Korean flavours going mainstream? Nigella gets gochujang

Purists may throw their hands up in horror, but one indicator that a cuisine is beginning to get accepted internationally is that its flavours and ingredients become incorporated into the cuisines of other countries and new fusion dishes are created. The new dishes may bear absolutely no relation to the original national cuisine (can you get a Chicken Tikka Massala in Delhi?) but maybe, someone trying the fusion dish might be tempted to try the unadulterated national foods which gave birth to these unfamiliar flavours.

It’s going to be a long time before Korean food is accepted in the same way that Thai coconut and lemongrass flavours can be found everywhere in Asian fusion cuisine. But it has made a very small start.

For the benefit of non-British readers, Nigella Lawson is the nation’s favourite domestic goddess. Her cookery books sell in their hundreds of thousands, and her TV shows are also very popular, with male as well as female viewers1. Her latest cookery book, entitled Kitchen, Recipes from the Heart of the Home, was published in September and is destined to top the Christmas bestsellers list.

Two recipes have Korean flavours and both use the key ingredient, gochujang, which Lawson keeps on hand “to pep up a jaded palate or a pallid-flavoured ingredient. Yes, you do need to hunt down this fabulous flavoured paste,” she says, “but once you have it, the culinary kingdom is yours.”

Gochujang

How would she describe gochujang to someone who’s never tasted it before? “Think chilli with a sweet and smoky hit of almost liquorice intensity.”

Both recipes use a familiar sauce of gochujang mixed with soy sauce, rice wine and either honey or sugar and maybe a bit of sesame oil. The first is “Korean squid”, which is squid stir-fried with vegetables and the gochujang sauce.

The second recipe is much more fusion in nature, as its name implies: “Korean keema” – a Korean-Anglo-Indian concoction. For it involves mincing turkey (not lamb) and frying it up with peas and spring onions, adding the sauce towards the end. “The aromatic richness of the paste makes the turkey sing,” she says. Sounds good, but you’re going to have to buy the book to find the exact ingredients and method.

In the past, a Nigella endorsement of a particular product has boosted sales and even resulted in supply difficulties. The problem will start when people without access to a Korean food store try to get their hands on some gochujang. “You could use any chilli paste you like, but I could never allow myself to run out of my exuberantly coloured gochujang, and so can’t report from experience,” admits Nigella.

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Gochujang photo credit: Mary Eats

  1. Time Magazine commented that the appeal of her TV shows was “the luscious camera shots and Lawson’s sensual enjoyment of eating.” []

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