There are plenty of food cultures out there that embrace the spicy, but it’s hard to think of one that uses a single heat-packing ingredient so adamantly as Korean does with gochujang. Almost every chili-based dish in the cuisine’s repertoire manages to work in the paste one way or another, from marinades for bulgogi to the finger-licking coating on Korean fried chicken. To try and make these recipes with some sort of substitute would be like cobbling together buffalo wings from a jar of salsa.
Gochujang is indispensable for a number reasons. It has a kick to it that is hot, though rarely flaming, making it easier on the tongue than the fiendish sauces you’ll find elsewhere. But more than that, it adds qualities beyond heat to the equation. With its fermented soybean base, gochujang is basically a fiery version of miso (and it brings the umami-packing deliciousness and complexity of miso, too). On top of that, it usually contains a hint of sweetness, to help round things out. Most hot sauces would give up at just being spicy, whereas this one has way more going on for it.
Even with its firm place in traditional Korean cooking, gochujang has a lot of crossover potential. It can work its way seamlessly into barbecue, Tex-Mex fusion, and more. Try using it in place of hot sauce in recipes to add a hint of funk, but do so sparingly: a little bit goes a long way. It also tends to work better thinned out with some soy sauce, rice vinegar, or other add-in that can help calm its big temper. For some inspiration, check out these nine recipes that incorporate gochujang, from the Korean classics to border-hopping, new-school takes.
1. Korean Kimchi Tofu Soup (Soondubu Jjigae)
Need to clear some sinuses? Soondubu jjigae will do just the trick. The stew gets a fiery blast from gochujang and kimchi, while additions like tofu and egg make it extra-fortifying. Serve it bubbling hot for full effect. Get our Korean Kimchi Tofu Soup (Soondubu Jjigae) recipe.
2. Pork Bulgogi
Bulgogi, Korea’s take on grilled meat, looks to gochujang when it needs some heat. Rounded out by a healthy handful of garlic, the salty rush of soy sauce, and a light touch of sugar, the marinade infuses each piece of meat with full-on flavor. Get our Pork Bulgogi recipe.
On their own, the basic components of bibimbap, a mixed bowl of meat and veggies, would be pretty plain and simple. But once you add a drizzle of the dish’s sauce, which consists of thinned out and sweetened gochujang, everything suddenly brightens up with fire and spark. Get the recipe here.
4. Grilled Flank Steak with Coca-Cola Pickled Onions
As the saying goes, “everything is bigger in Texas.” This marriage between Korean flavors and Lone Star-style grilling brings the outsized swagger of gochujang to flank steak, resulting in a piece of beef that truly knows how to live large. Get the recipe here.
5. Sweet and Spicy Korean Chicken Wings
Korean fried chicken is known for being the crispiest, crackliest chicken out there, the sort that could put even Colonel Sanders to shame. Such greatness demands a substantial sauce to match: go for a thick and oozy one based around gochujang for some thoroughly sauced fun. Get the recipe here.
6. Korean-Style Broccoli With Gochujang
Gochujang is used to back up a number of Korean stir frys. There are some based around different meats with a melange of veggies, but there’s something about tossing the sauce with a singular ingredient like broccoli that really puts the emphasis on all of its charms. Get the recipe here.
Tteokbokki are rice cakes with an addictively chewy, starchy, and dense texture, the sort that comes as a respite after a night of drinking. You’ll usually find the tteok floating in a glistening pool of red sauce, which if anything, heightens their debauched appeal. Get the recipe here.
8. Asian Sliders with Gochujang Mayo and Quick Pickles
First there was chipotle mayo, then there was sriracha mayo—could gochujang mayo be the next wunderkind on the block? It might be a bit soon to say, but in any event, the stuff makes for one fine burger topper. Get the recipe here.
9. Miso Kimchi Deviled Eggs
Need to add some spice and intrigue to your cocktail hour hors d’oeuvres? Look no further than these stunning deviled eggs, which are as pleasing on the palate as they are to the eyes. Get the recipe here.
Miki Kawasaki is a New York City–based food writer and graduate of Boston University's program in Gastronomy. Few things excite her more than a well-crafted sandwich or expertly spiced curry. If you ever run into her at a dinner party, make sure to hit her up for a few pieces of oddball culinary trivia.