Besides being a tremendously trendy restaurant ingredient that improves almost anything it touches, gochujang is a gift to home cooks of all skill sets. The Korean fermented paste of (mostly) sun-dried chilies and glutinous rice has all the complexity of seasoning pastes that take dozens of ingredients and hours to make. It’s indispensable not just in Korean cuisine but anywhere you want its spicy-sweet-salty character and umami depth: roast chicken, pork ribs, steak skewers, fried rice, dipping sauces, slaws, soups and stews. The powerful, concentrated flavors demand pairings with personality.
The pleasantly funky, faintly cheesy aroma of gochujang comes from the fermentation process. The quality is terrific with skin-contact whites (aka “orange” wines). Though these vary wildly, they’re usually intensely aromatic, often with unusual notes like nut butters, buckwheat honey and mushroom.
The primary ingredient of gochujang is dried red chilies, and while they’re tempered by other ingredients, the heat is comparable to other spicy condiments like harissa and sriracha. An ice-cold lager will soothe the tongue, and its slightly bitter taste is refreshing with the sticky richness of gochujang.
In the same way that lemon juice can cut the perception of excess salt in a dish, high-acid fruity red wines can do the same with gochujang. Blaufränkisch (alternatively known as Kékfrankos or Lemberger in some countries) is a firm, persistent red that explodes with cherries, berries and peppery spice—a fun one to pair with gochujang.
As gochujang ferments, the starches of the rice turn to sugar, lending a deep sweetness to the mix. Pétillant natural (“pét-nat”) is sparkling wine whose single fermentation finishes after bottling. It often has more prominent fruit notes than other sparklers, which hint at gochujang’s sweetness even as it offers refreshing, fizzy contrast.
Gochujang vinaigrette: Mix 2 tablespoons each gochujang, rice or cider vinegar, and toasted sesame oil with 1 tablespoon each soy sauce and honey. Toss with any salad or roasted vegetables.
Gochujang mayo: Mix ½ cup mayo, 1 ½ tablespoons gochujang, and 2 teaspoons lime juice. Serve with fish, fries, burgers, wings or anything else.
Gochujang noodles: Mix ¼ cup gochujang with 1 tablespoon each soy sauce, rice or cider vinegar, toasted sesame oil and honey. Toss with soba, somen or other noodles and top with shredded cabbage, carrot and cucumber.