Gochujang, a dynamic Korean chili paste, is one of the more versatile condiments out there. Made from a combination of chile powder, glutinous rice, garlic and fermented soybean, among other ingredients, it has a complex flavor profile—salty, sweet, funky—which means it can blend seamlessly into a number of dishes aside from Korean classics like bibimbap. It goes well with a lot of different things—in rice, eggs, a marinade. I’d even put it in meat loaf.
But one place you might not expect to find gochujang—though it seems obvious when you really think about it—is chili. In fact, gochujang is an excellent ingredient to add to chili, enriching its flavor with an extra layer of spicy-sweetness that you won’t
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get from using sriracha, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes or Tabasco sauce—all ingredients I like to add to chili in order to enhance its depth of flavor.
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You don’t need much. A few tablespoons will do the trick; though by all means, add more if you’re feeling it. Gochujang can serve to emulsify a thick, pastier chili with lots of ground beef—giving it an oily sheen. It can also be used more sparingly in a looser, wetter
chili in order to imbue your dish with a richer, more intense flavor and well-rounded warmth.
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It may seem unnecessary to add this ingredient to a dish like chili, for which, I can imagine, you have your own highly personal recipe. And I’m sure your recipe is delicious. But I believe that any chili-master stands to benefit from trying this trick out. In a way, gochujang is sort of like a chili extract, so intensely delicious that, when sampled straight out of the container, it seems as if the chili flavor has been concentrated into one bite. It’s a natural fit for a pot of hearty, soul-warming beef and bean chili.
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So the next time you’re making chili, rather than throwing in a dollop of tomato paste or pouring in some tomato sauce, opt for the gochujang—which has a similar texture but will do a whole lot more for the flavor personality of your stew. Soon enough, I hope you’ll come to see it as more than a substitute for the standard ingredients and something that is vital to the dish itself. It isn’t the most intuitive ingredient, I know. A Korean paste and a classically Texan meal wouldn’t seem to have that much in common. But they do. And it’s a rather delicious testament to culinary cross-pollination.
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