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Where EAST meets the Northwest

 

HOT TREND. Everywhere you look, Korean food is screaming off the trend charts. Kimchi has become a household condiment. Korean barbecue is universally loved. Gochujang ó a thick, Korean chili paste ó is about to have its heyday. Pictured is Korean gochujang corn on the cob. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

From The Asian Reporter, V25, #15 (August 3, 2015), page 8.

Korean foods making inroads in America via pantry staples

By Edward Lee

The Associated Press

Everywhere you look, Korean food is screaming off the trend charts. Kimchi has become a household condiment. Korean barbecue is universally loved. Gochujang is about to have its heyday.

And weíve seen this sort of thing before. Japanese cuisine was all the rage once, then Thai and Vietnamese, and regional Chinese is making a comeback, too. Except in the case of Korean food, it is playing out a bit differently. In the decade that Korean food has been inching its way into the spotlight, we havenít seen a proliferation of Korean restaurants as we did with other Asian cuisines. Iíd even argue that the mystery of Korean cuisine hasnít even begun to be unpacked for mainstream America.

Rather, the rise of Korean food in America is driven by its pantry ingredients, not traditional restaurants. This is a different path from the other Asian cuisines that have been popularized in the west. One of the main reasons for this is because even though the cuisine of the homeland is complex and ritualistic, the ingredients are not. They made the leap pretty quickly into the American taste vernacular. In fact, the assimilation of Korean food happened so fast, we found our way to kimchi tacos faster than we did kimchi ji-gae (a traditional Korean stew).

Itís that same versatility that will define the future of Korean food in the U.S. The ingredients are already adapting to everything from burgers to poutine. And itís not just here. In Seoul, where I have travelled frequently in recent years, the cuisine is rapidly morphing, too. The line between western influences and traditional flavors is becoming less and less rigid. We donít need to wait a generation anymore to discover the next incarnation of Korean food.

And thatís good ó and delicious ó for us. What is popular in Korea now is instantly translatable to the American table. The expanding Korean pantry is already here to entice an audience hungry for more umami and spice.

Now, Iíll grant you that sea squirt sashimi may never gain traction here. But jeotgal is something that can easily become an American staple. It is a category that denotes any fermented seafood. It can be anything from 40-day-old fish guts to a lighter, almost ceviche-like cold dish of oysters with chili and fish sauce. It is delicious as a condiment, added to a rice dish, or served with fatty pork. And there are as many varieties as there are fish in the sea. My recipe is an introduction to the category: oysters in a lettuce wrap tempered by the richness of fatty pork sausage.

When we think of Korean ingredients, we think of fermented products. But there are also many fresh herbs and vegetables that are becoming more widely available. Teardrop or hachiya persimmons, chrysanthemum leaves, and Asian pears are staples I see all the time now. One that is still rare but growing in popularity is perilla (sometimes called shiso). They are leaves from the sesame tree, and they are pungent, slightly minty, and bitter all at the same time. Traditionally used as a wrap or fermented into kimchi, the leaves also make a delicious addition to salads.

Meanwhile, gochujang is the Korean ingredient Americans are most likely to encounter first. It is a fermented chili paste that is essential to many Korean dishes. It has yet to penetrate the typical household, but chefs have been using it for years to add depth to stews, glazes, and marinades. Ssamjang is its more complex (and less spicy) brother. It is a seasoned dipping sauce made from gochujang, garlic, sesame oil, and soybean paste. Typically it is used only as a condiment to barbecue, but it has so much more potential. I use it in gravy, in hummus, or just eat it with raw vegetables. And that is exactly why this sauce will gain in popularity here. Without the limiting blinders of tradition, American chefs will see it as a limitless pantry item.

And thatís the exciting part ó watching these ingredients take on new roles. Thatís when American cuisine is at its best. The misinterpretation of tradition can be a good thing, even essential. Because it often leads to new ones, those we can claim as our own.

Edward Lee is the chef/owner of multiple Louisville, Kentucky restaurants, including 610 Magnolia and MilkWood. His first cookbook is Smoke and Pickles.

 

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TASTY PASTE. A Bloody Mary with Korean gochujang ó which is made from chili peppers, rice, fermented soy beans, and salt ó is seen in Concord, New Hampshire. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

From The Asian Reporter, V25, #15 (August 3, 2015), page 8.

10 fresh, fast ideas for using Korean gochujang chili paste

By J.M. Hirsch

AP Food Editor

If you havenít already seen gochujang ó a thick, Korean chili paste ó you very likely will. And very soon.

Korean food has been enjoying an upswing in the U.S. in recent years, and one of the most popular ingredients to catch on has been gochujang. Think of it as a blend of miso (Japanese fermented soy bean paste) and Sriracha (that increasingly ubiquitous hot sauce), except gochujang is way more complex and (usually) not nearly as spicy as straight up hot sauce.

Made from chili peppers, rice, fermented soy beans, and salt, gochujang has a savory spicy-sweet flavor thatís particularly agreeable with meats and grilled or roasted vegetables. Though often used as a condiment in its own right, gochujang also frequently is used as a base of marinades, sauces, and soups. Thinned with a bit of rice vinegar, for example, it makes a great sauce for cooked vegetables.

Because specific recipes for gochujang can vary widely, itís good to try several brands to find one you prefer. Once you have, of course you can delve into classic Korean cooking. But itís also fun to take gochujang outside its cultural context and put it to use in all sorts of cooking. Here are 10 of my favorites:

10 fresh ways to use Korean gochujang

Bloody Mary

Whisk a teaspoon or so of gochujang into tomato juice, then use in your favorite bloody mary cocktail.

Corn on the cob

Smear a liberal amount of gochujang over corn fresh off the grill. Or even better, mix together equal amounts of gochujang and softened butter, then use that.

Rub

Smear a generous amount of gochujang over flank steak and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before grilling. Serve thinly sliced against the grain with additional gochujang thinned with rice vinegar.

Vinaigrette

Whisk together equal parts gochujang, cider or rice vinegar, and apricot jam. Use on robust salads or grilled vegetables, such as broccoli and zucchini.

Grilled cheese

Smear gochujang thickly on a slice of bread. Top with slices of blue cheese, then top with a second slice of bread. Butter the outsides of the bread, then toast in a skillet until the cheese is melted.

Hot dogs

Mix together equal amounts of ketchup and gochujang, then use to top hot dogs. For the full experience, lay down a heap of kimchi in the bun first.

Burgers

Mix several tablespoons of gochujang into whatever ground meat (or blend of meats) you use for burgers, meatballs, and meatloaf.

Falafel

Stir gochujang and diced cucumber into plain Greek yogurt, then use as a condiment for falafel or lamb burgers.

Pulled pork

Thin gochujang with water, cider vinegar, and a bit of honey, then toss with shredded or pulled pork and serve on slider buns.

Sloppy Joes

Brown one pound ground beef and one diced onion in a splash of olive oil. Mix in a 15-ounce can tomato sauce blended with two tablespoons gochujang. Simmer. If desired, sprinkle in a bit of brown sugar.

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