Ssamjang Pasta with Mushrooms and Garlic

The combination of mushrooms, garlic, and butter is such a classic. Add a bit of lemon and parsley plus my secret ingredient – ssamjang – and you have a salty, buttery, garlicky umami flavor bomb in your mouth.

I created this recipe after watching some fusion cooking videos during the Stay-at-Home order where I was looking for new ideas with ingredients in my kitchen. It’s pretty simple, and you should have most ingredients already in your pantry (except the ssamjang).

Ssamjang pasta with mushrooms and garlic

First, let’s get to know ssamjang (쌈장). Pronounced just as it looks “sam-jang,” this Korean condiment is a salty, seasoned bean paste that’s thick and sticky. Don’t be afraid of it! You’ll discover so many uses for it. This ingredient is in every Korean pantry along with its “sisters” deonjang (bean paste) and gochujang (fermented red pepper paste).

Made with deonjang and gochujang, ssamjang also has sesame oil, onion, garlic, and often brown sugar. There are as many family recipes and varieties for these condiments as there are for barbecue sauce. Ssamjang is a must when eating “ssam” – a lettuce wrap that has a piece of meat (usually pork belly) inside. Available in different levels of spiciness, you can buy it online or at most Asian markets.

Korean language lesson: ssam means wrap, and jang means paste (“wrap paste”); thus deonjang (된장) means soybean paste and gochujang (고추장) means red pepper paste. If you’re interested in learning more about these Korean condiments, watch this video from the always-entertaining Korean foodie Maangchi on YouTube.

Ingredients you’ll need:

  • Water to cook pasta
  • Salt to make the pasta water as salty as the ocean (about 1 tablespoon)
  • dry angel hair pasta, 2 servings (fresh pasta will do, too)
  • 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/4 cup of mushrooms (baby bellas or King Oysters work great!), chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon of butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, more if you like it spicy
  • 2 teaspoons of ssamjang
  • 2 teaspoons of oyster sauce
  • 2 teaspoon of parsley flakes (fresh is best)
  • juice from 1/2 Meyer lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon Parmesan cheese (a good parm is always the best, but the powdered parm will also work)
Prepare your ingredients ahead of time because this cooks quickly (missing from photo is Oyster Sauce)

All in all, this recipe takes just a minute longer than it takes to cook the pasta. Pasta doesn’t wait for people, so plan accordingly.

Start your pasta water boiling. Add salt to make the water “as salty as the ocean.” This is a key step in making pasta taste great, and you won’t need to add any additional salt to the recipe. Read the instructions on how long to cook the pasta, and subtract a minute. You’ll finish the pasta in the skillet.

In a nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, and stir in the mushrooms.

Cook until the edges of the mushrooms are golden. Lower heat to medium. Add butter, garlic, red pepper flakes, ssamjang, oyster sauce, and parsley flakes. Let the mixture come to a bubble, then simmer on low heat while pasta finishes cooking.

The ssamjang and oyster sauce will start blending together and carmelizing beautifully into this thick, sticky, salty, umami coating. Don’t worry when the sauce separates as that tells you when it’s ready for you to toss the pasta. Add lemon juice and stir right before adding pasta.

When pasta is just al dente, drain and put into skillet. Toss mushrooms and butter through pasta until well incorporated. Add Parmesan cheese, and stir again.

Plate and serve immediately.

Amp it up with fresh ingredients! I love fresh pasta and a really nutty Parmesan, and this recipe with work great with either dry or fresh pasta as well as powdery or shaved Parmesan. Here’s the amped up version with fresh linguine and shaved Parm:

UPDATE: I absolutely love how this sauce turns out so much that I have made this with so many variations. I’ve replaced the pasta with rice cakes (“ddeokbokki”) as well as just sliced up some King Oyster Mushrooms and pan fried them golden before adding the sauces. This is SO yum!