Sometimes the most fun drinks to make aren’t planned and labored over, but improvised using the ingredients you have on hand. That’s what happened when I was scrolling through Instagram this afternoon and discovered it’s National Tequila Day (or #NationalTequilaDay, if you will). Ooh, time to get cracking!
As you likely know by now, I love incorporating fresh fruits into my cocktails, but having just returned home from a road trip, my kitchen is woefully barren of fresh ingredients. I did, however, have a few limes plus watermelon cubes in the freezer (I’ve been making frozen watermelon and ginger slushies all summer long!). So I chucked the frozen watermelon in the blender with with a little water and strained the resulting slush to make watermelon juice. If you have a fresh watermelon, cut it into chunks and put them through a juicer or blender and then strain the juice through a fine-mesh strainer. Or just use a fork to mash up the watermelon cubes and extract the juice, and then strain.
So, tequila + watermelon + lime … clearly a margarita was taking shape. But it needed something more.
Knocking about the pantry, I came upon a bottle of gochujang, the Korean fermented chile paste. Traditionally made from hot red peppers, rice, salt, a sweetener, and often soybeans, this deep red condiment is spicy, salty, sweet, and full of umami. Think of it like sriracha but more earthy and less sweet. Gochujang is a staple in our house, where we use it as a condiment in bibimbap, to make dipping sauces, grilled marinades, and more. It was just begging to be added to the cocktail.
The result was a gorgeous-colored margarita with sweetness and refreshment from the watermelon and a pleasantly spicy and piquant note from the gochujang. To enhance the Korean theme, I also garnished the drink with a sprig of Korean mint (Agastache rugosa) from my garden — not essential, but a fun touch if you happen to have some.
Have you ever used gochujang in a cocktail? I’d love to hear about it! Besides tequila I think it would pair well with mezcal, too…
Watermelon Gochujang Margarita
Makes 1 drink
1/4 teaspoon gochujang
2/3 ounce agave nectar
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1 ounce watermelon juice
2 ounces blanco tequila
Lime wheel, for garnish
Combine the gochujang, agave nectar, lime juice, watermelon juice, and tequila in a cocktail shaker. Fill the shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the lime wheel.
Gochujang brands differ, so depending on how sweet or spicy yours is, you may want to adjust the amount to strike the right balance for your tastes. I used Chung Jung One Gochujang, which is free of gluten and corn syrup. These two ingredients often make their way into commercial gochujang pastes, so read the label if you’re trying to steer clear of them.