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Gochujang is one of the essential condiments of Korean cuisine, adding a crimson cast to stir-fries and sauces along with a powerful blast of spicy-sweet chile flavor.

Gochujang is usually made from chile peppers, sweet glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt. Traditionally, Korean families made up vats of gochujang and let them ferment for months or years. Now everyone just buys it, making homemade versions a rare pleasure.

Koreans use it blended with other condiments as a sauce for table-grilled Korean barbecue. It is a key part of the spicing for ohjinguh bokkum, stir-fried squid, and tofu chigae, or stews.

Sold in red tubs or jars in Asian markets and the international aisles of supermarkets, gochujang readily lends itself to experimentation. Use a dollop where you want some sweet heat or chile flavor that's deeper than a sprinkling of chile powder.

The main label might be in Korean, but the white "imported" sticker on the back should say "red pepper paste" or "hot pepper paste." It will keep for a year, refrigerated.

In this recipe by Nick Kindelsperger of SeriousEats.com, gochujang lays down a base coat of chile flavor; chopped kimchi adds vegetal crunch and fermented tang. Touched with garlic and a big hug of bacon, it is a boisterous combination that probably wouldn't pass the first-date breath test.

> KIMCHI AND BACON PASTA

8 ounces dry pasta (linguini or spaghetti)

6 ounces bacon, chopped

1 cup kimchi, preferably Napa cabbage, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)

1 tablespoon butter

2 scallions, green parts only, sliced thin

Sesame seeds, for garnish

Salt

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente, which is usually a minute or so less than the directions on the packaging. Save a few tablespoons of the pasta water, and then drain the pasta in a colander.

While pasta is cooking, in a large skillet set over medium heat, add chopped bacon. Cook until bacon is crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon, leaving as much fat behind as possible.

With heat still on medium, add kimchi and garlic. Cook until fragrant, about one minute. Add red pepper paste, and stir until combined.

Add cooked pasta to skillet along with butter and reserved pasta water. Stir continuously until pasta is coated with sauce. Season to taste with salt.

Serve pasta garnished with scallions, sesame seeds, and cooked bacon. Add more salt if needed.

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com