of time. Years in some cases. The Koreans made it themselves in time gone by in large earthenware jars like these, in their back gardens. These days even the Koreans, it seems, buy it from the supermarket. You can find recipes online - a website called Pickled plum has one, but it's probably not the real thing as it is not fermented.

It uses red miso pastes, rice vinegar and saki plus Korean chilli flakes, as well as some more ordinary ingredients, so I suspect that you might have to go to an Asian supermarket to get them. Which begs the question as to why you would try to make your own anyway. I mean I'm sure it's good and flavourful but it's not going to be gochujang, because it's not fermented.


If you look at trendy cookbooks and celebrity chef websites they all rave about it. Indeed it seems to be replacing sriracha and even kimchi - which I know is not the same thing at all, but it's super trendy and Korean.


"peel back the plastic covering and you’ll uncover a dark red paste as thick as tar. This can make gochujang seem more like a dare than an integral component of the Korean kitchen, but it is far more versatile and complex than it might first appear." Nick Kindelsperger - Chicago Tribune


Of my four Christmas cookbooks three of them feature gochujang in their recipes. There is Nigella with more than one recipe. Wide noodles with lamb shank in aromatic broth, shown here, is just one, and in her introduction to it she says


"gochujang, that fermented Korean red chilli paste that provides rich, rounded depth as well as heat, is the magic ingredient here."


It seems that she has several other recipes in her books, as does Jamie, and, still sticking to my Christmas cookbooks, so does Bill Granger. His book is called Australian Food and this is sort of what it is. It isn't Korean - it's an Australian interpretation of a vaguely Asian dish. Fusion food if you will. As are all the others from western cooks. Which is a good thing is it not?


"Purists may throw their hands up in horror, but one indicator that a cuisine is beginning to get accepted internationally is that its flavours and ingredients become incorporated into the cuisines of other countries and new fusion dishes are created. The new dishes may bear absolutely no relation to the original national cuisine (can you get a Chicken Tikka Massala in Delhi?) but maybe, someone trying the fusion dish might be tempted to try the unadulterated national foods which gave birth to these unfamiliar flavours" Philip Gowman - London Korean Links

Bill Granger's offering has a gochujang sauce, concocted with various other Asian ingredients, which is splashed over some crispy chicken bits. He calls it Chilli, sesame and peanut crispy chicken with miso buttermilk dipping sauce. It looks pretty nice and worth a try if it wasn't for my chilli phobic husband.


So there you go - off to your nearest Asian supermarket to buy your new favourite flavour booster. Put it in soups, stews, glazes, Matt Preston has a number of suggestions, some of them not very Korean at all:


"I’ll add a dollop to stews and braises, or use it as a spice paste to rub on beef for the barbecue or chicken for the oven. I’ll even use it as a condiment. It is excellent with fried eggs or sausages, dolloped warm on roast potatoes or even smeared on hot flatbread with a good lashing of taramasalata."


How about that for fusion food - taramasalata and gochujang?

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