A delicious simple risotto made from caramelized kimchi and Gruyère cheese. It may not be traditional but it sure is tasty.
I know, risotto made with kimchi, Gruyère and sushi rice sounds like a crazy combo, but before you write me off as delusional, hear me out. This risotto has a stunning color and pleasant tang not unlike a tomato risotto, but the fermented kimchi adds dozens of layers of complexity which are all unified by the rich texture and nutty flavors of the gruyere.
Kimchi is one of those marvelous foods where time and lacto-fermentation turns ordinary veggies and some salted shrimp into a pickle of immense depth that’s at once briny, savory, sweet, tangy, nutty, pungent and piquant. It’s often called the Korean equivalent of sauerkraut, but it’s so much more than that. A more accurate description might be that kimchi is the Korean equivalent of sauerkraut, dijon mustard, anchovies, balsamic AND an aged cheese, but that still wouldn’t be doing it justice.
We already know that kimchi and rice go together thanks to dishes like kimchi bokkeumbap, and I’ve done kimchi-Italian combos before with my kimchi pork belly pizza and kimchi pasta (which are both pretty delicious). But mincing and caramelized the kimchi before slowly churning it together with rice and vegetable stock, takes this wonder pickle to a whole new level. Tart, salty, sweet, and brimming with umami, the thick creamy nature of risotto helps those tastes coat your tongue, maxing out your taste receptors before slowly tapering off until the next bite.
Okay, perhaps I’ve convinced you of the merits of using kimchi as an ingredient, but you probably still have your doubts about using Japanese rice to make risotto. Since making sushi involves pouring a liquid (seasoned vinegar) over cooked rice, Japanese short grain rice has been bred by generations of rice farmers to be able to absorb water while retaining its texture and shape. Since it’s a short grain (high starch) rice, it’s also capable of becoming just as creamy as Italian varieties of rice, but because of it’s remarkable ability to absorb liquid, it’s much harder to screw up. Arborio for instance is infamous for being finicky, with the difference between crunchy and mushy being a few tablespoons of stock. Even the more resilient Carnaroli, considered “il re dei risi” (the king of rice), will swell up and turn into a gummy paste if you wait too long to eat it after it’s done. Japanese rice on the other hand, will still continue getting softer as you cook it and add more liquid, but you would really have to overshoot your mark before the rice starts to lose its shape. I’ve also found that letting it sit doesn’t ruin its texture. In fact it’s not unpleasant to eat at room temperature (though it obviously tastes better when freshly made)
While this risotto can certainly stand on its own, it’s really incredible topped with a gochujang braised pork like the one below. Stay tuned for the recipe!
- Squeeze the juice out of the kimchi using your hands to make 1/2 cup of juice and then weigh out 100 grams of squeezed kimchi. Mince the kimchi.
- Pour the vegetable stock into a pot and bring to a simmer over high heat. Turn down to low to keep warm.
- In another pot, add the lard and garlic and saute until fragrant.
- Add the minced kimchi and continue sauteing until the kimchi is translucent.
- Add the rice and stir until the rice has evenly absorbed all the oil.
- Add the kimchi juice along with a ladleful of hot vegetable stock and stir the rice until most of the water has been absorbed.
- Continue adding vegetable stock a ladleful at a time and stirring until the rice is your desired consistency. You may not need all the stock.
When the rice is done, add the grated Gruyère and stir into the risotto.
- Serve immediately.