I love how almost every county in the world has their version of the pancake. France has crêpes, Mexico and Spain each have their own version of a tortilla, and Japan has its okonomiyaki. Korea's pancake is the jeon (전). It can be made with meat, seafood, vegetables or mushrooms, and it's held together with a thin batter.
Kimchijeon (김치전) is one of my favorite variants. When prepared well, it's made almost entirely of kimchi, with some onions for flavor and a small amount of flour and egg to hold it all together. Although kimchi is full of flavor to begin with, when you brown it in a pan like this, it takes it to a whole new level of deliciousness with an earthy complexity and mellow sweetness.
Truth-be-told, kimchijeon is perfectly good without any meat, but by adding a bit of thinly sliced pork belly, takes it from merely good to insanely good! The pork not only give the pancake some more substance, the fat that renders out of the pork helps crisp the edges, while imbuing a rich porcine goodness that goes with the kimchi like peanut butter and jelly.
The trick to getting a really vibrant colored kimchi pancake that's as flavorful as possible, is to use kimchi juice instead of water for the batter. You may be wondering why I squeeze it out once only to add it back in later. The reason is that kimchi can be saturated with varying levels of juice. For any of you bakers out there, you know it's important to have the proper ratio of flour to liquid, so by squeezing out the juice first, and measuring it, you can ensure a consistent result that will never be soggy or tough.
For the flour, I like using a mix of all-purpose flour and potato starch for the slightly chewy consistency the starch adds, but you can make this with all-purpose flour alone, or even something like rice flour.
While Kimchijeon is best straight out of the pan, it's also pretty good at room temperature, which is why leftovers make for a great snack the next day. Try pairing these with some Sukju Namul, or Korean Bean Sprout Salad, for a contrast of texture and flavor.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour and potato starch.
- Beat the kimchi juice, egg, and water together in a bowl until evenly mixed.
- Add the kimchi, white part of the scallions and pork belly to the kimchi juice mixture and stir to distribute the ingredients evenly.
- Add the flour mixture to the kimchi and fold together until just combined. Do not overmix.
- Heat a frying pan over medium high heat until hot. Add 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil and swirl to coat.
- Add half the batter to the pan, using a spoon to spread it into a thin even layer. Fry this undisturbed until it starts to brown on one side (you can use a spatula to lift up an edge and peak).
- Flip the kimchijeon over. It's easiest to flip it in the air, but if you're not confident in your abilities to catch it, you can either use 2 large spatulas, or heat and oil a second pan that you can flip the kimchi pancake into.
- Use a spatula to press down on the pancake to make sure it's making good contact with the pan. Press all around the pancake frying until browned on this side.
- Flip the kimchijeon onto a cutting board and slice into wedges like a pizza. Repeat from step 5 with the other half of the batter. Garnish with scallions and serve.