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Cooking from the World Pantry: Kimchi Fried Rice

Kimchi | Photo by Maria Zizka
Photos: Maria Zizka

At The Bad Wife, a wonderful grocery store in my neighborhood, there is a handwritten sign near the cash register that reads: "Mrs. Lee's homemade kimchi now available!" I have no clue how anyone could resist such cheeky charm.

Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish made of seasoned, fermented vegetables. In Korea, it's often served at every meal. Frilly Napa cabbage (also called Chinese cabbage) is the most common type of kimchi, but there are more than one hundred other types. Depending on the season and region, kimchi can be made from cucumbers, radish, radish greens, mustard greens, green onions, or chives -- all cut into various shapes and sizes. In the southern provinces of Korea, kimchi recipes include seafood (brined shrimp, anchovy, and sometimes fish sauce), while in the northern provinces, kimchi tends to be vegetarian, more mild, and less salty.

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Koreans have been making kimchi for centuries. At first, the fermentation process took place underground. Earthenware crocks were packed with salted cabbage and then partly buried in the cool earth of late fall. By springtime, all the kimchi would have been eaten and a new, fresh batch would be prepared with different vegetables. These days, many Korean families still make their own kimchi, but most do so using a dedicated refrigerator rather than a buried crock.

If you'd like to try your hand at making kimchi, there are whole cookbooks devoted to the topic. (Sandor Katz's The Art of Fermentation expertly covers not just kimchi but also other fermented foods.) Or, try asking around to see if you can find someone who is a master at kimchi-making. Now is the time of year when Korean families traditionally prepare enormous quantities of kimchi to last them through the winter.

I like to eat kimchi by itself. It has a pungent, funky flavor. Of course, it does pair marvelously with plain steamed rice -- all those sour, sweet, and spicy flavors set against that blank canvas. Kimchi can also be added to soups and stews or made into savory pancakes and dumplings.

We keep a container of Mrs. Lee's kimchi in our refrigerator at all times. The bad wife sure does make good kimchi.

Kimchi Fried Rice | Photo by Maria Zizka

Kimchi Fried Rice

For the crispiest rice, it's best to use day-old steamed white rice. Take-out leftovers are perfect. You can use freshly steamed rice, but it won't fry up as nicely.

Serves 1

3 tablespoons canola oil
¼ yellow onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 scallion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 cup day-old steamed white rice
½ cup kimchi, chopped, plus 1 tablespoon kimchi juice
1 large egg

Swirl 2 tablespoons of the oil into a cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion, garlic, and the white and light green parts of the scallion. Cook, stirring often, for a minute or two. Mix in the soy sauce, rice, and the kimchi and its juice, breaking up any clumps of rice with a spoon, then let the rice settle in the skillet. After a few minutes, scrape up all the crisp brown bits stuck to the pan, and transfer the fried rice to a warm plate.

Swirl the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil into the skillet, then crack in the egg. Cook until the white is set but the yolk is still runny, about 3 minutes.

Serve the fried egg and the rest of the sliced scallion on top of the kimchi fried rice.

 

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