Kimchi Carbonara

Kimchi Carbonara

We often talk about food pairings—PB & J, ham & cheese, rum & coke, McD’s sundae cone & McD’s fries (yes, had together). But how about food threesomes? They don’t get nearly as much of the limelight, but they can be just as crucial and comforting as their monogamous counterparts.

Here are a few good ones:

  • The classic Italian tricolore of tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella (bufala, of course)

  • Soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, and sesame oil—the building blocks of any Chinese stir-fry.

  • Onion, thyme, and butter. Just imagine them all sautéing in a pan, the sweet, buttery aroma wafting all through the kitchen.

  • Vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry—the Neapolitan ice cream classic.

But here’s my issue with these classic threesomes—none of them are paradigm shifting in the way that PB&J or soft serve & fries are.

Enter kimchi, bacon, and cheese. Yes, while this might seem a bit left-field, looking closer, each pairing in this three-way (kimchi & bacon, kimchi & cheese, and bacon & cheese) are proven combinations. The virtues of kimchi and bacon has been extolled by chefs like Deuki Hong and David Chang, kimchi & cheese are well-acquainted buddies at Korean restaurants the world over (think cheese dakgalbi and jjimdaks), and bacon & cheese, well, I don’t think there’s any need to explain their long-term culinary marriage.

Naturally then, kimchi, bacon, & cheese would make for one of the biggest, baddest, three-way flavour blasts in the food world. And it does. So, what better way to combine these flavours than in… a carbonara! Yes, Italians rejoice! Here’s yet another Asian making carbonara weird (after the Japanese with their cream-based carbs, using bacon in place of guanciale, and the Chinese throwing in mushrooms and olives and still calling it a carbonara).

But at least in this case, like Irene Yoo (of whom this recipe is based on), I stuck true to the Italian method of stirring together eggs, parmesan, and black pepper, before adding in the pasta to partially cook and bind the sauce, giving it that rich, salaciously clingy, classic carbonara coating. And perhaps most importantly, there’s not a drop of cream or a sliver of fungi in sight.

So, while I’m not one to advocate for polygamy, I gotta admit, this here’s a threesome I’d be down for. 😉

Kimchi Carbonara
Kimchi Carbonara
Kimchi Carbonara
Kimchi Carbonara
Kimchi Carbonara
Kimchi Carbonara
Kimchi Carbonara

Kimchi Carbonara

Adapted from Irene Yoo’s recipe on Food52

Serves 3

Ingredients

6 strips of bacon or lardons, cut into 1/4-inch pieces, plus three more bacon strips for garnishing (optional)
450g cabbage kimchi, roughly chopped
350g bucatini, or any other pasta (dry weight)
3 eggs
2 egg yolk
75g parmesan cheese, grated, plus more for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper
Chopped scallions, optional
Ricotta or goats cheese, or any similar soft cheese, optional

Directions

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add salt until it’s salty as the sea.

  2. Chop up the bacon into 1-inch wide slices. Then, in a pan, cook the 6 bacon strips over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently until the bacon releases its oil and is evenly crispy. Add chopped kimchi to the bacon fat and sauté over medium heat for 6-8 minutes. This will temper and soften the kimchi. Then, set aside.

  3. For the crispy bacon garnish, lay the bacon in between two sheets of baking paper, then press it in between two heavy sheet trays (or weigh down the top tray with a heavy object). Then, transfer this whole setup to an oven heated to 170°C for 15-20 minutes, until well-browned. Then, remove it from the oven and let the bacon cool to room temperature.

  4. By now the water should be boiling. Add the pasta to the pot and cook according to package instructions for al dente.

  5. As the pasta is cooking, whisk together the eggs, extra yolk, parmesan, and black pepper in a small bowl.

  6. When the noodles are done cooking, set aside half a cup of pasta water, and strain out the pasta into a colander, then transfer it to a large mixing bowl. Working quickly, pour the egg mixture on top of the pasta, mixing it quickly so the pasta is evenly coated and the eggs don't scramble.

  7. Once combined, add about 1/4 cup of pasta water, along with the cooked kimchi-bacon mixture. Mix thoroughly until the sauce comes together—it should be thick and creamy. Feel free to add more pasta water if the sauce feels too thick or if there’s too little of it.

  8. Twirl and serve the pasta onto a plate or bowl, and top it with a few more cracks of black pepper, some extra shavings of Parmesan cheese and/or ricotta, a sprinkle of chopped scallions, and the crispy bacon.

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