If all you know about Korean food is that you love the charcoal-grilled barbecue, it’s time to expand your culinary horizons with some exciting ingredients.
You’ll be familiar with some of the main characters of Korean cuisine, including brown sugar, fresh garlic, and soy sauce. For others, you may have to venture outside of your comfort zone.
- Brown Sugar –With so many spicy and salty flavors in Korean food, you need something to bring balance to the dish. Brown sugar works well – choose dark brown for bigger flavor. Pair brown sugar with soy sauce for a quick and easy marinade for fish, chicken, and vegetables.
- Vinegar – Also used to balance out dishes by adding sourness and kick, white vinegar is a popular component of cold noodle dishes and sides.
- Garlic – Fresh garlic is a necessity for cooking Korean cuisine. Use whole cloves in soups and stews, or mince and add to just about everything else. Whole cloves are also grilled or fried, and served on their own as a side dish.
- Soy Sauce – A staple in many Asian cuisines, soy sauce is used in place of salt. Keep a bottle on hand in your kitchen, and opt for the lower-sodium version as a healthier choice. You probably won’t notice the difference.
- Sesame Oil – Nutty sesame oil gives a roasty, toasty taste to Korean food – and it smells fantastic. Like many of the most flavorful oils, it has a relatively low smoke point and should be kept in the refrigerator.
- Fish Sauce – Imparting a rich, umami flavor in spades, fish sauce pops up in numerous Asian cuisines including Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Filipino, and Korean. High in glutamate and made from sea salt and fermented fish, fish sauce is a shortcut to savory dishes.
- Kimchi – The potent, funky flavor of this fermented dish might take a little getting used to – but it’s an essential component of the Korean palate. Kimchi is usually made with a combination of fermented napa cabbage, cucumbers, radishes, and scallions – but hundreds of varieties are available. Get familiar with kimchi by eating it like a relish.
- Gochujang – Sweet and spicy, this red pepper paste is a classic Korean hot sauce. If you’re a fan of Sriracha but haven’t tried gochujang – run, run to the supermarket. It’s hot, sweet flavor is perfect for perking up meat and vegetable dishes. You can also add it to stews to deepen the flavor, or use it on its own as a dipping sauce.
- Gochugaru – These toasted red pepper flakes pack a punch and impart an appealing roasted flavor – and plenty of heat. Small yet powerful, the flakes are ideal for adding an extra kick to dishes before serving when everyone at the table doesn’t share a love of spicy food. Choose fine or coarse gochugaru, and add to noodle dishes, soups, kimchi, and all kinds of side dishes. Start with a small pinch first.
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Gochujang image via Shutterstock