Monday, April 6, 2015

UnRecipe: Ingredient Obsession - Red Pepper Power (Powder)

"RAAAAAAAWKS-aaaaaaannnne..... you don't have to put on the red light... " That is, unless you're putting on the red pepper powder. On everything. To be filed under "random purchase at the Asian grocer," I bought a large container of Korean red pepper/kimchee (kimchi) powder, aka, gochugaru. While I haven't made a single batch of fermented cabbage buried in a clay pot in the ground, I have been sprinkling that powder into pretty much everything else, WITH NO SIGNS OF STOPPING.

Korean-style tacos, complete with gochugaru-infused tortillas! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
What the heck is gochugaru, and how is it different from buying a bottle of chili powder or paprika at the store? While I'm not totally sure how Latin American-style chili powder is processed, it's likely a mix of different peppers that are smoked and ground to make the spicy seasoning you add to your Southwest-style meats or chili. A smokier, stronger depth-of-flavor taste is what I get from standard chili powder. Hungarian-style paprika isn't so much heat-hot, as it comes from sweet-flavored peppers that are dried/ground into a fine powder, but the bright color is similar to the Korean style of pepper powder. Gochugaru is made from spicy red chili peppers, sun-dried, and ground into coarse or fine powder, typically for making kimchee and giving it that signature fire engine-red color. It also makes up most of gochujang, the salty/sweet pepper paste used in so many Korean dishes. To get a bag of this stuff, I recommend browsing your Asian market, or even go online -- it's considered a seasoning staple, so you shouldn't have to spend very much on a sizeable amount. If you've got an Hmart around, they'll definitely have it, and this gives you an idea of the pricing so you don't get suckered into overpaying at some gourmet shop. Seriously, this stuff should be as inexpensive as buying a bulk container of garlic salt, it's that ubiquitous in Korean cooking, and it's a lot of fun to work with.
Latin-Asian fusion! The glorious corn tortilla with Korean seasoning - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Red pepper powder (or red pepper power, thanks to some amusing Engrish typos on the ingredient list), adds a pleasant heat and color to whatever you add it to. Simple as that. No significant flavor, you won't have to worry about anything tasting like stinky cabbage, which is why I wanted to add it to easily customizable things like corn tortillas and pasta. It makes beautiful tortillas, giving the dough that pretty pumpkin-orange hue, and it retains its color after cooking. There's no special recipe, just take your standard corn (or flour) tortilla recipe, like this one from Bon Appetit, and add about a heaping tablespoon's worth of gochugaru to the dough as you're kneading. Add more if you want a stronger color/heat to the dough.

You don't have to make Korean-style tacos, I just like the idea of mixing cuisines and Asian/Southwest are an unlikely but delicious couple. I filled the tortillas with slow cooked short ribs seasoned with soy, sugar and of course gochujang. A sprinkle of scallions and a few pieces of kimchee, and there's your Korean taco. But the tortilla's flavor isn't modified at all by the pepper powder, you could do any traditional style filling and it'll just be a more colorful taco at your table.

Wanna know what else is colorful? Korean pepper powder pasta! Say THAT ten times fast! Similar to making tortillas, you're just working in an extra tablespoon or two's worth of gochugaru into your favorite pasta dough. It won't affect the consistency of the pasta. It gives pasta a beautiful orange color with just a hint of spice. I don't notice a lot of heat from my container of pepper powder, but I realize it's like any other pepper product, some batches will be more or less spicy than others.

Kimchee powder pasta! - Photo by Wasabi Prime

As you can tell from my very "rustic" noodles, I don't have a pasta machine. Unless you consider my hands/arms and a rolling pin a pasta machine. But you can see the intense color the dough takes on when the pepper powder is incorporated. And it stays that color for the most part, after cooking.

When in doubt, ALWAYS PUT AN EGG ON IT - Photos by Wasabi Prime
And, much like the taco experiment, making it fusion cuisine is optional. I did try the gochugaru pasta in a spicy peanut sauce, sprinkled with scallions, to be true to its Asian roots. It was good, and probably would have been better with wilted bok choi or other veggies, I just wanted to see how the pasta would fare in a simple sauce. It just tastes like any pasta, and would do well with whatever sauce you choose. Knowing that, I went in an Italian direction by making a pasta carbonara with the last of the gochugaru pasta, and that was a wonderful success -- the light sauce of starchy pasta water and emulsified egg, the smokiness of bacon, and of course, topped with an egg yolk. So simple and utterly perfect.

1 comment:

  1. Wowsers! Talk about some interesting ideas!! Korean tacos could be forever changed. Ive never been able to find the powder, only the paste. The search continues.


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