Gochujang, a sweet and savory Korean red chili paste, adds a spicy kick to an American comfort food classic in this unique mac and cheese recipe. The combination of creamy, cheesy pasta and gochujang's punchy umami creates an exciting flavor fusion that will delight your tastebuds.
This recipe lets you explore new culinary territory while still enjoying the nostalgic pleasures of ooey-gooey mac and cheese. Read on to learn how to make this inventive dish at home.
Select the Best Gochujang for Your Tastes
Gochujang's flavor profile ranges from mildly spicy to fiery hot. Check the label on your tub of gochujang to see where it falls on the spice spectrum. Most brands will display a graphic of a chili pepper thermometer indicating the heat level.
If you have a very hot gochujang variety, start with just 1 tablespoon mixed into the cheese sauce. You can always add more if you want extra heat. For mild or medium spicy pastes, use 1-2 tablespoons depending on your spice tolerance.
To distribute the gochujang evenly, first dissolve it in a bit of butter, milk, or water. The thick paste can be difficult to incorporate otherwise. Microwaving it briefly in a little liquid will also help loosen it up.
Cook the Pasta
You can use any shortcut dried pasta for this recipe, like macaroni, elbows, or shells. Cook the pasta just until al dente according to package directions. Be careful not to overcook it, as you'll be baking the finished mac and cheese.
After draining the pasta, drizzle it with a little oil and stir to prevent sticking. Set it aside while you prepare the sauce.
Make a Classic Cheese Sauce
A basic béchamel or cheese sauce forms the creamy base for the mac and cheese. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in an equal amount of flour and cook for 1-2 minutes to form a roux.
Gradually whisk in milk, broth, or water, bringing the mixture to a simmer. Cook, whisking frequently, until thickened to a creamy sauce consistency.
Stir in the gochujang and seasonings like mustard or Worcestershire sauce. Add grated cheese a handful at a time, stirring constantly until melted and smooth after each addition.
Bring it All Together
Once your cheese sauce is hot and creamy, remove it from the heat. Stir in any additional mix-ins like roasted veggies or cooked meat. Then add the cooked pasta and toss everything together.
For a looser sauce, thin it out with a splash of reserved pasta water. For a thicker, more intense cheese flavor, use less liquid.
Customize with Fun Add-Ins
Feel free to get creative with extra ingredients that complement the Korean-inspired flavors! Here are some tasty mix-in ideas:
- Kimchi: Add some spicy, funky pickled cabbage.
- Scallions: Slice some fresh greens to stir in or use as a garnish.
- Sesame seeds: Toast some white or black sesame seeds to sprinkle on top.
- Protein: Mix in shredded chicken, pork, beef or tofu.
- Seafood: Stir in cooked shrimp or imitation crabmeat.
- Veggies: Fold in spinach, roasted broccoli, or diced carrots.
Bake and Finish with Flair
For an extra crispy crust, transfer the mac and cheese to a baking dish after mixing. Top with panko breadcrumbs, grated parmesan, or a blend of shredded cheese.
Bake at 400°F until bubbling and golden on top, 15-20 minutes. Let it rest for 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with chopped scallions, sesame seeds, or hot sauce for a flavorful finish.
More Ways to Use Versatile Gochujang
Now that your fridge is stocked with gochujang, get ready to add its savory heat to all kinds of dishes! Here are some tasty ways to use up the rest of the tub:
- Stir it into rice or grains as a flavor booster.
- Mix it with mayo or Greek yogurt for a quick spicy dip or sandwich spread.
- Add it to marinades and sauces for meat or tofu.
- Spread it on proteins before broiling or grilling.
- Whisk it into soups, stews, and chili for depth.
- Mix it with peanut butter as a sauce for veggies or noodles.
- Add it to bloody marys or micheladas for a spicy brunch cocktail.
With its complex sweet, salty, and spicy flavor, gochujang is a versatile ingredient to always have on hand. Try adding it to all your favorite recipes for an easy way to add intrigue and heat.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of pasta can I use?
You can use any short, sturdy pasta shapes like elbows, shells, or cavatappi. Avoid longer noodles that won't hold the sauce well. The cooking time may vary for different pasta types so taste as you go to prevent overcooking.
Can I make it vegan?
Yes, by using plant-based milk and cheese like vegan cheddar shreds. You may need to use a starch like tapioca or cornstarch to thicken the sauce.
What proteins go well with it?
Shredded chicken, pork, or beef work nicely, as do cooked shrimp or imitation crab. For a vegan option, crumbled extra firm tofu is tasty.
Can I prep it ahead of time?
You can make the sauce ahead then combine and bake right before serving. Or assemble the whole dish and refrigerate for up to 3 days before baking. Add a few extra minutes to the baking time.
What can I serve with it?
A fresh green salad, garlic bread, or cornbread makes great accompaniments. Steamed broccoli or roasted brussels sprouts also pair nicely.
How can I adjust the spice level?
Start with less gochujang and add more to taste. Or try a milder chili paste like sriracha if it’s too hot. Serve with extra hot sauce on the side.
This creative fusion dish brings together the best of both worlds. The nostalgic, crave-able flavors of classic mac and cheese get boosted with the addictive punch of gochujang's fermented chili umami.
By using gochujang, you can reinvent a familiar favorite into something new and exciting. This recipe lets you explore adventurous flavors while still enjoying the melty, cheesy goodness you love.
Now that you know how easy it is to make, give this gochujang mac and cheese a try. Your tastebuds will thank you for the delicious journey!
Gochujang Mac and Cheese
- 8 oz dried elbow pasta or shell pasta
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk
- 1-2 tablespoons gochujang (to taste)
- 1 teaspoon mustard (optional)
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons chopped scallions
- Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain and set aside.
- In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Gradually whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring frequently, until thickened to a creamy sauce consistency.
- Remove from heat and stir in the gochujang and mustard powder, if using. Add the cheddar cheese in batches, stirring constantly until melted and smooth after each addition.
- Add the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce and stir to coat. Transfer to a baking dish.
- Top with panko breadcrumbs and scallions. Bake at 400°F for 15-20 minutes until bubbly and golden brown.
- Let rest 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy!
- For extra spice, use more gochujang. For milder heat, start with 1 tablespoon.
- Try mixing in roasted veggies, cooked chicken, shrimp, or extra add-ins.
- Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Reheat in the oven or microwave.