Yeah, you read that right. That word is definitely not Italian is it? But sugo is. Gochujang is a a spicy fermented bean paste from Korea. And it’s pungent sweet and spicy notes give a totally new and really interesting twist to traditional spaghetti and meatballs. I know it sounds like weird fusion cooking but it’s full of flavour and defines ‘winter warmer’.
If you’re not a fan of spice then go easy on the red bean paste, use a little less than I suggest. This sauce warms you up from the inside out. It’s rich and flavoursome and full of those complex flavours you get when you use fermented products. It’s not an everyday dish though, this is rich comfort food best eaten with a pile of greens and the celery leaf gremolata (see recipe) for a burst of freshness. But let’s get real, I don’t eat salads every day of the week. I eat food, lots of different kinds. Sometimes I eat meat, sometimes I eat pasta. Sometimes I eat both because it’s delicious.
You also have to have parmesan with this. A nice aged one, as it matches the pungency of the red bean paste and kind of brings this Korean Italian mash up together. The gochujang is kind of acting like tomato paste in this recipe. This is by no means a new combo I’ve come up with. It’s a thing. Have a quick google search if you don’t believe me!
I came across it for the first time when I was in LA last week visiting my friend Lianne. She has a knack for taking me to amazing restaurants when I visit and one of those was Baroo, a Korean American place in a non-descript strip of shops on Santa Monica Blvd. We had so much yummy food and one of the dishes we shared was an oxtail ‘ragu’ and it had gochujang in the sauce. It was so good, we almost licked the bowl. Now I’m back home dreaming about that ragu and thinking of different ways that delicious spicy fermented paste could be used in non Korean food. And you get this…
You could use beef, chicken or turkey instead of pork mince in the meatballs, or a combination. Lean pork works really well with the flavours in the sauce but I”m sure your favourite meat would work too. You could even just skip the meatballs and have the sugo without them!
You’ll notice both Asian and Italian techniques and ingredients in this recipe, just go with the flow and experiment a little.
500g pork mince
1 Tbs gochujang paste
2 Tbs milk
2 Tbs tapioca starch
1 Tbs finely chopped chives
1 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp salt
a few cracks of black pepper
a few drops sesame oil
1 Tbs olive oil
1 carrot, minced (use a food processor and just blitz them)
1 stick of celery, minced (as above)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup sherry or Chinese cooking wine
1/2 cup gochujang paste
2 cans of organic BPA free chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste.
1 cup celery leaves
8 baby roma tomoatoes
1 Tbs lemon zest
pinch of salt
crackof black pepper
500g pasta of choice (I used pappardelle)
Freshly grated parmesan and olive oil to serve
Mix all the meatball ingredients together (excluding oil) until well combined. Wet hands and roll the mixture into walnut sized balls, passing the balls quickly from hand to hand to bring them together. Place on a plate, cover in cling film and refrigerate for 15minutes or a few hours to allow flavours to develop.
Set up a steamer over a pot of boiling water, and place a plate into the bottom of it. I use a bamboo steamer with 3 layers, but you could use a big steamer with one layer. Transfer meatballs to your steamer, placing on the plates you’ve prepared. They can be quite snug. Put the lid on the steamer and steam for 8 minutes. You may need to do this in batches depending on the size of your steamer.
Just before the 8 minutes is up put a large heavy based fry pan (one that can go in the oven and has a lid is necessary) on a medium heat, add olive oil and swirl to cover the base. Remove the meatballs from the steamer (reserve and liquid that is in the plate)and transfer to the fry pan. Sear for a few minutes, flip and repeat. Once seared on two sides remove the meatballs from the pan and set aside.
Deglaze the pan with the sherry/cooking wine, add any liquid left over from steaming the meatballs. Add the carrot, celery and garlic and cook over medium heat for 4 minutes or until softened. Add the gochujang paste and stir to mix together. Continue to cook for a few minutes and then add the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and then turn down the heat. Add the meatballs back into the sauce.
Place the lid on the frypan and transfer to your preheated oven. Cook for 2 hours. If you have time up your sleeve you can cook for an extra hour at 150 degrees, the flavours will continue to develop.
Meanwhile, make the gremolata. Finely slice the celery leaves, quarter the tomatoes and combine with other ingredients. Set aside.
Once meatballs are cooked, cook your pasta according to packet instructions, drain keeping a few Tbs of the cooking water aside.
Return cooked pasta to the pot and add 1/2 cup of the sugo (no meatballs), along with the reserved pasta water. Toss to coat the pasta. Divide amongst bowls, top with the meatballs, the gremolata, a drizzle of good olive oil and parmesan.