Gochujang (Korean red chile paste) amps up the spicy, umami, and salty flavors of my Spicy Gochujang Spaghetti with Meat Sauce. Ready in about 30 minutes, this healthy hybrid of an American classic (spaghetti and meat sauce) and Korean flavors may become a new weeknight favorite!
One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating,
~~ Luciano Pavarotti
👩🏻🍳 Tamara Talks - About the Well-Stocked Pantry
NOTE: This post was originally posted in November of 2016. It has been completely updated in format, with text, and with new photos.
I love to talk about the importance of my well-stocked pantry, and the Pantry Checklist that helps me keep it stocked. Gochujang is key in Korean cooking, and always in my refrigerator. When I run low, it goes on our Our Groceries shopping list. I can get it at both our Asian market and my local grocery store...
When you make spaghetti and meat sauce, do you opt for a jar sauce, or do you make your own? If you've made your own meat sauce, you will find this recipe similar in process but quite different in flavor. The base of onion, garlic, and tomatoes gets its "twist" from gochujang, rice wine, mirin, and tamari (or soy sauce). The depth of flavor from the gochujang brings this sauce to life! Put aside those preconceived notions of spaghetti and meat sauce, and live a little. 😆
Gochujang, rice wine, mirin, sesame oil, hoisin, and tamari (or soy sauce) are all Asian items that I keep in my pantry, and when I run low, they go on Our Groceries on our phone list. Additionally, I keep at least 1 type of thin pasta (usually Barilla protein+ spaghetti), and soba noodles. I have used both for this gochujang pasta with spicy meat sauce. I am never without diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. All that remains is your choice of ground meat (I usually have a package of ground turkey in the freezer), cilantro in my refrigerator, and onions, garlic, and ginger in a basket in my pantry.
Once you've gathered the ingredients, this meal can be on the table in 30 minutes. It's so easy to make, and I think you're going to love the spicy Asian flavors!
🥘 What I Love About Spicy Gochujang Spaghetti
- It seems familiar and exotic at the same time!
- The sauce can be ready in 30 minutes, and is mostly inactive, freeing time to boil pasta, and make a salad.
- A big batch is great for a make ahead second meal.
- Gochujang spaghetti is suitable for both weeknights and weekend cooking because it's so unique.
🌶️ What is Gochujang Paste?
I always have a tub of Korean gochujang pepper paste in my refrigerator. I love the sweet-spicy-umami flavor it gives to so many dishes. It is an important foundational ingredient in Korean cooking that is made from red chile pepper flakes, glutinous rice, fermented soy beans, and salt. Traditionally, gochujang would be fermented in crocks outdoors for years. The glutinous rice converts to sugars, and provides the sweetness in the gochujang paste.
The chile pepper flakes provide the spicy heat, while the fermented soy beans provide the umami. This is an ingredient that is used in moderation to add depth and complexity to dishes like this roasted chicken, these Korean-style chicken thighs, this pulled-pork, and grilled cabbage wedges. If you are not familiar with it, start with a small amount. You can always add to taste, but you can't subtract! You may be able to find it in "mild," "medium," and "hot."
📋 Ingredients for Gochujang Pasta Sauce
Here is a quick look at the ingredients in the recipe – it’s handy to use at the grocery store or as a summary of what you need. Skip to the recipe for quantities.
- oil - I use a mix of refined coconut oil and sesame oil. Refined coconut oil has a high smoke point (400°). I use toasted sesame oil for its flavor, but its smoke point is low (350° for unrefined). If you have refined sesame oil, its smoke point is 450°, and high enough for browning the ground meat. Keep this in mind when adding the oil. Lean ground turkey does require a little oil. If you're substituting less lean ground meat like beef or pork, you can skip the oil entirely if you prefer.
- ground turkey - This bold-flavored pasta sauce can be made with any ground meat - turkey, chicken, pork, beef, elk, beyond meat. I use 99% lean ground turkey breast because I'm always looking for ways to cut fat and calories. If you use ground meat that is not as lean, you can reduce or omit the neutral oil, and just use the sesame oil as a flavoring agent.
- rice wine - I keep rice wine in my pantry. If you don't have it, substitute dry sherry, dry wine, or broth.
- canned tomatoes - You can use whatever you prefer or have on hand. If you use whole canned tomatoes, you might want to break them up into the sauce.
- gochujang paste - Sorry, there is no good substitute for gochujang paste! Keep in mind you can find it in "mild" and "hot." If you're not familiar with it, I'd strongly suggest you start with mild. Remember: You can add but not subtract gochujang paste!
- tomato paste
- hoisin sauce
- mirin - Mirin is a subtly sweet and slightly tangy rice wine that is pretty widely available. If you can't find it, substitute marsala or sherry.
- tamari or soy sauce
- noodles - Since this is "gochujang spaghetti," you can definitely use spaghetti. I usually use thin spaghetti or angel hair pasta. I will use soba noodles occasionally, but I really prefer regular wheat pasta. This is just a personal preference. Use the noodles or pasta you prefer.
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My process for making this gochujang pasta sauce is very similar to the American version. The steps are so simple - brown the meat and aromatics, add the sauce ingredients, simmer while you boil the pasta, and serve. You can probably assemble the simple cabbage salad shown in the photos while the sauce simmers and the pasta cooks.
- Brown the ground turkey - In a Dutch oven, bring the coconut and sesame oil to medium-high heat. Add the garlic, ginger, chopped onion, and ground meat. Break up and cook until the meat is nearly browned. NOTE: Turkey is very lean, and if overcooked, will be dry. I stop the browning process when it still shows some pink.
- Add remaining ingredients De-glaze the pan with the rice wine, simmering to reduce by about half. Add the remaining ingredients - tomatoes and tomato paste, gochujang paste, hoisin, mirin, and tamari or soy sauce.
- Finish the pasta sauce - Cover and simmer 15 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. While the sauce simmers, cook pasta according to package instructions.
- To serve - Drain the pasta. Taste the sauce for seasoning. With the saltiness of the tamari, and the spiciness of the gochujang, I find additional seasoning is not necessary. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper if you are so inclined. Plate the pasta, top with a generous amount of the gochujang pasta sauce, and garnish with chopped cilantro and scallions. Pour a glass of your favorite beverage, and enjoy!
Is this gochujang pasta sauce good leftover?
Yes! I often make a double batch, and freeze half in a zip bag for another couple of meals for the 2 of us. It is also good warmed up the next day for lunch. I recommend making fresh pasta though.
What wine pairs with gochujang spaghetti?
Asian (especially spicy Asian) food is difficult to pair. My recommendation is to go with a fruit-forward chilled wine with low alcohol content and bright acidity. Riesling and chenin blanc in an off-dry style are nice. Avoid anything high alcohol or oaked. We find a dry, acidic rosé works. For more on pairing wine with Asian food, see The Cheat Sheet to Pairing Wine With Asian Food.
Make a double or even triple batch of pasta sauce, but only enough pasta for the meal at hand. I do 2 ounces of pasta per serving, and freeze remaining sauce and make a fresh pot of pasta. It's like having a brand new meal rather than leftovers. Thin spaghetti and soba need just a few minutes to cook.
If you're unfamiliar with gochujang paste, be sure to look for "mild" paste. Add half of the amount suggested, and taste before adding more.
Pour a glass of wine, and enjoy this spaghetti with a twist!
Spicy Gochujang Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
- 2 teaspoons refined coconut or vegetable oil - omit if using ground meat with a higher fat content
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon garlic - minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger - minced or grated
- 1 onion - finely chopped
- 1 pound lean ground turkey - see Ingredients in post
- ¾ cup rice wine
- 1 can petite diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons gochujang paste+/- - see Ingredients in post for more information
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 2 teaspoons tamari or soy sauce
- a palm full of salt
- a pot full of water
- 12 ounces of soba or thin spaghetti - see Ingredients in post
- cilantro and scallions - chopped (to garnish)
- In a Dutch oven, bring the coconut and sesame oil to medium-high heat. Add the garlic, ginger, chopped onion, and ground meat. Break up and cook until the meat is nearly browned.
- Add the rice wine. Reduce rice wine by about half. Add the can of petite diced tomatoes, gochujang, tomato paste, hoisin, mirin, and tamari or soy sauce. Stir well to combine. Cover and simmer while you prepare the pasta.
- Bring a large pot of water with a palm full of salt to a boil. Add the pasta to the pot. Cook according to package directions shooting for al dente. Don't overcook! Drain the pasta. Drizzle with a bit of sesame oil.
- Top the pasta with sauce. Garnish with chopped cilantro and scallions as desired.
NOTE: Macronutrients are an approximation only using unbranded ingredients and MyFitnessPal.com. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.
🥬 Simple Cabbage Salad Recipe
Combine shredded cabbage (I use coleslaw mix with white and red cabbage and carrots), julienned sweet bell pepper, chopped cilantro and scallions, and toasted cashews or slivered almonds in a salad bowl. Toss with a simple fresh ginger and sesame vinaigrette - 2 tablespoons sesame oil, 2 tablespoons neutral oil, ¼ cup rice vinegar, and 1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce. Adjust to taste.