Korean Chili Sauce Heats up Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day used to make me nervous. That discomfort began in middle school when we were given sugar hearts with little sayings that we were supposed to give to one another. "Love You." "Cutie." "My Valentine." Fearful of rejection, I didn't give out many hearts. In time, as my confidence grew, candy hearts gave way to fresh flowers and picking romantic restaurants. But I was still nervous.
I embraced Valentine's Day when I learned to cook. By preparing a meal, I could create artful dishes with exciting flavors. By preparing a meal, I could show I cared.

A special meal for a special evening

Google Valentine's Day dishes and the many recipes that pop up for this evening of romance emphasize richly extravagant ingredients or over-the-top sweetness. Kobe steaks with buttery sauces. Truffle rich lobster mac n'cheese. Double-dipped chocolate strawberries. Flourless chocolate cakes dusted with candied pistachios.

All those are great. But heavy. I prefer healthy and full of flavor.

That's where the Korean spicy condiment gochujang comes in. A little bit of spice goes a long way to brighten flavors and stimulate conversation. All chefs know that a few grains of cayenne adds sparkle to any dish. Gochujang does that and more. If pepper sauce can be said to have umami, gochujang has plenty of umami.
A mix of peppers, rice and sugar, gochujang gets its unique flavor from a process of fermentation. I always enjoyed gochujang at Korean restaurants. A trip to a Korean market and I saw dozens of brands and varieties of gochujang, but a quick reading of the ingredient label turned me off. Too many chemical preservatives, additives and chemical compounds.

When I was given a bottle of Chung Jung One Gochujang Sauce, I read the ingredient list. There were no chemicals, no wheat and no animal products only the essentials of red pepper powder, rice, cane sugar, water and rice wine vinegar. A little heat and a little sweet. Perfect.

With a little experimentation, I discovered two very good uses of gochujang. I used gochujang instead of Tabasco to make a Bloody Mary, adding a level of deep, richly flavored umami to that classic cocktail. And, I used gochujang to spice up a comfort food treasure, chicken and dumplings.

Gochujang Bloody Mary

Use a good quality vodka, although its qualities will be masked by the flavors of the seasoned tomato juice. While there are many brands available, I would recommend Chung Jung One's Gochujang Sauce because the ingredients do not include chemicals or preservatives. 

Serves 2 (of course!)

Time to prepare: 5 minutes

Ingredients

4 ounces unflavored vodka, preferably Tito's, Prairie or your favorite premium vodka
8 ounces tomato juice, preferably organic and without preservatives or additives
1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon gochujang, depending on preference
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 pinches freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 lime wedges to garnish
2 celery sprigs with leaves to garnish

Directions

Fill a large shaker with all liquid ingredients. Shake well to mix.

Fill two large glasses with ice. Pour all the mix into the glasses. Place a celery sprig into the glass and a lime wedge on the edge of each glass.

Gochujang Spicy Chicken and Dumplings

Use seasonal vegetables you enjoy. I used string beans, carrots, onions, broccoli leaves and shiitake mushrooms, but shelled English peas, cauliflower florets, celery and turnips would also be good. I would recommend Chung Jung One's gochujang but if that is not available, use another. 
Use homemade chicken stock. Store bought stock has a higher salt content.

Serves 2

Time to prep: 15 minutes

Time to cook: 35 minutes

Total time: 50 minutes

Ingredients for the dumplings

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons gochujang
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup sweet butter, chilled, cut into dime sized pieces
1 cup half and half

  Ingredients

1 cup cooked chicken, cut into dime sized pieces
1/4 cup string beans, washed, ends trimmed off, cut into 1" long pieces
1/4 cup carrots, washed, peeled, cut into 1/2" pieces
1/4 cup yellow onion, washed, peeled, cut into 1/2" pieces
1/4 cup broccoli leaves julienned or broccoli florets, cut into 1/2" pieces
2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions for the dumplings

In a small mixing bowl, mix together all the ingredients. Stir well to break up the butter. Set aside.

Directions

Heat a 6 quart sauce pan on a medium flame. Add olive oil and all the chicken and vegetables. Stir well and sauté 5 minutes.

Add chicken stock. Bring to a simmer.
Make dumplings using two soup spoons and place gently into the simmering stock. After all the dumplings are in the sauce pan, cover and continue cooking 30 minutes.

If the stock boils over, lower the temperature.

Serve hot.

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