My obsession with fusion food started when I was still living in New Brunswick, taste-testing my way through the town one drunk-friendly food truck or mini restaurant at a time. Out of all of the food NB had to offer, it was a Korean BBQ fusion restaurant that stole my heart and wooed my tastebuds.
Why? Because they had tacos stuffed with Korean BBQ. For indecisive people like me, such fusion foods are the holy grail of non-choosing. You mean I can have all of the stuff I want in one convenient and delicious package? I’m sold.
And ever since, I’ve been obsessed with combining flavors from different cultures and types of food that works together. Or, not just works, but goes above and beyond what you’d expect. Much more than the sum of its parts.
But after all of these years of cooking, I still didn’t dabble much into the Korean sweet and spicy flavors that made me all in love with fusion in the first place. It was about time to change that, with an easy and flavor-packed recipe that anyone would be head-over-heels for– Slow Cooker Korean Sloppy Joes.
The key here is gochujang, an ingredient that’s used in many Korean dishes and consists of red chili, glutinous rice, and fermented soybeans. It’s savory and sweet, just like my favorite sloppy joes, with a bit of spiciness to boot. It used to be that I could only find it in specialty Asian grocers, but in the past few years, it’s popped up in the International section of my local grocery stores as well. No special trips necessary!
Since I didn’t have to tend to the Korean Sloppy Joes as they cooked in my Cuisinart 4 Quart Slow Cooker, I decided to make some quick pickles (or “Quickles”, as @zigged cleverly insisted I call them) in the mean time. A mixture of tangy, sweet cucumbers, red onions, and radishes made the perfect crunchy crisp topping, and they didn’t take long to throw together at all. I love keeping some extra in my fridge for topping tacos and burgers!
And after a few hours of cooking in the sauce, the Slow Cooker Korean Sloppy Joe filling was ready to be piled between buns and scooped into lettuce leaves. Why serve them just one way when you can have both?
There’s that indecisive tendency I mentioned earlier, by the way.
For the Sloppy Joe Filling:
- 2 1/2 pounds ground pork, chicken, or beef
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1 white onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon ginger, minced
- 1/4 cup unsweetened pear juice or apple juice
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 5 tablespoons gochujang
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- Toasted sesame seeds, to top (optional)
For the Pickled Toppings:
- 1 small red onion, sliced
- 3 small radishes, sliced
- 2 kirby cucumbers, sliced
- 3/4 cup rice vinegar
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Buns or bibb lettuce, to serve
- In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, quickly brown the meat, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon, but don’t cook it all the way through. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Drain off any rendered grease and transfer the ground meat to the slow cooker. Mix in the onion, carrot, and bell pepper.
- In a shallow bowl, whisk together the garlic, ginger, juice, soy sauce, gochujang, honey, and rice vinegar. Pour over the meat in the slow cooker and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours.
- While you wait for the sloppy joe filling to cook, prepare the quick pickled toppings. Combine the red onion, radish, and cucumber in a wide, non-reactive bowl.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the rice vinegar, water, sugar and salt. Stir and heat until the mixture is hot and the sugar is fully dissolved. Pour the hot mixture over the sliced onion, radish, and cucumber, and stir in the red pepper flakes. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- After 4 hours, combine 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of water in a shallow bowl. Mix until well combined and pasty. Pour into the slow cooker and mix, then increase heat to high. Cook, covered, until the sauce has thickened, about 30 more minutes.
- Serve the Korean Sloppy Joes in buns or bibb lettuce leaves with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds and the pickled vegetables, to top.