Gochujang Pimento Cheese

We’ve all been there. The morning after a spectacular night and we are feeling the effects: foggy head, dry eyes, and a grumbling tummy. Nothing says the morning after a party – particularly a New Year’s Eve party – like eating leftover hors d’oeuvres for breakfast, and nothing can set you straight better than a little pimento cheese spread on toast.

Often dubbed ‘Carolina Caviar’, this staple of the American south has had a bit of a poor reputation in the past. Probably because it is so simple, so tasty, and so commonplace, it tends to be thought of as a lowbrow potluck item. But just as what was old tends to become new again, pimento cheese is experiencing resurgence amongst the foodie elitists, even being featured in the uber-classy Kinfolk Table cookbook and the October 2015 edition of Bon Apétit magazine.

In the American south, pimento cheese is an institution. It can be found sold readymade in most grocery stores, but most families have recipes going back generations. It is served spread on bread, as a sandwich, in pinwheels, on burgers, in potato salad, rolled into puff pastry, or just about any way you would eat cheese. It is such a pivotal foodstuff that a pimento cheese sandwich is an essential menu item served at the Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Course – with the crusts cut off, of course! When the golf course switched food suppliers in 2013 there was uproar over the change in taste of the much-beloved tea-sandwich.

We in Canada are less familiar with this cheesy-essential, but at its most basic its components are grated sharp cheddar, pimento peppers, and mayonnaise. All the rest is up to you.

Here we have spiced up this recipe with the addition of a not-so-traditional ingredient: gochujang. Gochujang is an indispensable part of the Korean larder. It’s a paste made of fermented soybeans, glutinous rice, and chili peppers: savoury, salty, appropriately spicy, and absolutely packed with umami. In Korean cooking, it is used in soups and stews, as a marinade and sauce for meat, and as a condiment for dishes such as bibimbap. It is a fantastic flavour agent and well worth seeking out at any specialty grocery store.

If for the purposes of this recipe you cannot source Korean gochujang, fear not; a suitable substitute can be a bit of any hot chili paste, a roasted hot chili (think scotch bonnet or red chili), and an extra dash of Worcestershire to amp up the umami.

Here we give you this recipe for two reasons. One: it is a fun, easy, and highly versatile appetizer to serve at your New Year’s party. And two – the best, in my opinion – is it makes a terrific next day snack, as it is one of those products that gets better with time and is super friendly to a hangover.

Serving it at a party? We have you covered. Try serving it as a dip with crackers and veggies, or mixed with potato salad, or baked into puff pastry bites, or in a bite-sized grilled sandwich with bacon, or on a slider, or as a tea sandwich. The options are really endless.

Eating it the morning after? Grill up some thick sliced toast (I recommend sourdough as it is nice and dense and grills perfectly) and spread on it a generous amount of the spiced pimento cheese. Eat it while binge-watching Netflix, drinking strong coffee, sparkling water or a bit of the hair of the dog. No judgments here.

Gochujang Pimento Cheese

Ingredients:

1 pound of grated sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup of finely chopped and drained pimentos or roasted red peppers

¼ cup chopped dill pickles

1 small shallot finely chopped

1-2 tablespoons of dill pickle juice

1/3 cup of mayonnaise

¼ cup of sour cream

Tabasco (recommended 5 dashes, but add more if you like it hotter)

3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce

¼ teaspoon paprika

¼ teaspoon of cayenne

2 heaping tablespoons of Gochujang

Salt and pepper to taste

For serving:

Sourdough, cut into thick slices and grilled

Crackers

Crudité

Method:

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and stir thoroughly. It should be thick and just barely held together by the wet ingredients, but still spreadable. If it needs more wetness, add more mayonnaise one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.

Before serving (if you are not warming it in a grilled sandwich, pastry, etc.) let the spread come to room temperature for 15 minutes.

Can be stored up to five days in the refrigerator.