Your efforts will be rewarded
Listen, I know it’s a holiday weekend. Most of you are probably outside, grilling or picnicking or generally engaged in some form of early-summer eating. In fact, as I type this, I can hear my neighbors on their deck, shaking a bag of charcoal briquettes, talking about Neil Diamond. But what I would like to tell them (aside from, HAVE MERCY! NO NEIL DIAMOND TONIGHT!), and you, too, is this: do your future self a favor and go inside and cook a pot of rice.
Also, do whatever you have to do to get some Napa cabbage kimchi. Come midweek, your efforts will be rewarded.
I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get around to writing about kimchi fried rice. I learned how to make it more than a year ago, in early 2010, when my friend Matthew and I taped the first episode of our podcast, Spilled Milk. The topic of the show that day was fried eggs, and Matthew made this rice to serve with them, to sop up the yolks. (We tape at Matthew’s place, almost always over lunch.) In the 17 or so months since, I’ve probably made kimchi fried rice close to 17 times. I know that fried rice is supposed to be about using up leftover rice, but I don’t let that slow me down: I now make rice for the sole purpose of making kimchi fried rice. Did it just the other day. And seeing as this blog is the place where I put my best stuff, I thought it was time to finally record it here, to file it as a Keeper.
I am not any kind of expert on fried rice, and I don’t think Matthew thinks of himself that way, either – though he’s welcome to correct me, if he does. But I’ve eaten kimchi fried rice in a couple of restaurants in the past few months, and the version that Matthew taught me is still my favorite. It begins with bacon, which you cook slowly, so that it gives off a nice amount of fat – that fat is important in fried rice – and then you add some chopped Napa cabbage kimchi (the riper, the better). When the kimchi is hot and beginning to look a little wilty at the edges, you add cooked rice, preferably a day or two old, the rice you’re going to make today. And into that, a few minutes later, you stir a little sesame oil and butter. Kimchi and butter are crazy for each other. It’s really spectacular, what happens to the sharp funk and sting of fermented cabbage when it shakes the smoothing hand of butter. Spectacular. So you’ve got that, plus the fragrant sesame oil, the bacon, and the rice, and a bowl, and it’s hard to imagine needing anything else, ever, in the entire universe – except maybe some sesame seeds and sliced scallions, for garnish.
And a fried egg! Right. Almost forgot that part.
Kimchi Fried Rice
Adapted from Kye Soon Hong, Matthew Amster-Burton, and Spilled Milk
I pick up kimchi whenever I’m near a Korean market or Uwajimaya, but Ballard Market, my neighborhood grocery store, also carries it. They sell a couple of different brands, but I usually buy Island Spring. It’s made about half an hour away, on Vashon Island, and it has good flavor and heat. Matthew, however, makes his own kimchi, and it’s fantastic. Maybe he’ll teach me how someday. David Lebovitz also has a recipe for it.
As for rice, the best type for this recipe is Calrose, a medium-grain, Japanese-style white rice from California. But I’ve also used Thai jasmine rice, which is nice – though when you fry it, it tends to stick aggressively to the pan. Whatever you use, cook it a day or two ahead, cool it, and chill it. If possible, allow it to come to room temperature before frying.
About the pan: if you have a well-seasoned wok, use it. Or, if you’re stuck with just a heavy skillet and an electric range, as I am, that’s okay. I use my largest cast-iron pan. It’s nicely seasoned, but the rice still sticks a bit. It’s annoying, but not annoying enough to keep me from making fried rice. (Just put some hot water in the pan when you’re finished, soak briefly, and the stuck rice will come right out.) One word of warning: I wouldn’t use a nonstick pan. The coating isn’t safe for use over high heat.
Oh, and if I were you, I might fry two eggs per person. But it’s really up to you.
Put the bacon in a large skillet or wok, and place over medium heat. (I find that by starting the bacon in a cold skillet, I can get it to render more fat than it does when I start it in a hot skillet, and that’s helpful for this recipe.) Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is cooked through but still tender. Add the kimchi, and cook for several minutes, until the kimchi is hot and maybe even beginning to brown in spots.
When the kimchi looks right, raise the heat to high, and add the rice, stirring well. Cook, stirring occasionally, for several minutes, until the rice is hot and beginning to brown. (If the rice is wanting to stick to the pan, it’s going to be hard to brown it properly, but don’t worry. Just make sure it’s nice and hot. It’ll still taste very good.)
Meanwhile, in another skillet, warm some butter and fry as many eggs as you’d like, seasoning with salt to taste.
When the rice is ready, stir in the butter and sesame oil, and season with salt to taste. Divide between two or three bowls, and top each with a fried egg or two. Garnish with sesame seeds and scallions.
Yield: 2 generous or 3 moderate servings