The first time I had kimchi and cheese together was at Vito’s in Flushing, NY, and it was on a pizza. And wow, was it a terrific match. It was only a matter a time before it caught on, and eventually made its way to the very American grilled cheese sandwich. Kimchi and cheese is not an obvious pairing like the union of two flawless actors we call Brangelina, but quirkier, more unexpected like unenthused Harry and neurotic peppy Sally. What seems like an odd pairing at first, is truly a love connection between two very strong uncompromising characters.
Who knows who really discovered this powerful flavor combination? For every Vito, there’s a Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ or more recently, Stephanie Le of iamafoodblog, and a long list of cooks out there playing matchmaker to these two ingredients. But when I see Rachael Ray squeezing some tangy spicy kimchi between layers of cheese, then I can say this “out-there” way of cooking has a chance to become more mainstream, and can I dare say, a trend.
The person who may make Rachael Ray take notice of the kimchi and cheese pairing is the godfather, Roy Choi. I call him the godfather, but he’s more commonly referred to as the king of LA street food, and he’s the force behind such dishes as the Kogi Kimchi Quesadilla which he brings to crazed fans via truck. He uses jack and chedder cheeses with carmelized butter kimchi in his quesadilla, which makes perfect sense to me. Sautéing it in butter not only mellows kimchi a bit, almost tempering it for its final cheese stage, but it also crisps the edges of the cabbage while drawing out some moisture.
For those of us that can get behind the fermented cabbage, isn’t scared off by all the garlic and spice, and can wrap their heads around cooking it with cheese, I’d like to make a toast: So here’s to kimchi and cheese, other oddly perfect pairings, and love. (Insert champagne glasses here to toast.) And Harry meeting Sally, and to a little less known couple, my dad and stepmom, who are the ultimate odd pairing.(End of toast.)
And on that note, I have an announcement–something that has grabbed my attention and is perhaps behind my hankering of a grilled kimchi cheese sandwich. Two weeks ago, my dad and stepmom returned from South Korea. What was supposed to be a trip to see relatives and replenish their supply of knock-off goods, turned out to be a successful apartment search for their next move. Five years ago, they joined me in California, and now they are heading to Seoul to live in a high rise to follow a dream to return to their motherland.
No more weekly packages of home grown perilla leaves, veggies, and fruits. I’ve been so spoiled by the bounty they shared with me. Had I known they were moving this quickly, I would have had my stepmom cook me every Korean dish in her repertoire while I took fastidious notes. But the adventure bug has bitten hard, and they have placed almost all their possessions on Craigslist, and are planning to move in a month. (I was only privy to their plans two weeks ago.) And my father, the ultimate roamer and lover of free range has set his sights on moving, living in the glass jungle, and planning to escape to Southeast Asia on the occasional fishing trip when he needs a breather. I’m still getting used to the idea and I don’t know which is more surprising: the move to Korea or his decision to live in an apartment in a big city.
I am, however, very much looking forward to visiting them next year and touring soy sauce and kimchi factories, and generally eating my way through South Korea. Top of the list is a Bourdain trip to a spa/pork belly specializing location he featured in one of his shows. But definitely I will NOT try sour skate. A girl’s gotta have some boundaries. Until then, I will feel bittersweet about their move, and perhaps I needed some comforting today and a reminder that beautiful things happen when the unexpected come together.
- 1 c kimchi
- 8 slices of cheese(cheddar and jack cheese were used here)
- 4 slices of hearty bread(sourdough used here)
- 2 tbs softened butter
- 2 tsp olive oil
- Squeeze kimchi to remove some moisture. (If you like it less spicy, rinse with water first.)
- In 1/2 tbs butter and 1 tsp olive oil, sauté kimchi until fairly dry and caramelized around the edges. (3-5 minutes on medium heat.)
- Build sandwiches by layering bread, two slices of cheese, kimchi, and then two slices of cheese, and then bread.
- Butter tops of sandwiches only.
- On medium low heat, melt remainder of butter and 1 tsp olive oil. Place unbuttered side of sandwiches down in the pan first. Flip when bottom cheese starts to melt and bread turns golden brown. Make sure the pan isn't too hot or else the bread will burn before the cheese melts.
- Once flipped, do the same for the other side.
- (This makes two sandwiches. But can easily feed three people.)