Speaking principally to those who know something about Korean food (I know what little one can pick up from eating at restaurants and skimming the web) --
The Setup: I recently decided that, in honor of getting old...er, I ought to start eating a bit healthier. My wife, the Japan expert, suggested (I think she was actually kidding, but I missed it) that I try eating that popular Japanese breakfast food, natto, which is both disgustingly healthy and, well, disgusting. As you may know, the problems with natto for non-natto-lovers are (a) texture, which is sort of like snot if you have a really bad disease, and (b) stinkiness. The flavor, to be honest, is not at all bad if you like strong soy flavors. Now actually I don't find natto especially stinky, but the texture is definitely nasty and the smell/flavor is not pleasant enough to make me want to overcome my resistance to the texture. After trying a little a couple of ways, it occurred to me that what it needs is salt, umami, and chili-heat. After trying a couple of combinations I have discovered a good one for me, and I confess I'm starting to get addicted to it for breakfast. Here's the recipe:
- 1 package natto, with the little kombudashi pack that comes in it
- 2 Tb miso
- 1 Tb gochujang
- sliced scallions, sesame seeds, etc. as garnish if desired
Mix the natto, miso, and gochujang together, adding the kombudashi in the packet for extra umami. Whisk vigorously with chopsticks, for about 30 seconds to a minute, until the whole thing is stuck together almost like choux paste. It will be quite gross-looking. Scrape the whole thing onto a bowl of rice and top with garnishes.
The Followup: When I look in the Asian grocery stores, all the gochujang appears to be full of things that sound problematic to me. I mean, the #1 ingredient in most of them is corn syrup. The flavors are OK, sort of, but not all that great. Then I went and looked on line and discovered all these Koreans complaining that mass-produced gochujang tastes nasty and basically unlike the real thing. I found some saying you should make it yourself, but I doubt I'm going to do that -- minimal ventilation in my apartment makes fermentation experiments a bad idea. Then I found others saying that basically the best thing going isn't gochujang but ssamjang, which is largely a combination of miso (doenjang) and gochujang to begin with, but it sounds rather fatty and again usually mass-produced with stuff I don't really want.
The Questions: Should I be buying gochujang or ssamjang? Is there such a thing as really good gochujang, is it available, and honestly is it so different from the mass-produced stuff? If you can at least conceptualize why miso and gochujang go really well with natto, and the whole thing makes a pretty good breakfast, have you got any suggestions for otherwise Korean-ifying this dish? (Kimchi actually doesn't go very well with it, if you ask me, though I realize that kimchi and natto is a popular combination in Japan.) I have heard that there is a Korean natto-like product that may be essentially exactly what I'm trying to make but fermented in place -- in which case, what is it, and where can I try some?