My Citizens! The asbestos palate possessed by the Suzerain of Spice – your TFD! – is sophisticated in its cravings and while spicy is always good in my book, it must be similarly matched with a depth of flavor that balances spice with the needed complexity to make it worthy of my needs. Gochujang hits that perfect balance for me and it is in fact my preferred spicing ingredient for a host of TFD recipes, Korean or otherwise!
Unfortunately, the vast majority of gochujang made today is industrialized on a massive scale and nowhere near scaling its former dizzying heights of flavor nirvana. My homemade version aims to bring us back full circle to the ancient and deep roots of this condiment so you can make it the way it SHOULD be – not the way it IS. 🙂 For this recipe, be advised you are going to need a sunny backyard or balcony and the patience to wait 3-6 months – but the end result is beyond transcendent and it isn’t difficult to make! It has a gentle to medium heat, and a ton of umami thanks to the use of some of the same fermentation ingredients as miso!
Gochujang (or red chili paste) is a savory, sweet, and spicy fermented condiment, popular in Korean cooking. It is made from chili powder, glutinous rice, meju (fermented soybean) powder, yeotgireum (barley malt powder), and salt. The sweetness comes from the starch of cooked glutinous rice, cultured with saccharifying enzymes during the fermentation process. Traditionally, it has been naturally fermented over years in jangdok (earthenware) on an elevated stone platform, called jangdokdae, in the backyard.
The Sunchang Gochujang Festival is held annually in Gochujang Village in Sunchang County, North Jeolla Province, South Korea. In 2018, the Sunchang Gochujang Festival took place in October.
It has commonly been assumed that spicy jang (장; 醬) varieties were made using black peppers and chopi before the introduction of chili peppers. Shiyi xinjian, a mid-9th century Chinese document, recorded the Korean pepper paste as 椒醬 (lit. ‘pepper paste’). The second-oldest documentation of pepper paste is found in the 1433 Korean book Collected Prescriptions of Native Korean Medicines. Pepper paste is again mentioned in a 1445 medical encyclopedia named Compendia of Medical Prescriptions.
Chili peppers, which originated in the Americas, were introduced to East Asia by Portuguese traders in the early 16th century. The first mention of chili pepper in Korea is found in Collected Essays of Jibong, an encyclopedia published in 1614. Farm Management, a book from ca. 1700, discussed the cultivation methods of chili peppers.
In the 18th-century books, Somun saseol and Revised and Augmented Farm Management, gochujang is written as gochojang, using hanja characters 苦椒醬 and 古椒醬. It is also mentioned that Sunchang was renowned for its gochujang production. Korean chili peppers, of the species Capsicum annuum, are spicy yet sweet making them ideal for gochujang production.
Other recipes use glutinous rice (chapssal, Korean: 찹쌀), normal short-grain rice (mepssal, Korean: 멥쌀), or barley, and, less frequently, whole wheat kernels, jujubes, pumpkin, and sweet potato; these ingredients are used to make special variations. A small amount of sweetener, such as sugar, syrup, or honey, is also sometimes added. The finished product is a dark, reddish paste with a rich, piquant flavor.
The making of gochujang at home began tapering off when commercial production came into the mass market in the early 1970s. Now, most Koreans purchase gochujang at grocery stores or markets. It is still used extensively in Korean cooking to flavor stews (jjigae), such as in gochujang jjigae; to marinate meat, such as in gochujang bulgogi; and as a condiment for naengmyeon and bibimbap.
Gochujang is also used as a base for making other condiments, such as chogochujang (Korean: 초고추장) and ssamjang (Korean: 쌈장). Chogochujang is a variant of gochujang made by adding vinegar and other seasonings, such as sugar and sesame seeds. It is usually used as a sauce for hoe and hoedeopbap. Similarly, ssamjang is a mixture of mainly gochujang and doenjang, with chopped onions and other spicy seasonings, and it is popular with sangchussam (Korean: 상추쌈).
Gochujang is used in various dishes such as bibimbap and tteokbokki, and in salads, stews, soups, and marinated meat dishes. Gochujang may make dishes spicier (depending on the capsaicin in the base chili), but also can make dishes sweeter and smokier.
Being TFD – I felt the heavy weight of the Mandate of Heaven upon my broad shoulders – I needed to up the game of standard gochujang without sacrificing any of its authenticity and I believe I have succeeded in my quest!
First things first – you can’t change something without first understanding it at its fundamental core – so the base recipe needed to be old-school and mine is based very closely on an exceptional version I found at kimchimari.com. Huge kudos to the author of this great blog – it’s rare for me to find a recipe so well-made I can’t really improve on it!
To make this properly in the old-school fashion – you are going to need a proper ceramic hangari, a Korean pot traditionally used to make gochujang. I am partial to the #6 model, the largest size pot you will find here. Proper Korean diastatic malted barley powder may be purchased here, fermented soybean powder of the proper fine consistency can be purchased here, dried sweet glutinous rice flour can be found here, the all-important finely-ground proper Korean red pepper powder may be found here, real Korean solar-distilled sea salt is here and genuine Korean rice syrup is here.
The secret ingredient I have added to make my version worthy of the name ‘Imperial’ is Baekseju (백세주; 百歲酒; sold under the brand name Bek Se Ju), which is a Korean glutinous rice-based fermented alcoholic beverage flavored with a variety of herbs, ginseng most prominent among them. The name comes from the legend that the healthful herbs in baekseju will result an individual to live up to 100 years old.
The drink is infused with ginseng and eleven other herbs, including licorice, omija (Schisandra chinensis), gugija (Chinese wolfberry), Astragalus propinquus root, ginger, and cinnamon. Baekseju is brewed using traditional methods, and has a mellow flavor, with a hint of ginseng. It is often consumed with gui and other spicy dishes which are main flavors of Korean food.
I add a goodly amount of Bek Se Ju to my gochujang recipe and WOW does it make a difference in elevating the taste and health benefits alike of the final product! Ginseng is one of the greatest herbal treasures on this planet and Korean wild ginseng is the top-grade you will find – it truly makes my gochujang recipe special and worthy of bearing my regal name! You can buy it from here.
Citizens, this is a true taste from the past that will make literally any savory dish better – I use it on everything from hamburgers to tacos and yes, all my Korean main dishes as well! I hope you enjoy it and trust me – patience is a virtue with this recipe! If you can wait the full six months for proper fermentation, it will be a Celestial experience for you and your dinner guests alike! Try some on these delicious Korean-American tacos as just one small example of how gochujang can add spicy umami to your meal – it truly is one of the most versatile spicy condiments on planet Earth!
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