Though my classic mac and cheese is a favorite among many in my life, my Kimchi Mac is a dish emptied faster than I can ever fill it up. Whenever I bring it to family, friends, and clients, the reactions across the board are always of excitement.The dish emphasizes a relationship between two celebrated fermented foods (cheese and kimchi).
The trick is in sautéing the kimchi. Since it is acidic from the pickling and watery from the napa cabbage, sautéing reduces the water content, concentrates the natural flavors and oils, and helps create a Mornay sauce that won’t separate itself from the milk solids. Feel free to use whatever pasta you’d like, I just use the long, curly pasta because there’s so much great kimchi sauce to be had! Trust me, good food may take time (as both the kimchi and cheese can attest), but it’s always worth it.
6 to 8
spiral pasta (I favor using cavatappi/cellentani)
spicy napa cabbage kimchi, cut into 1-inch pieces
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to the package instructions, until al dente. Carefully measure and reserve 3 tablespoons of the pasta water in a cup. Then, drain the pasta completely and set aside.
In a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat, melt butter and coat the bottom of the pot. Let it heat for about 1 to 2 minutes.
When the butter is heated, add in the kimchi and sauté in butter for approximately 5 to 7 minutes, or until the cabbage has softened and the liquid reduced by about half.
Add the flour, and whisk with sautéed kimchi until completely combined for your roux (the thickener).
Gradually add in your whole milk, continuing to whisk together until all milk is poured in. Set the heat to low, and continue whisking, remembering to gently scrape up the flavors at bottom of the pot leftover from sautéing. Add in salt, mustard powder, and white pepper, and continue whisking until the sauce thickens. (The kimchi is already thoroughly salted, but a lot of the spiciness and saltiness will be diluted from the milk.)
Once the kimchi sauce has thickened, gradually add in your grated cheddar and Gruyère and stir with a wooden spoon until all have been melted into the sauce and the sauce texture is smooth.
Gradually add cooked pasta into the sauce, folding in the pasta well with the sauce until all has been combined. Add in your pasta water to ensure the pasta bonds with the kimchi Mornay sauce, and assists in thinning out the sauce’s consistency. Turn off the heat under the Dutch oven.
Stir in bacon or garnish with chopped scallions if preferred.
Serve it up hot and enjoy! (It tastes even better the next day.)