October 14, 2009

Ultimate Kimchi Bokeumbap (Fried Rice)


Sometimes the simplest recipes are the most difficult to make. Think of that perfect omelet or the hollandaise you’re stirring gently over the double boiler. Thomas Keller spent two years trying to make the perfect hollandaise sauce. For me, the recipe I always practiced, other than risotto, was kimchi fried rice. I always thought about new ways to improve the recipe. One version I made a few years ago was positively decadent. It involved mixing a number of thick fats like peanut butter (which dissipates into the rice), butter, and sesame oil into the fried rice. The rice soaks up the fat and kimchi flavors, becoming a bit like paella in the process. I remember grabbing a white tube pipe which I use for stacking food, about 4 inches in diameter, and stuffing the first half of it with this dense fried rice. I topped it with a fried egg, thin slivers of green onion, and a hefty drizzle of sesame oil. If I ever have a restaurant kitchen with fusion Korean food, this would be one of my specialties.

During my time here in Japan, one of the missionaries was describing a technique which brings out the most flavor from kimchi. It involves covering a pan with a layer of kimchi and continuously flipping the kimchi with a deft pair of chopsticks, drawing out the moisture and intensifying the flavors. You do this until nearly all the water is drawn out of the kimchi until you can add in fat. The kimchi swells with sesame oil or butter or whatever you add while the flavors of kimchi both mellow and gain a nutty hint much like garlic does after roasting in an oven.

I decided to test out this theory in my minimalist kitchen in Japan, using a 10 inch non-stick pan. I’d prefer using a well-seasoned (meaning greased) cast iron skillet because of the more even distribution of heat, but I had to work with this pan. After dumping in about 1.5 cups of store-bought kimchi (Japanese kimchi, which is probably a little bit sweeter than kimchi you can buy at any Korean supermarket in L.A.) into the pan, I spread out the kimchi. Because I didn’t want to fuss with flipping each piece of napa cabbage over and over again, I just stirred and flipped the pan like you would at a restaurant, making sure the kimchi cooked evenly.

This was when I noticed something very interesting. Usually non-stick pans don’t allow you to develop any delicious “fond” or that brown stuff that sticks to the pan. This is the wonderful flavor that you use after deglazing a pan and making a sauce after a roast. Javier even blasphemed in Indonesia that it was the stuff “that God was made out of.” I highly disagree with that statement, but he wasn’t wrong in pointing out the enormity of its flavor. I kept stirring the pan, letting the gentle heat draw moisture out of the kimchi. I scrapped off the fond, making sure it didn’t develop too much, or burn the kimchi. I did this for about 10 minutes, then let in 3-4 glugs of sesame oil, and a healthy (but so not) knob of butter.

At this point, you could take the kimchi out and fire up some slices of pork belly (uncured, which you can get at a Korean market). The pork fat would work even better than butter and complement the nutty, rich flavor of kimchi. I didn’t have any pork belly. Spam might even work, since that’s loaded up with pork fat. You could even do bulgogi, which you can also buy pre-marinated from the store. But to get the most intense kimchi flavor, just use straight up kimchi.

You should be careful not to overload the flavor kimchi with too much rice. It’s best to use 3 cups of cooked rice to every 1.5 cups of kimchi originally added. Make sure to cook rice as specified, and make it drier than you normally would. The residual fat from the kimchi will soak into the rice. Your worst nightware would be to use overcooked or overly sticky rice. Japanese short-grain rice works best (be sure to rinse it 4-5 times before you cook it with a ratio of slightly less than 2 to 1, water to rice).

You can add in finishing components to the dish like a fried egg, chopped scallions, toasted sesame seeds, hand-torn sheets of seaweed laver (pure umami right there). You don’t even need to add salt, though if it’s a little bland at this point, you can sprinkle in some soy sauce. Do add a good turns of fresh black pepper.

Serve fresh, or even cooled down to just above room temperature. This sort of dish commands contemplation over a cheesy Korean drama or maybe a dreamy primetime show like Mad Men. You’ll be happy to have conquered one of my favorite comfort dishes.

fried rice with egg

Simple, and Ultimate Kimchi Fried Rice

Serves 4

3 cups store-bought kimchi, preferably something older (more fermented), and in smaller pieces. Chop it up into 2 inch pieces of the kimchi is too large.

5 cups cooked white Japanese short-grain rice

Sesame Oil


Cracked Black Pepper

4 eggs

1. Prepare rice in rice cooker or thick saucepan according to instructions. After rice is cooked, use a paddle or large spoon to fan it out and let out steam.

2. Heat one large non-stick pan or well-seasoned skillet over medium-high heat. Add a bit of vegetable oil and load in half the kimchi. Cook, stirring continuously. Scrap off any fond that may develop and lower heat if too much fond develops. After about ten minutes, or after kimchi is just about to burn, take kimchi off heat and put on a plate. Finish cooking the second half of the kimchi.

3. Return first half of kimchi to the pan or skillet, add rice, and stir vigorously, patting down kimchi into the rice. Add flavor additions like sesame seeds, a hand-crushed sheet of seaweed, and slivered scallions/green onions. Continue cooking until the rice soaks up all the flavors. If you cook the rice a bit more, it can get a tad burnt on the bottom, which is delicious.

4. After finishing the fried rice, remove to a warm platter. Use a paper towel to scrape off any bits from the pan. Add some vegetable oil and fry the 4 eggs, sunny side up. Make sure you don’t overcook them over high heat, just cook them gently so they’re still gooey and runny. Remove from pan and carefully place on top of each portion of rice. Serve immediately, or after 20 minutes after cooling down a bit. The flavors will be a little stronger after it cools.


Chicken said...

Holy crap! Thx for sharing!

Anna A. said...

I've never had kimchi bokeumbap but this look delicious. Must use your recipe and make me some!

Gastronomer said...

We're over due for a dinner party. You'll be in charge of the fried rice, k?

I still have a crostata to make!

David Cheng said...

why egg ? sort trends in fusion style ?

yutjangsah said...

this looks really good. and really spicy. my mom uses cold rice to make her kimchi fried rice. it's the bomb.

Diana said...

If there's a dinner party w/ Gastronomy, I want in! Especially if it involves this rice!

I'm a big fan of adding pb to my "Asian" style dishes. Adds great flavor and love the way it blends into the rice.

Joshua Lurie said...

Sign me up for the version with peanut butter, butter and sesame oil. That sounds incredible. Glad to read another well written post.

Evelina said...

This looks soo delicious. Great post and tutorial.

Food, she thought. said...

this looks insane. i was going to cook Japanese tonight, but this is really tempting me.