Within my South London fridge, there is a certain Holy Trinity of Korean flavour- three essential items that I cannot live without: kimchi, doenjang, and kochujang.
The latter is a red chilli paste that is used as an accompaniment, rather like a thicker, hotter ketchup most famously served with bibimbap; as well as a cooking sauce.
The kochujang craze is sweeping London. My friends are currently raving about, and I can’t deny that I am addicted! Even domestic goddess Nigella Lawson has featured two kochujang-flavoured recipes in her book Kitchen, Recipes from the Heart of the Home, which came out towards the end of last year.
I was an instant kochujang fan, and as a result, one of the first phrases that I learnt in Korean was “kochujang juseyo!” Sometimes, Korean diners would look at me strangely for requesting at least two (rather than the standard one) portions for mixing with my dolsot bibimbap, shaking their heads and sighing ‘very spicy!’ To anyone who’s used to English Indian curries, though, kochujang probably won’t seem spicy per se. It definitely has a kick to it, but I would describe it as chilli, salty and above all, tasty.
You will usually find it on your table as a condiment, alongside soy sauce, vinegar and oil, when eating out in a Korean restaurant. If ordering bibimbap, it will sometimes come in a small dish, to allow you to ‘add to taste’. In my experience, the dished kochujang is preferable to the squeezy-bottled, as it tends to be fuller and more like the proper gloopy, yummy stuff that you can buy in the shops.
It’s best to buy in bulk, and a good-sized pot (500g+) of kochujang will probably last you anywhere up to a year (depending on how kochujang-crazy you become!) I use it not only with bibimbap, but also to cook up some K-style side-dishes. It is very versatile, and so there is a lot of room for improvisation.
To get started, try one of my mini-recipes, and then invent your own:
1) For a quick version of bulgogi, fry some minced beef / quorn beef-style and onion, seasoning with a generous dollop of kochujang, some sesame oil and soy sauce.
2) Add kochujang to a pan of shallow-boiling courgettes and chopped garlic.
- Buy kochujang from stores in Korea town (New Malden) or more central stores on our map https://kimchisoul.wordpress.com/londonmap/
- If you live in London, you can order online from K-Mart: http://www.kmart.uk.com/ 200g for £1.50, 500g for £2.60, 1kg for £4.50 and 3kg for £11.20