Why hello there! And welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, the site where we make food, and tell lies. I’m your deceitful chef du jour, and du almost every jour, Jon O’Guin. Now, given that we actually spend a fair bit of time on research and presenting the historical facts and context of foods, you may think it strange that I started off by saying we ‘tell lies’. If so, this must me one of your first posts! Welcome to the site! Check out our Start Here tab, where we have a couple posts Jon’s particularly proud of. For those of you more aware of my paradoxical prattlings, let’s soldier on, and discuss why I lied to you about Gochujang Meatballs, AND when you’d read about them. Or, at least, let ME soldier on. If you’re not interested in the details, just jump to the meat(ball) of the matter, with this link to the recipe. Everybody else, come on!
The Best Laid Plans of Mice And Men
Quick brag/fun fact: I actually ran the fly for The Acting Company’s touring performance of “Of Mice and Men” when they came to my college town. That workday started at 7 AM, ended at 1 AM, and was still one of the more enjoyable work days of my life.
This isn’t a picture from our performance, but we used the same set. I helped set up that flooring in our town.
So what devilish Machinations did I use to deceive you all about my spicy meatballs? Well, none, technically. What I actually did is claim I was going to give you something OTHER than meatballs. As you’re hopefully all aware, we end most posts here with teasers for the next post or two coming up. It’s actually supposed to be EVERY post ends with the next TWO posts, but I’m really bad at planning. And nowhere is that more evident than with what happened here!
Last week, I mentioned that I would be making snacks for March Madness. (which, I’ve just realized, is probably a trademarked term. Fuck. I have no idea if they NCAA is as litigious as the NFL.) Snacks for “Spring Psychosis”, then. And I prompted that those snacks would probably be very cheesy. I wrote those words because I had intended to make two cheese-based dips over the weekend. Both dips are quite simple, and I wanted to compare them, as they both aim for similar goals, but in very different directions.
And then I didn’t. Why? Well, because I’m a very weird person.
I take pictures of beer bubbles. Though I think this is actually a cider.
Still, is this not a rad fucking hummingbird?
To quote DJ Khaled, “We the Best Music.” Wait, no, sorry, wrong quote. To PARAPHRASE Mr Khaled, “I played myself.” See, I said to myself “Hey, these recipes are easy enough, we can do them whenever we want!” (and yes, I do, somewhat worryingly, refer to myself as “we” while thinking.) So instead of making them on Friday, I went and bought a sandwich for dinner, because no one could stop me! I was master of my own meals! (I went to a chain the rest of my family doesn’t particularly like.) Then, I indulged in some side projects and back-room work (I filmed like, 75 minutes of footage for a Patreon project), ended up eating after my show on Saturday, while getting some drinks.
Sunday was a huge mess, due to allergies making me groggy and slow in the morning, a show in the afternoon, and then some dishes I had to make for the holiday (brown Soda bread and home-brined and boiled corned beef.) So it ended up that, around 7 PM on Sunday, my brain went: “Hey, weren’t we supposed to make some cheese dips?”
In my defense, the corned Beef turned out pretty good.
So we ended up with me slapping out a post LATE into the night on Sunday, to get this out to you all, with a party food that isn’t what I promised you, and THAT’s when our medical mishap of Monday morning ‘popped’ up. If you didn’t read Monday’s mini-post: I had a very strange burst of chest pain, and ended up going to the hospital for 5 hours for them to say “Well, it doesn’t look like it’s an EMERGENCY, we checked all the important organs and they’re fine, so…hope it doesn’t happen again, I guess?”
Which, irritatingly, is the ongoing saga of my interactions with medical staff: I have a pain, I go to the doctor, and either A: whatever was causing the pain is mostly done by the time I get seen, or B, My pain/issue makes little to no medical sense, with no evidence in tests. I then went home, and developed a cough, my body taunting me with my lack of wellness. (apparently, some illness is rummaging through the cast of the show I’m in, so it’s likely I was getting sick already when Monday’s misery unfolded.)
The news has clearly distressed poor Algernon.
Which is why we’re a couple days late, and a couple dips short. But hey, let’s talk about these meatballs, shall we?
You Can Go Where Chu Want To
Now, normally, this is where I’d break down the history of the dish in question, where it comes from, all that jazz. But I literally JUST told you I’m not feeling great, so let’s skip it.
By which I mean “this is a relatively new dish, based on using a specific and somewhat trendy ingredient, so there’s not really a history to this.” I got the recipe from Food52, a recipe site/cooking blog that I read fairly frequently, and the author based their recipe off one they saw on the cooking blog Spoon Fork Bacon. That’s it. One group of people made Turkey Gochujang Meatballs in 2012, someone else tweaked it in 2013, and I stumbled in drunkenly in 2019, and made them for the Super Bowl. (Though, honestly, props to the first group of people: Gochujang was NOT hip and trendy in 2012. It wasn’t until 2015 that it took off)
Evidence 2 of my weirdness: I look up the trending information for asian spice pastes.
Now, I’ve referenced Gochujang several times on the site, but a refresher for those who need it before we jump into the highly complex recipe of “Make meatball, bake it, and cover with glaze.” (Spoilers: this is an easy recipe. Just the thing to make if you wanted to, say, send some meaty goodness to a poor blogger friend, eh? …I’ve just heard the homoeroticism in that line, now that I’ve finished it, but fuck it, I’m not backpedaling. IN FACT, I’M DOUBLING DOWN. CRAM YOUR STICKY MEATY BALLS IN MY MOUTH.)
Technically, until they get the glazy, they’re less ‘sticky’ and more ‘greasy’, but even my jokes have their limits.
Gochujang, as I was saying before distracting myself with a parenthetical, is a fermented Korean spice paste. It is not unlike Japanese Miso, in that it uses fermented soybean powder as a heavy part of the base. It also uses barley malt powder, because Korea uses a lot more barley than the rest of Asia does, and it’s much spicier, incorporating chili powder. It ends up looking like tomato paste, and tasting like…you know red pepper flakes? The spicy, kinda bitter little dudes you sprinkle on mall pizza to wake it up so you don’t feel ashamed eating it? It’s like someone ground those up with a little salt and brown sugar. It’s sweet, earthy, and spicy, in a low-key way. The spiciness doesn’t hit your nose, like, say Sriracha does, instead it fills your mouth.
It’s a really useful condiment to just toss into things. Mayo, Ketchup, mix it with oil and top rice dishes with it, mix it in with the tomato paste when making a stew, anything like that. You wanna make your Miso Soup a real sinus-clearer? Mix the miso with some Gochujang. Mix it into your rib sauce, or your steak butter. This is the Frank’s Red Hot of Korean Cuisine: You can put it on EVERYTHING.
Anyway, I made these for the Supe- National Football Championship Game (I KNEW there was a reason I was thinking about the NFL’s lawyers.). Funnily enough, I also INTENDED to make one of the cheese dips that day, but a sudden flurry of snow changed family travel plans, so I didn’t. Like I said, the recipe is pretty simple.
The meatball itself is pretty direct, only really notable in that it doesn’t’ rely on other meats or a panade for moisture. If you don’t know what I mean, here’s a food secret: most moist meatballs, aren’t just beef. Or at least, they’re not just one KIND of beef. The majority of meatballs increase their moisture by mixing in either a fatty moister meat like pork or veal, or by using a panade, an Italian technique of mixing liquid with bread, and incorporating it into the meat. SOME do it by mixing ‘normal’ ground beef with some ground beef fat or ground beef from a very fatty portion of the cow.
This recipe instead relies on the increased moisture brought by the gochujang itself: 2 tablespoons of the paste are mixed into the meat mixture directly, along with several Asian-themed aromatics and ingredients. The onion and carrot of Italian meatloaves is replaced with green onions, ginger, and garlic. And instead of normal breadcrumbs, panko is mixed in.
Mars. The Red Planet. Setting of the John Carter novels, and the less well-loved John Carter Movie.
Once formed, you just fry the meatballs to brown them, and bake them 10 minutes to get the insides up to temp (the oven’s gentler than the direct pan contact, so it’ll cook them without drying them out.
Slap Yourself Silly with Sauce
While your meatballs are baking in the oven, it’s time to kick your nose straight in the teeth. (Note: If there are teeth in your nose, you are either currently being bitten, or you should definitely talk to a doctor about your oral health.) I say this because the glaze is pretty simple, but the process is one that always messes with my sinuses: you gotta cook some vinegar.
Specifically, Rice Wine vinegar, along with soy sauce, gochujang, and…
This…is somewhat surprising.
Yeah, I wasn’t expecting to see Apricot here either, but it’s actually the star player. Like, “there is more apricot preserves in this glaze than everything else combined.” Which actually kind of makes sense: soy sauce and gochujang are both pretty heavy hitters in flavor, so adding them to a sweet medium to make it more balanced is pretty logical. Hell, looking at it, this is a mixture of salt, spice, sweet, and tangy, meaning this recipe is basically just a Korean-flavored American barbecue sauce.
Simmer the glaze down a little, brush it over your baked balls, top with some sliced green onions, and boom, the dish is done.
NOW they’re ‘sticky, meaty balls’.
Technically, if you wanted to be a smart ass, you could consider swapping the apricot preserves for orange marmalade, or just add some food coloring, to get the glaze orange, so you can tie the treat into the Spring Psychosis theme a little better. Or not, that’s your call. As it is, the plate of these bad boys did not survive our big sports game, and I hope they do well at yours too. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to pass out.
MONDAY: LET’S HEAR WHAT THE DOCTOR SAYS BEFORE WE MAKE ANY DECISIONS. BUT QUITE POSSIBLY SOME EASY CHICKEN PARMESAN.
THURSDAY: I HONESTLY DON’T KNOW. I MIGHT JUST DRINK.
Welcome to the
3 green onions, very thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 lb ground beef
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tbsps gochujang (Korean chili paste)
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp ground white pepper
2 tbsps canola oil, for pan-frying
1/3 cup apricot preserves
2 tbsps gochujang (Korean chili paste)
1 ½ tbsps rice vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
Garnishes: sliced green onion
Preheat oven to 350° F. In large bowl, combine all meatball ingredients except oil. The key to good meatballs is not to over mix them. Just gently combine the ingredients until everything is evenly distributed. Form the mixture into golf-ball sized meatballs.
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. In batches (don't crowd the pan!), brown the meatballs on all sides. Transfer meatballs to rimmed baking pan and transfer to oven. Bake 10 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 160° F.
Meanwhile, in small saucepot, combine all glaze ingredients. Cook over medium heat 5 minutes or until mixture is slightly thickened.
Brush meatballs with glaze and sprinkle with green onion and sesame seeds.