Pork & Kimchi Pasta is a delightful twist on classic spaghetti and meat sauce that combines the cozy familiarity of Italian pasta with spicy Korean flavors. With juicy, garlic-infused batons of pork belly and caramelized kimchi brought together with al dente strands of spaghetti in an emulsion of pork fat and kimchi juices, this pasta is a powerhouse of umami. The best part is that it comes together in less than 15 minutes, which makes it the perfect pasta for a quick weeknight dinner.
Why This Recipe Works?
- Squeezing the kimchi to separate its juices allows you to achieve Maillard browning on the kimchi while saving the juices to season the sauce.
- Using ripe kimchi and gochujang gives the Korean pasta sauce a balance of tangy, sweet, and savory tastes similar to tomatoes.
- Garlic-marinated batons of pork belly add umami to the dish while the fat it renders out is emulsified into the sauce with pasta water to create a full-bodied sauce.
- Pork Belly - Pork belly has a great balance of fat and meat, making it perfect for adding a savory depth to the kimchi sauce. The fat that renders out gets emulsified with the liquids to add richness and body to the sauce. If pork belly isn't available, you could substitute it with bacon, pork shoulder or skin-on chicken thighs cut into bite-sized pieces. If you use bacon, keep in mind that it contains a fair amount of salt so you'll want to skip the soy sauce and possibly eliminate the salt in the pasta boiling water.
- Soy Sauce - The soy sauce is used to marinate the pork belly and not only seasons the meat, but it also adds umami. I used a Japanese-style soy sauce. If you are on a gluten-free diet, tamari is a good alternative, and if you're avoiding soy, you can substitute coconut aminos.
- Garlic - I use garlic to add a nice kick to the pork, which browns as you stir-fry it. If you are not a fan of garlic, you could reduce the quantity or substitute it with shallots or onions for a milder flavor.
- Kimchi - The heart of this dish, kimchi gives this pasta its unique spicy, tangy, and umami taste. Be sure to use ripe kimchi that's been aged long enough to turn slightly tangy. It's also important to note that kimchi varies wildly in salinity, so depending on how salty your kimchi is, you may need to adjust the amount of salt you add to the boiling water for the pasta.
- Gochujang - This is a Korean fermented chili paste that adds spice and a mild sweetness.
- Spaghetti - Spaghetti comes in various thicknesses, and I used a thicker one that takes 11 minutes to cook. I like using spaghetti for my kimchi pasta recipe because the long strands hold onto the spicy sauce well. That being said, any pasta shape will work, and you could even use gluten-free options such as rice noodles or chickpea pasta.
- Olive Oil - Olive oil provides a bit of fat to start the sautéing process, but you could also use a neutral cooking oil, such as grapeseed or canola oil.
- Scallions - I like to add some green onions at the end for their color, flavor, and mild sweetness they add, but it's not necessary. Garlic chives or regular chives both make good alternatives.
- Parmigiano-Reggiano - Some grated cheese lends a nutty, salty finish to the pasta and adds richness. If Parmigiano-Reggiano is unavailable, Pecorino Romano, Parmesan Cheese, or Grana Padano are good alternatives.
How to Make Kimchi Pasta
Begin by slicing the pork belly into batons, and marinate it with soy sauce and minced garlic. This simple marinade imbues the pork belly with umami richness and a savory aroma that will be the backbone of our pasta dish. Letting it marinate for an hour allows the flavors to penetrate the meat, but even a quick toss in the marinade will do if you're in a hurry.
Let's prepare the pasta water while the pork is soaking up those flavors. Bring 6 cups of water and one teaspoon of salt to a boil in a pot large enough to accommodate your spaghetti.
As the pasta water is heating, let's focus on the star ingredient: kimchi. First, squeeze out as much juice as possible from the kimchi into a bowl using your hands. This technique allows us to keep the flavorful juices for the sauce while reducing the moisture content of the kimchi to brown it. Then you want to chop the kimchi into pieces no larger than ⅛ inch.
Next, take your bowl of kimchi juice and dissolve the gochujang into it.
By this point, your pasta water should be at a full boil. Go ahead and add the spaghetti to the pot, setting a timer for two minutes less than what the package directs. Stir the pasta during the first few minutes to prevent sticking.
With 5 minutes left on your pasta timer, it's time to start cooking the pork belly. Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat, and stir-fry the marinated pork belly in olive oil. When the pork is mostly cooked, add in your chopped kimchi. Stir-fry the mixture until the kimchi starts to brown, caramelizing its sugars and producing a deep, complex flavor through the Maillard reaction.
Add a ladle or two of boiling pasta water to the pan along with the kimchi juice and gochujang mixture. Transfer the spaghetti straight from the pot to the pan using tongs with the kimchi and pork sauce. Stir and toss it in the sauce, adding more pasta water as needed to continue cooking the pasta. The stirring motion helps release starch from the pasta, thickening the kimchi sauce and emulsifying the fat into the sauce, making it rich and glossy.
As the pasta finishes cooking, taste it and adjust the seasoning with additional soy sauce if needed. Finally, toss in the scallions for a fresh pop of color and flavor. When the pasta is cooked to your liking, plate it and garnish it with a generous shower of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Serve Kimchi Spaghetti With
This pasta would go great with a refreshing vegetable side dish like my Smashed Cucumber Salad or my Beer and Wasabi Pickles. You could also prepare a green salad and serve it with my Creamy Sesame Dressing. If you're looking to add more protein to your meal, consider serving this with my Teriyaki Steak or Tofu Teriyaki. For dessert, a scoop of matcha ice cream or strawberry mochi would be a nice sweet finish to this flavor-packed meal.
Other Asian Pasta Recipes
- 150 grams pork belly (cut into batons)
- 1 teaspoons soy sauce
- 7 grams garlic (1 large clove, minced)
- 200 grams kimchi (including juices)
- 1 tablespoon gochujang
- 200 grams spaghetti
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 20 grams scallions (cut into 2-inch lengths)
- Parmigiano-Reggiano (for serving)
- Marinate the 150 grams pork belly with 1 teaspoons soy sauce and 7 grams garlic.
- Bring 6 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil in a pot wide enough to fit the spaghetti.
- Squeeze as much juice from the 200 grams kimchi with your hands as possible into a bowl. Then, chop the kimchi into ⅛-inch pieces.
- Dissolve the 1 tablespoon gochujang in the bowl of kimchi juice.
- When the pot of water is at a full boil, add the 200 grams spaghetti and set a timer for 2 minutes less than the package directions. Stir for the first few minutes to keep the noodles from sticking together.
- When the pasta has 5 minutes left, heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat and stir-fry the marinated pork belly in the 1 tablespoon olive oil.
- When the pork is mostly cooked, add the chopped kimchi and stir-fry the mixture until the kimchi starts to brown.
- Add a ladleful of boiling water from the pasta and the kimchi juice mixture.
- When the spaghetti is cooked, transfer it straight to the kimchi sauce with tongs and stir and toss it with the sauce. Continue adding pasta water as it evaporates to finish cooking the pasta. Be sure to continue stirring the pasta to release starch into the sauce to thicken it up.
- When the pasta is almost done, taste and adjust the seasoning with additional soy sauce if needed. Finally, toss in the 20 grams scallions to finish off your spicy pasta.
- When the pasta is cooked to your liking, plate it up and garnish it with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
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