Wandering the aisles of Asian markets can be wonderfully bewildering. While most of the items look and feel somewhat familiar, the spice/sauce/paste aisles always blow me away. Just once, I'd love to open everything for a taste test. A little sampling. A big sampling. A facial, maybe. With dizzying varieties representing many cultures and countries (most not labeled in English), it can be a crap shoot when browsing for specific items.
The one product I've burned onto my brain and finally have no trouble recognizing is gochujang, Korean fermented red pepper paste. Seemingly lost in a sea of fermented Asian pastes, chili sauces, fish sauces, curries, and condiments, gochujang speaks to me. Five simple Korean letters/symbols always pull me in.
Pungent, piquant, spicy, sweet, and savory, gochujang is a Korean fermented red bean paste made from red chili powder, glutinous rice powder, pureed fermented soybeans and salt. It's used to marinate meats, flavor stews, or as a condiment.
I used it to drench deep fried calamari.
Not a Korean recipe.
Hell, it wasn't even a recipe.
I simply played with a few fun ingredients.
Thankfully, I stumbled across cleaned calamari. No quills. No ink. No mess. There were a few beaks. After snipping the beaks from the tentacles, I sliced the bodies into thin rings and slid the calamari into the refrigerator.
I boiled 1/2 pound of rice vermicelli noodles in heavily salted water for 6 minutes before draining them into a colander and rinsing them under cold water for several minutes.
After blending 1 cup rice wine vinegar, 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup fresh lime juice. 4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, 1 teaspoon minced ginger, and 1 teaspoon minced garlic, I tossed the rice noodles with the vinaigrette before adding julienned bitter radicchio, holy basil, slivered scallions, and black sesame seeds.
I whisked 3 tablespoons of gochujang with 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons honey, and 1 teaspoon minced garlic. I set the sauce aside and cranked the deep fryer to 360 degrees.
Typically, I would have flash fried the calamari after dusting it with flour or cornstarch. I wanted crunch. Big crunch. A crunch that would hold up under the fiery gochujang sauce.
I made a light batter using equal parts water and rice flour. After dredging the calamari rings and tentacles through plain rice flour, I dipped them into the batter, let the excess drip off, and fried them in batches until they were golden brown. While the calamari bits were still hot, I bathed them in the gochujang sauce before tumbling them over the rice noodles.
The calamari rings and tentacles crackled through the fiery sauce. Protected by the batter-fried coating, the calamari meat remained juicy and sweet, squirting though the stinging heat of the lip flapping sauce. While the soft noodles balanced the crunch of the hot sticky squid, the lime-soy vinaigrette added a slight salty acidity that helped tame the flaming heat.