Traditional Korean bibimbap sauce is spicy, sweet, a little nutty and flavour-packed – the perfect condiment to elevate a simple bowl of rice. My first bite of dolsot bibimbap with gochujang sauce at our local Korean restaurant had me hooked for good!
This delicious bibimbap sauce recipe is super easy to follow. The sauce is also vegan, gluten-free and ready in no time. Use it for bibimbap (Korean rice bowls), drizzle it over buddha bowls or noodles, or serve it as a spicy dipping sauce.
First, what is bibimbap?
Bibimbap (also bi bim bap or bi bim bop) is a popular Korean rice dish. It is bowl of white rice topped with individually seasoned and sautéed vegetables, kimchi and bibimbap sauce (most commonly gochujang sauce, but also doenjang sauce). Toppings can also include raw egg yolk, fried egg, or slices of meat.
In Korea, the bibimbap variations are endless. Different regions have different preferences for toppings and sauce ingredients.
Dolsot bibimbap (hot stone pot bibimbap) is a variation served in a sizzling hot stone bowl (dolsot). The hot stone cooks the rice at the bottom of the bowl to a golden crisp. Then you mix that crispy and cooked rice with the toppings and sauce at the dining table.
I find dolsot bibimbap utterly irresistible. You better know I will order it if it’s on the menu at a Korean restaurant!
What makes Korean bibimbap so delicious?
It’s simple – the bibimbap sauce! It delivers that unique Korean flavour in a sweet, savoury, umami-packed package.
Traditional bibimbap sauce can have gochujang (Korean red chilli paste) or doenjang (Korean fermented bean paste) as the sauce base. The most common sauce additions are garlic, sesame oil, honey, sugar, rice vinegar, salt, or soy sauce.
I prefer gochujang sauce for my bibimbap. And gochujang is already flavour-packed, so it does not need much to turn it into an umami bomb. This simple gochujang sauce is all you need for a bowl of rice. It is bold, spicy, sweet, and salty – an embodiment of Korean cuisine.
Why make your own sauce?
You can find shop-bought gochujang sauce for bibimbap in Asian grocery stores. The typical packaging is a red squeezy bottle (not to be confused with the red tub of gochujang paste). You may ask, why not just stick to the shop-bought version?
- Homemade gochujang sauce is ridiculously easy to make and requires very few ingredients.
- Shop-bought gochujang sauce can contain cane sugar, corn syrup, preservatives and stabilisers.
Making homemade gochujang sauce is a no-brainer for me.
Bibimbap sauce ingredients & substitutes
- Gochujang paste: This spicy Korean condiment is the key ingredient in my bibimbap sauce. It is vibrant red and umami-packed. You can find it at Asian grocery stores or in the Asian section of your local grocery store. If you struggle to track it down, try this gochujang substitute recipe.
- Toasted sesame oil: The oil adds a luscious texture and that distinct nutty flavour of toasted sesame seeds.
- Rice vinegar: Vinegar adds acidity to brighten up the spicy gochujang. I prefer plain rice vinegar (or rice wine vinegar – not to be confused with rice wine!). If you use seasoned rice vinegar, you can reduce the sweetener (maple syrup or sugar) in the sauce. You can also use apple cider vinegar if that is what you have.
- All-purpose soy sauce: You can also use light soy sauce, tamari, coconut aminos or sweet soy sauce (kecap manis), but avoid dark soy sauce. If you use sweet soy sauce, omit the maple syrup (or other sweetener of choice). You can also omit the all-purpose soy sauce and simply season the gochujang sauce with a pinch of salt.
- Maple syrup: Or use the same amount of brown rice syrup or honey. Otherwise, regular white or brown sugar will also do the trick.
For a non-spicy bibimbap sauce:
If you are not into spicy food, try the doenjang version of bibimbap sauce. Substitute doenjang for gochujang in the recipe card. And add one minced clove of garlic. Continue with the recipe instructions.
Doenjang is a fermented bean paste, like a Korean miso paste. Japanese miso paste is very similar to doenjang (although miso is fungus fermented and doenjang with a bacterial culture). So, you can use miso paste instead of doenjang if that is what you have.
How to make bibimbap sauce
Making bibimbap sauce could not be simpler. Place the gochujang, toasted sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce and maple syrup in a small bowl and mix until blended.
If your sauce is very thick, add a splash of water to thin it to a pourable consistency.
How to store bibimbap sauce
Make a large batch of sauce and store it in a squeaky clean, airtight container in the fridge. It keeps well for up to two weeks.
Your sauce may thicken in the fridge. Stir through a splash of water before serving to loosen the sauce.
How to use gochujang sauce
You can use gochujang sauce as a spicy dipping sauce. Use it to top Buddha bowls, rice bowls or even noodles. Or spice up your next bowl of gyeran bap (Korean egg rice)
Though the ultimate use for gochujang sauce is homemade bibimbap. There are three essential parts to any Korean bibimbap – rice, toppings (I keep mine veggie-based) and bibimbap sauce. The rest is up to you.
How to make a vegetarian bibimbap
Step 1: Start with a layer of cooked rice (sushi rice, glutinous rice, or any other short-grain rice).
Step 2: Follow with your toppings. Try grilled sweetcorn, shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced sautéed zucchini (courgette), roasted broccoli or cauliflower, mangetout, soybean sprouts, green onion or kimchi, and top it with a fried egg. Though untraditional, you can even add avocado as Meera Sodha does in her “Sweet potato and tenderstem bibimbap recipe”. It is in her cookbook, East (Amazon affiliate link).
Step 3: Finish the bibimbap bowl with a generous drizzle of gochujang sauce and toasted sesame seeds.
Serve your bibimbap with more kimchi on the side, or try a spicy Korean cucumber salad.
This Korean rice bowl allows for endless variations. For a vegan bibimbap bowl, omit the egg.
Make a large batch of the sauce and try different variations for your work lunch. It is also a great way to use up leftover cooked veggies and rice. You can serve it warm or at room temperature.
Use leftover bibimbap sauce and rice in your next gochujang fried rice with kimchi.
What is the difference between gochujang sauce and bibimbap sauce?
Bibimbap sauce accompanies Korean rice bowls (bibimbap). A key ingredient in popular bibimbap sauce is gochujang paste. Therefore, bibimbap sauce is also called “gochujang sauce for bibimbap“.
What is the difference between gochujang paste and gochujang sauce?
Gochujang is a fermented red chilli paste from Korea. It is the main ingredient in gochujang sauce. Gochujang sauce (bibimbap sauce) also contains sweetener, sesame oil and rice vinegar (sometimes also garlic, sesame seeds or soy sauce).
Look for the classic red tub of shop-bought gochujang. It is a fermented product and does not require preservatives and stabilisers (still check the label if necessary). Shop-bought gochujang sauce can contain corn syrup, cane sugar, preservatives and stabiliser. The standard packaging is a squeezy bottle.
Bibimbap Sauce Recipe
- ¼ cup gochujang paste
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoon maple syrup (or brown rice syrup, honey, or sugar)
- 1½ tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- Place all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix to combine. Add a splash of water if the sauce is too thick, it should be pourable.
- Transfer the gochujang sauce to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to two weeks, or use it immediately.
- Different gochujang paste brands can have different intensity and spiciness levels. So always taste and adjust your bibimbap sauce to suit your heat tolerance. For bibimbap, remember that the sauce accompanies lots of rice, so it must be intense.
- See ingredients for more detail on ingredients and substitutes.
- Serve your bibimbap sauce over perfect Instant Pot sushi rice or easy stovetop short-grain rice.
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