Kimchi fried rice instantly transports me to my college days.
I was then living with my brother and cousins in a house near the university we were all attending, somewhere in the bowels of Manila. It was a riotous time – no curfews, cutting classes, binge drinking – and our first taste of “independence”. It was also a time of gastronomical growth. The prospect of eating fast food every single day if I wished made me giddy but I started feeling pretty sick by the third day. Mixing it up with hotdogs and siopao from 7-11 was the way to go for a while but even that got nauseating. Eventually, we all just tried to get through the week without being too naughty with the junk food and eagerly awaited our weekly food delivery from the folks.
Tubs of marinated bulgogi and kalbi, fresh produce and a couple vats of kimchi. It was like Christmas morning! But I don’t think it ever lasted as long it was supposed to. We were all growing boys and girls, after all. And invariably, the kimchi was always the last to go. This was when I started making kimchi fried rice – it’s super easy and it’s a meal in itself. What more can a newly independent college student ask for?
The cheesy kimchi rice is like a 2.0 version of the one I made while I was in school owing to the cheese and garnish but this is pretty much what we fell back on when supplies ran low. It is with great fondness and a tinge of melancholy (I miss school a LOT) that I share with you this recipe which serves 4. To make, you’ll need:
2 T canola oil (or any other neutral-tasting oil)
1 small onion
1/2 a green chili
1 T minced garlic
About 3/4 cup Chinese cabbage kimchi
1 canned tuna, preferably in water
About 1/4 cup of the liquid from the kimchi or to taste
About 3 cups leftover rice
3 T sesame oil + 1 t
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Grated mozzarella as desired
1. Take a large pan to medium heat and swirl in the oil. About the pan, stay away from the non-stick variety if you can. No sticky bits = no fun. I could totally be imagining this but I also feel like the rice just doesn’t cook the same in a non-stick pan. Anyway, thinly slice the onion and green chili and add to pan to sautee until the onions turn translucent. While waiting for the chili and onions to cook, slice kimchi into strips and squeeze lightly to wring out the juices.
2. Add minced garlic and sautee until it turns fragrant. Add sliced kimchi.
3. Give this mixture a quick stir and sautee until the kimchi cooks slightly. When done, drain the canned tuna and add to pan.
4. Stir to mix everything well and add in liquid from the kimchi. Stir again and let cook until the liquid slightly reduces.
5. Add rice to the pan and mix well. The rice we eat at home is kept warm in a rice cooker. It’s also a mix of brown, red and Japanese rice. It’s yummy and healthy but it’s no good for this dish. Cold leftover dinorado rice really is best for making any kind of fried rice. I actually went out, bought this rice and chilled it in the fridge to make this.
6. Turn the heat down to low. Drizzle the rice with sesame oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. When done mixing those in, make some space on the side of the pan for the egg. Swirl a teaspoon of sesame oil on to this little corner and crack in an egg. Whisk with your spatula and let it cook slightly. When the egg is half-cooked, mix it through the rice and it will finish cooking with the heat coming off of it.
7. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. The kimchi fried rice is pretty much done but we are making a cheesy version so plate up a serving and top with grated mozzarella cheese. Pop this in the microwave until the cheese melts and turns ooey-gooey.
I garnished with some sliced leeks and toasted sesame seeds.
Kimchi, because it’s sharp and spicy and even acidic, really benefits from anything that is rich. Cheese is a really good way to go (and so is mayonnaise – try kimchi-mayo maki, so good! Or how about a kimchi cream sauce next time you make pasta?). And stringy cheese is double the fun!
You can use other cheeses, of course, but keep in mind that some cheeses are saltier than others and you should adjust the amount of salt you use in the fried rice accordingly.
What I wouldn’t do to go back to my college days. I miss hanging out with friends, sitting in class and even worrying about exams. And my metabolism, mostly.
But hey, isn’t this called a food memory? I’m glad I have a delicious dish for some of my most delicious years.
Fun Food Fact: Kimchi has been proclaimed as one of the healthiest foods in the world.
On a completely unrelated note, Koreans say “kimchiiiiiiiii” instead of “cheeeeese” when they take pictures. This dish has both so big smiles, kids!