When I’m feeling lazy and the fridge is low on fresh ingredients, pasta never fails to come to the rescue. There’s nothing fancy about most pastas, and yet they can exude refined elegance when made with the right balance of ingredients and technique. It’s the culinary equivalent to a blank canvas onto which you can unleash your creativity, and it was with pasta that I first found my sea legs cooking without recipes.
I came up this pasta years ago, when all I had in the fridge was a few scraps of pork belly, some wilting scallions, and the dregs at the bottom of a jar of kimchi. I say “dregs” because I want you to picture how old it was, because this is when kimchi is at its peak in terms of flavor. Like Sauerkraut, time, and a lacto-fermentation process turns these ordinary vegetables into something quite extraordinary, with a tangy zing that makes this Kimchi Pasta sing.
The flavor dense nature of kimchi gives this dish one of the best effort to flavor ratios in the world because it really doesn’t need much. In fact you could make this Kimchi Pasta with just the pasta, kimchi and a drizzle of olive oil and it would be almost as good.
The trick behind all the flavor, is one I came up with for my Kimchi Fried Rice, and involves leveraging Maillard browning to multiply the umami producing compounds in the kimchi. In order to get the kimchi to brown, it first has to be dry, which is why I squeeze the extra juice out of the kimchi before sauteeing it. The juice then gets added back, to season the pasta, after the kimchi has browned.
I first made this Kimchi Pasta almost a decade ago and despite becoming a regular in my household, the simple recipe hasn’t changed all the much in that time. This is a testament to how good this dish is, as recipes tend to constantly evolve in my kitchen. The only thing I usually change is the meat, as it becomes unnecessary if I’m serving this Kimchi Pasta as a side.
- 160 grams spaghetti
- 1/4 cup kimchi juice (squeezed from kimchi)
- 1 tablespoon gochujang
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 7 grams garlic (1 large clove, minced)
- 150 grams pork belly (thinly sliced and then cut into strips)
- 110 grams squeezed kimchi (~1/2 packed cup, chopped)
- 3 thin scallions (cut into 2-inch lengths)
- Parmigiano-Reggiano (for serving)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and boil the spaghetti for 1 minute less than what the package directions say.
- Make the kimchi pasta sauce by stirring the gochujang into the kimchi juice until there are no lumps remaining.
- About 5 minutes before the pasta is done, add the olive oil and garlic to a frying pan and saute over medium heat until the garlic is very fragrant.
- Add the pork belly and spread it around the pan, stirring occasionally until it's mostly cooked through.
- Add the kimchi and saute until it's fragrant and starting to brown.
- When the pasta is done drain it, add it to the pan with the kimchi, along with the sauce and scallions. Toss to coat evenly. The kimchi pasta is done when there is no liquid left at the bottom of the pan and the noodles are evenly coated.