Food Writer's Diary
Korean BBQ Meatballs

Noodles & Company's Korean BBQ Meatballs 

Gochujang is the next Sriracha

This post is part of the Food Writer’s Diary blog.

Well, it’s pretty much official: Sriracha sauce is everywhere.

The chile sauce that originated in Thailand (where it’s considered mild and isn’t used very often) and was popularized in the United States thanks to manufacturers in southern California who put it in a bottle with a rooster on it, can now be had at McDonald’s.

Not at all McDonald’s — just at hundreds of locations in the greater Los Angeles area, San Diego and Seattle — so I guess Sriracha isn’t really everywhere, but you get my point.

The Golden Arches are actually tampering with the special sauce that goes on their Big Mac, stirring Sriracha in as part of the chain’s Signature Crafted Line that allows guests at participating restaurants to customize their burgers and chicken sandwiches with things like fried onions, white cheddar, and a blend of baby spinach and baby kale.

Yes, you can now stop thinking you’re cool by offering kale, too.

But don’t worry, there’s another Asian chile condiment for you to get excited about, and its name is gochujang.

Pronounced GO-chew-jong (rhymes with gong, not gang), this Korean fermented paste of chiles, rice, soybeans and salt has been used at independent restaurants for years. Its heady, slightly sweet, tangy and not overpoweringly spicy flavor goes well with pretty much anything you’d add a Kansas City-style barbecue sauce to, and chefs have usually been referring to it as Korean or Asian barbecue sauce, because, until recently, if you called it gochujang most people wouldn’t know what you were talking about.

California Tortilla's Korean BBQ Street Taco (courtesy of California Tortilla)

California Tortilla, a fast-casual Mexican chain based in Rockville, Md., was the first chain I know of to introduce gochujang. It was on one of their limited-time street tacos offered in the spring of 2015. The item had mesquite grilled steak, slaw, green onions and melted Jack cheese, along with Sriracha and what they called “Korean barbecue sauce,” but their research & development folks confirmed at the time that it was, indeed, gochujang.

Unlike Sriracha, gochujang can’t just be squirted on something. It comes as a thick paste and is intended as an ingredient to be thinned out with water or another liquid.

There were some other Korean barbecue sauce mentions at chains last year, but it’s unclear whether they were using gochujang or just adding sesame oil and garlic to American barbecue sauce and calling it a day.

Noodles

But when Noodles & Company launched their Korean BBQ Meatballs as a permanent item early this year, they were proud to tell the world that it was made with gochujang.

Moe’s Southwest Grill was a bit quieter about their use of it in May with their Ancho Chile Lime Bowl. The item is chicken tossed in ancho lime sauce on a bed of cilantro lime rice and black beans, with a choice of toppings including shredded cheese, pico de gallo, guacamole and lime. But I asked what was in that ancho lime sauce, and it turns out that it has gochujang as well as ancho and chipotle chiles, vinegar and sweetener.

You can try it if you like; it’s available until August.

So is the Korean Chicken that Houlihan’s rolled out in June. It’s available grilled or fried and has gochujang, charred pineapple, brown rice, garlic green beans and pineapple relish.

Saladworks’ new executive chef, Andy Revella, is also playing with the combination of charred pineapple and gochujang for a new salad he’s working on. He’s planning on toasting the fruit and serving it with steak slices and an “Asian barbecue sauce” made with gochujang, toasted sesame and ginger.

Sounds good.

There are other chile sauces being bandied about. Obviously hot sauces are a huge growth category, and both Thai sweet chile sauce and North African harissa are finding their niches. Thai sweet chile sauce is, in fact, clearly the inspiration for the Sweet Chili sauce you can get with your McNuggets.

But if I were a betting man, I’d say gochujang is the next big thing in spicy condiments.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

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