Slow Cooker

Gochujang Sunday Sauce

May 13, 2019
5 Ratings
Photo by Ty Mecham
  • Cook time 3 hours
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

One weekend, I was already sweating onions and garlic when I reached into the fridge for my trusty tube of tomato paste—only to realize it was gone, likely used up in my last batch of Sunday sauce. In a panic, I racked my brain and the back of the fridge before landing on a bright red tub of gochujang.

Gochujang has been a fridge staple for me since I graduated college. I reach for it to make kimchi stews, pork marinades, and spicy tteokbokki. It made perfect sense as a tomato paste substitute: While it is made of concentrated red peppers versus tomatoes, gochujang is also fermented, giving dishes even more umami flavor and deepness. Plus, it helps to thicken the sauce and adds a subtle kick of heat as well as sweetness, just enough to keep you going back for more. But the best added bonus was that it knocked several hours off my cooking time, which is great because I don’t yet have that time to spare in my day-to-day.

I still have a few more decades to go before I gain full-fledged Grandma Irene status, which should give me plenty more opportunities to keep finessing my Sunday gravy and my cheek-pinching. In the meantime, see below for my Sunday sauce recipe as it stands today—or you’re welcome to come over so I can ply you with bite after bite, until you couldn’t possibly eat another. —Irene Yoo

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: The Secret Korean Ingredient That Makes My Sunday Sauce Sing. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more to taste
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced, divided
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 pound beef chuck, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3 tablespoons bacon fat, or extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage (in casings)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon gochujang
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • Several large sprigs basil, tied with kitchen twine, plus more (chopped) to garnish
  1. Make the meatballs: In a large bowl, mix ground beef, pork, egg, cheese, 1 clove garlic, panko, and salt and pepper together. Slowly add 1 cup water and mix to combine. Form 1-inch balls and set aside.
  2. Salt and pepper the beef chuck. In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, heat 1 tablespoon of bacon fat (or olive oil) over medium-high heat and sear the beef chunks on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes at a time, until browned. Do not overcrowd the pan or turn the meat too often—work in batches to ensure a good sear. Remove chunks as they finish and set aside.
  3. Add another tablespoon of fat and repeat with the meatballs.
  4. Add the last tablespoon of fat and sear the sausages. Remove and slice into large chunks. Set aside.
  5. In the remaining fat, add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining garlic and cook another minute, stirring constantly.
  6. Add gochujang and cook, stirring constantly, until paste is fragrant and starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, about 3 minutes.
  7. Add the juice from the canned tomatoes to deglaze, using a wooden spoon to stir the brown stuck-on bits off the bottom of the pot. Add the tomatoes one by one, using a finger to poke a hole into them (so they don't squirt) and then your hands to crush them.
  8. Return all of the meat to the pot. Add the tied sprigs of basil and bring sauce to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 2 hours partially covered, stirring occasionally.
  9. Remove the tied basil. Use a wooden spoon to break up the meat into smaller chunks and cook for another 15 minutes.
  10. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add more cheese and fresh basil, and serve over pasta, polenta, or Korean rice cakes.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Irene Yoo
    Irene Yoo
  • Zelly
  • Sarah D
    Sarah D
Irene Yoo is chef and creator of Yooeating, a Korean American food channel that explores Korean home cooking, street food, and culinary history. She has developed recipes and penned essays for Food52, Food Network, and Bon Appetit, and previously presented about Korean culinary history at The Korea Society and The Museum of Food and Drink.

4 Reviews

Zelly May 18, 2019
The idea is solid, but I found the recipe lacking and used it more as inspiration. That was entirely too much water, and I only used half. I ended up having to reduce the sauce significantly, add more tomatoes, and still needed tomato paste.

I have found that most ground meat in the US now has a significant amount of water in it, unless you grind it yourself or have a great butcher nearby. Personally, I'd go easy on the water. You can add more if it's reducing too much, but it's you'll end up just boiling your meat in tomato water otherwise, and that sounds really unappealing.

I'd still make a batch inspired by the recipe again, as it was very good once I fixed it.

All that aside, thinking to use gochujang is inspired, and yielded great results. Added just a touch of sweetness, a touch more spiciness, and all without changing the flavor in an unwelcome way.
Irene Y. May 20, 2019
Thank you for the feedback, and you are right, there is too much water! My apologies, this was a typo / error on my end whilst testing, and I've updated the recipe to reflect the correct amount. Glad it turned out well regardless – that's the great thing about Sunday sauce :D
Sarah D. May 14, 2019
Does the gochujang make it spicy? I noticed very little goes into it, but I'm just curious because my 20 month old doesn't eat very spicy food yet. The introduction to kimchi will come later in her life. :D
Irene Y. May 14, 2019
Hi Sarah! The gochujang makes it about as spicy as adding crushed red pepper does, but I feel like it is more of a underlying spice rather than a burn the mouth heat. Feel free to leave it out!