No doubt, it’s been a great year for food. One thing that I’ll remember 2011 for is that it marked a time when fusing “Asian” food with Western finally became became okay. I mean that it became more widely accepted, and for the most part, was done with more thoughtfulness and sophistication than in the past. It was a year when restaurants of other cuisines began using Asian ingredients with more dexterity; mixing distinct Asian cuisines amongst one another was done with abandon; food trucks and eateries were spawned in the tradition, yet under more clever guises than the trite “Asian fusion” moniker (a term which makes nearly every Asian American I know bristle); Korean barbecue became a taco filling; banh mi a regular sandwich option; rice cakes might as well be gnocchi and yuzu, a lemon.
This year also saw the publication of a zany cookbook from Mission Street Food, the continued, crushing success of Momofuku cookbooks (the restaurants most responsible for the rise in eating anything Asian, let alone blurring the East-West lines), and the launch of its own food magazine. Many more writers, chefs and home cooks became keen to the similarities between refined French and Japanese fare; others played up those of common Chinese and Italian. But unlike the fad of weird, neon-lit “Asian fusion” restaurants of the late 90’s, which promised low fat and yet flavorful results, the new stream of Asian fusion is decidedly fatty, porky, buttery, egg yolk-y, and greasy to the chopstick tip. So here’s my dinner tonight that celebrates all of that, along with some healthful preserved vegetable from ancient Korean cuisine, known esoterically as “kimchi.”
Kimchi and greasy pork pieces are a natural complement, as one refreshes the palate and the other coats it in oil. The complexities of the spices in kimchi and the smokiness of bacon only enhances the effect. What else to sop it all up with than creamy-textured rice? There are plenty of traditional Korean dishes that are founded on rice and kimchi (often, just that), but a good way to break into them if you’re not Korean is to serve it like risotto. The warm, but still crunchy, kimchi bleeds into the rice, staining it red and adding much more flavor than fresh vegetables. Here, I’ve gone and used some Korean chili powder while sweating the onions, too, just because I had some around and thought it would highlight the color and spice, and stand in for Italian crushed red pepper flakes well. (Use that if that’s what you have around instead.)
I’m fond of making my own kimchi, hence the accessible spice. So this was a perfect way to use it up. Coupled with some chicken stock made a few weeks ago, and frozen peas that are often found in risotto, it was a satisfying combination that I think represented both cuisines — Italian and Korean — equally. Oh, and the chopped bacon added to the onions while they cooked helped make it a little more universally delicious, too.
I also added a touch of grated Parmesan cheese and butter while it finished, as if I were making any regular risotto. Cheese and kimchi? I say why not? But you can decide that for yourself. The only real question at the end of it all was whether to use a fork or chopsticks for this.
I went for the chopsticks. Happy New Year, foodies!
Risotto with Kimchi and Bacon
(makes 3-4 servings)
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 small onion, chopped
about 6 oz. kimchi with some juice (see recipe to make ahead)
about 2 oz. bacon, chopped
1 Tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon Korean red chili powder (or substitute crushed red chili flakes, optional)
1 Tablespoon grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano (optional)
1 scallion, chopped (for garnish, optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in a wide, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Keep the stock warming in a separate pot. Sautee the onions over medium-low heat until translucent, about 8 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt, pepper, and the optional chili powder. Add the bacon and stir another 1-2 minutes, until just crisp.
Add the rice and stir for 1-2 minutes, until coated with olive oil and slightly toasted. Add a ladle of the warm stock and stir occasionally until almost all evaporated. Continue to add small amounts of warm stock, stirring occasionally, until rice is just tender and to desired consistency. Halfway through this process, add the kimchi and all its juice. In the last five minutes, add the peas. Remove from heat when rice is done and stir in the butter and optional cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the scallions as garnish.
(for about 4 servings)
1 1/2 cups arborio rice: $2.00
4 cups homemade chicken stock: $2.00
1 small onion: $0.30
6 oz. homemade kimchi: $1.50
about 2 oz. bacon: $0.70
1 scallion: $0.20
1 Tb butter: $0.25
2 Tb olive oil: $0.30
1 Tb grated Parmiggiano: $0.35
salt, pepper, optional 1/4 tsp chili flakes: $0.15
Six brownie points: It’s always good to eat cholesterol along with stuff that’ll help cut it. Kimchi has been known to lower cholesterol, as well as aid digestion with its live, probiotic cultures. It also contains all the healthy vitamins and minerals, like fiber and Vitamin C, found in cabbage. The bacon obviously won’t give much of those, but it does add a strikingly savory element to the dish in just a small portion.
Seven maple leaves: It’s a great time to make your own kimchi — there are so many types of cabbage just in season and fresh. (Napa cabbage is the classic choice for these lacto-fermented pickles, FYI.) There are also some great local sources for the prepared stuff, like Mama O’s small-batch kimchi made with love, Mother-In-Law’s kimchi, and D&J Organic Farm’s own homemade version at the Union Square Greenmarket. Likewise, bacon can be found abundantly from local farms like Flying Pigs Farm, or butchers like Fleisher’s.