Rice

Jean's Spam Kimchi Fried Rice

by:
August  3, 2018
5 Stars
Photo by Bobbi Lin
Author Notes

Whenever I go home, my mother Jean makes a huge vat of kimchi fried rice and leaves me a firm note: ERIC, EAT. I've seen her cook it a thousand times, yet I still don't feel that mine has ever come out like hers. She once said that the secret to her kimchi fried rice is, well, the kimchi. And though I'm able to recreate some version of her spicy-briny cabbage from taste memory, my kimchi will never be her kimchi, and in turn neither will my kimchi fried rice ever be her kimchi fried rice. Still, here it is: my best effort at Korean ambrosia, which, when you really look at it, isn't much at all. Just a cheap way to use up leftover rice with this and that from the pantry. A proper holdover comfort of my childhood, this is all I want to eat at the end of a rough week—proper mom food. —Eric Kim

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: When I Came Out to My Parents, Kimchi Fried Rice Held Us Together. —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Jean's Spam Kimchi Fried Rice
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Serves 4
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, plus more as needed
  • 6 ounces Spam (about 1/2 can), finely diced
  • 2 cups very ripe kimchi (like, the rankest, ripest you've got), chopped, plus as much of the juice as you can get
  • 4 cups cooked, day-old white rice (especially short-grain)
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 (5g) packet roasted seaweed snack, crushed with your hands
  • 4 fried eggs, to serve with
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. First, heat the sesame oil in a very large nonstick pan or wok. Crisp up the Spam, then add the kimchi (hold the juice for later) and sauté for a few minutes until fragrant and darker in color.
  2. At this point you can mix in the rice, breaking it up with your fingers or with a wooden spoon. Add the kimchi juice, soy sauce, and more oil here if you need. Be diligent with that spoon, stirring constantly and scraping up any rice that sticks to the bottom (this is where one of those nonstick pans with that old-fashioned red dot in the middle comes in handy). Cook for 5 to 10 minutes until everything is well-combined and slightly toasted.
  3. To finish, crush the roasted seaweed snack with your hands and mix it into the rice. (I find that this really rounds everything out and means you can skip extra seasoning. The kimchi and Spam are salty enough, anyway; plus, this is what my mom does.)
  4. It's traditional to top each serving with a fried egg—to be exact, a gooey, runny egg, barely set, coating the red rice with yolky gold.

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Eric Kim was the Table for One columnist at Food52. He is currently working on his first cookbook, KOREAN AMERICAN, to be published by Clarkson Potter in 2022. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can find his bylines at The New York Times, where he works now as a writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @ericjoonho.

23 Reviews

Ironwood C. January 3, 2021
Fantastic! Fun fact: on the Hormel Foods (maker of SPAM) website, there is a letter from Chairman KHrushchev thanking the company for SPAM saving the Soviet troops from starvation during the siege of Leningrad.
 
Soo October 12, 2019
this is basically my recipe!! But what is seaweed snack? and I LOVED your coming out story too. your parents are amazing.
 
Hollis R. December 21, 2020
I found some kind of seaweed snacks on Amazon, but couldn't I just use a little bit of the nori sheets I use to make broth?
 
Soo January 3, 2021
I'm sure you can. to me, kimchee fried rice is just a yummy way to use up leftovers!
 
CookingIsLikeLove May 10, 2019
I can't wait to try this! I looove Spam and kimchi, and kimchi fried rice with egg is amazeballs (kimchi rice in bibimbap anyone?). Throwing in some salty crunchy nori bits and I'd be in heaven.
 
Sarah L. March 25, 2019
This was excellent, I feel like I could eat it by the bucket. Thanks for sharing your family's recipe!
 
June Y. December 9, 2018
What do you mean by 'roasted seaweed snack'? Is it just a packet of plain nori, or
is it some kind of snack mix with other ingredients thrown in?
 
Author Comment
Eric K. December 9, 2018
Hi June, it's this: https://www.freshdirect.com/pdp.jsp?productId=gro_pid_4012453&catId=gro_snack_fruveg_seaweed
 
June Y. December 9, 2018
Thanks, Eric! I will look for it or something similar at my local H Mart, as apparently FreshDirect does not deliver to my area.
 
Ukey September 9, 2018
Spam is much more popular overseas than we may realize. Even making it into Monty Python's hilarious "Spam Spam spam" sketch. I make my Korean rice with tofu chunks that I've marinated in gochuchang and roasted until chewy. It is delicious!!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. September 21, 2018
Whoa, neat tip re: tofu.
 
JLG September 2, 2018
Ah, Eric, you and your family are blessed and deserve each other. Your love and tenderness for each other are so clear.

Re: substitutes for Spam (why would you do that?), Chinese roast pork i.e. char siu is excellent and/or linguisa aka Portuguese sausage.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. September 2, 2018
Thank you for the sweet note. & agreed, the Spam makes it.
 
Hollis R. March 24, 2020
What DOESN’T Spam make better? I usually dice mine and sauté with chopped red onion, chopped unseeded jalapeños (lots!), and pineapple chunks (canned, drained). It’s Hawaiian Pizza without the dough, so I toast ciabatta rolls and use this as the filling for a sandwich. I’m considering using zhoug to spread on the bread …
 
Lilia August 30, 2018
This is a beautiful, tear-jerking story -- thank you, Eric! I'm the American-born daughter of Korean immigrants as well, so this story really resonates with me. Your parents sound wonderful. People can always change and grow, no matter their age.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. September 2, 2018
Lilia, thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts.
 
susan G. August 29, 2018
Yes! I made this once, a few years ago, and haven't since, even though we both liked it. My husband binges on kimchi, then leaves it til the urge strikes again. We have a spare refrigerator with jars with some kimchi, waiting to be fried up like this. I've also made a Korean stew with those remainders -- all delicious.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. September 2, 2018
Kimchi jjigae with Spam is a close second to this fried rice, for sure.
 
Ash August 29, 2018
What’s the best replacement for spam?
 
Author Comment
Eric K. August 29, 2018
Hey Ash, great question. Pork belly would be nice? Some salty ham, even hot dogs to be (pardon the pun) frank.
 
Hollis R. March 24, 2020
I chop up hot dogs, unseeded jalapeños, and red onion, add a can of (preferably) yellow hominy (drained), and sauté it all in whatever fat I feel like: bacon grease, lard, or a neutral oil. When cooked enough, I add cumin/chipotle chili powder/smoked paprika to taste and cook the spices at least 1 minute. Then I add chicken stock to make it a little soupier than I want and let the liquid reduce to thicken up the stew. Finally, I mix in sour cream and, if I have any, chopped fresh cilantro (leaves AND stems). Remember to add more jalapeños than you want (last time, for 8 hot dogs and 1 large red onion, I used 3 large jalapeños but I should’ve used 4 — or you can use serranos (they’re ~3x hotter, and if I had my druthers I’d probably use 2 large jalapeños and 3-4 serranos). It’s freakin’ delicious and I have no idea what to call it. Spam or pork belly would work nicely instead of hot dogs, I think. It can take Kosher salt or (ideally) Maldon’s sea salt to add to an individual serving as a finish. What would YOU call this, Eric?
 
Hank A. August 6, 2018
You lost me at Spam ...
 
Hollis R. March 24, 2020
He HAD me at Spam!