Make Ahead

Caroline Choe's Kimchi Mac & Cheese

March 19, 2017
8 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves 6 to 8
Author Notes

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.
Caroline Choe

What You'll Need
  • 1 pound spiral pasta (I favor using cavatappi/cellentani)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 10 ounces spicy napa cabbage kimchi, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/2 pound Gruyère, grated
  • 3 tablespoons pasta water (reserved from cooking)
  • crumbled bacon and chopped scallions (optional)
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Add the flour, and whisk with sautéed kimchi until completely combined for your roux (the thickener).
  5. 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.)
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Stir in bacon or garnish with chopped scallions if preferred.
  9. Serve it up hot and enjoy! (It tastes even better the next day.)

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Brandon Stucki
    Brandon Stucki
  • Nathan Nah Hanson
    Nathan Nah Hanson
  •  Burton
  • Ninjacook

4 Reviews

Brandon S. September 20, 2023
I was looking for a was to adultify a blue box of mac and came across this. So I cooked the Mac per box instructions. Then in a separate pan, I threw butter, kimchi and bacon in to soften, then I added one portion of the Mac and cheese. It kinda stunk like fish sauce. But it was salt, fat, acid, and heat and dang delicious. Tasted very much like pad Thai. Definitely repeatable.
Burton April 18, 2022
You can barely taste the kimchi in this, and the sauce is not otherwise very interesting, and doesn't really do much to complement the kimchi flavor. Love the concept, but the dish I ended up with was definitely less than the sum of its parts
Nathan N. December 22, 2020
I used a cheddar gruyere melange but otherwise followed the recipe exactly and it came out extremely salty and sticky... not sure what I did wrong.
Ninjacook December 8, 2019
This is an AMAZING recipe! The instructions were clear and the measurements precise. I made it for thanksgiving and there was None left at all. Let’s keep the awesome recipes coming!!