Friday, May 4, 2012

Introducing: The Grilled Kimcheese

Grilled Kimcheese Sandwich.
(Recipe at the end of this post.)
We're all purists about some things. I think so, anyway. Perhaps I should speak for myself: I am definitely a purist about some things. Some food things. Particularly -- and I don't think I'm alone here -- some food things with which I grew up.

Case in point: chili. I've been vocal about this before, but to reiterate, I'm a Texan, and in Texas, chili doesn't have beans, it doesn't even have tomatoes. It has chile peppers, beef, and seasonings. Its full name is chile con carne for a reason, people. 

I've always felt the same way about chicken-fried steak, honestly. 

Then I took part in the fantastic UNH Gourmet Dinner recently, along with guest chef Ben Hasty of When Pigs Fly Pizzeria. While he was busy teaching the students how to make their own charcuterie and the like, I was mostly tasting and advising. The theme was regional American food, and so I suggested that CFS be part of the dinner. Ben suggested that they do a twist on it, chicken-fried short rib. The short rib was cured beforehand, so it stayed super moist, something that worked really well when it came to 200-person banquet service. And I had suggested incorporating miso into the gravy.

On night two of the dinner (they repeat the event on Friday and Saturday, to give the students a chance to improve from one to the next), more than one guest at my table confessed to never having had CFS before. I had just read an essay from my cookbook on the subject, and I couldn't help but say, "I love this dish and everything, absolutely, but dare I say that, sir, you still have not really had chicken-fried steak."

But there are paper-thin limits to my purist streak, especially when it comes to cuisines I didn't grow up eating. Last year, when I was testing pizza recipes for “Serve Yourself,” an Israeli friend who grew up in Norway took great offense at one pie I concocted that included smoked trout, potato and fennel among the toppings, declaring it “wrong, just wrong” – before even tasting it. I couldn’t understand the umbrage, because I’m neither Norwegian nor Italian, so the world is my oyster. Or pizza is. Or my oyster is pizza. Or something. Why did I start talking about oysters all of a sudden? You know what I’m getting at.

Anyway, like lots of members of the "foodoisie," as Peter Kaminsky refers to us in his new book, "Culinary Intelligence," I've been on a kimchi kick for several years now, and it’s something I can't stop fusing to other cuisines. When our Let's Lunch group -- we coordinate posts on the same topic monthly -- decided to focus on fusion cooking, it was the first thing that came to mind. It's two LLs in a row that feature kimchi for me, because I can't get enough of it, and once I opened the door with kimchi tacos, I couldn't close it. That gateway food led to kimchi, ham and eggs on pizza and then to kimchi deviled eggs. When NancieMcDermott commented on last month's post that it was the perfect way to combine her loves for Asian and Southern cooking, I jokingly said that pimento kimcheese was next, and then soon enough, I was on it, pulsing together kimchi and cheese to make a Korean version of what is jokingly referred to as the pate of the South, and then realizing that perhaps the purest, if not the purist's, take on this combination would be a grilled kimcheese sandwich. It's not suitable for my "vague-an" sister and brother-in-law, but whaddayagonnado?

It didn't take too long to perfect, because, well, these ingredients love one another so much they were just looking for an excuse to get together. You know what I'm going to do next, don't you? Mac and kimcheese, here we come. In fact, I think I might be discovering the limitations of purism. I'm not quite ready to put kimchi in my chili, but it doesn't sound half bad. And that's something I never thought I would see myself write.

Grilled Kimcheese Sandwich

My recipe for Cabbage and Asian Pear Kimchi in "Serve Yourself" prompted me to add the sweetness of that fruit to this sandwich whenever I use a store-bought kimchi, but but if you're using that recipe here, you can obviously leave it out. Similarly, the sandwich takes nicely to the addition of ham, but it's simply gorgeous without it.

2 slices multigrain sandwich bread
2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup spicy kimchi, drained
1/2 small Asian pear, cored and thinly sliced
1 ounce smoked ham slices (optional)
2 tablespoons canola oil

Layer one slice of the bread with cheese, kimchi, pear slices and ham, if using. Top with the other bread slice and press with your hand to flatten.

Pour the oil into a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When it start to shimmer, lay the sandwich in the pan and cook, pressing with a spatula from time to time, until the underside is golden brown, 2 minutes. Repeat on the other side, transfer to a plate, and eat.

This post is part of Let's Lunch, a virtual lunchdate with food bloggers around the globe. Want to join us in the kitchen? Comment on this post or tweet using the hashtag #LetsLunch. 

Check back here later in the day to find links to more posts on the theme from the Let's Lunch crew.

Anastasia's Miso Salmon with Mango Salsa at In Foodie Fashion
Cathy's Bacon-Studded Polenta With Tomato Gravy at ShowFood Chef
Cheryl's Goan Pork Curry Tacos at A Tiger in the Kitchen
Charissa's Gluten-Free Azuki Bean Bundt Cake at Zest Bakery
Eleanor's Wok Picadillo at Wok Star
Ellise's Salty Lime Sablés (Margarita Cookies) at Cowgirl Chef
Emma's Kimchi Bulgogi Nachos at Dreaming of Pots And Pans
Felicia's Mexican-Lebanese Hummus at Burnt-Out Baker
Grace's Taiwanese Fried Chicken at HapaMama
Jill's Southern Pimento-Stuffed Knishes at Eating My Words
Juliana's Fusion Chicken Casserole at Food, Fun & Life
Karen's Ukrainian-German Cabbage Rolls at GeoFooding
Leigh's Venezuelan-Italian Cachapas Con Queso at Leigh Nannini
Linda's Project Runway Pelau: Rice & Beans Trinidad-Style at Spicebox Travels
Linda's Edible Salad Totes at Free Range Cookies
Lisa's Sunday Night Jewish-Chinese Brisket at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Lucy's Coconut Rice Pudding with Mango at A Cook And Her Books
Maria's Spanish Shrimp with Bacon, Cheddar & Chive Grits at Maria’s Good Things
Nancie's Chili-Cheese Biscuits with Avocado Butter at Nancie McDermott
Patricia's Buttery Tofu, Pasta & Peas at The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook
Patrick's Kimchi Jigae and British Mash at Patrick G. Lee
Rashda's Mango Cobbler at Hot Curries & Cold Beer
Renee's Asian-Spiced Quick Pickles at My Kitchen And I
Steff's Chicken Fried Steak at The Kitchen Trials
Vivian's Funky Fusion Linguini at Vivian Pei


  1. Love this! Thanks for the funny, fusion read :)

  2. Yes! I am a purist, except not really, because it's one place where things can go off-the-rails-screaming-awful wrong in a New York minute, purism. And yet that is where I live. There are things that are just...things...and I bristle especially when people (who have not gotten my permission)go out and change something with disdain for an original. I'm talking the vanilla wafers in banana pudding, or the canned salmon salmon cakes, or the cheap whitebread burger bun on a barbecue sandwich, which requires by the way slaw. I allow changes and adaptations and inspiration, but not if the attitude is that the homey-way was broke. Good thing I am easily distracted or else I would be banned from public eateries. I have never had Texas chili/chile?, or I'll be, chicken fried steak. Good thing this is my work.

    1. I'd be happy to make chili (I use "chili" for the dish and "chile" for the pepper) or CFS for you anytime, Nancie. But you're right that purism is a bugaboo. I just can't let go of it for a couple of things!

  3. Fusion can be confusing, right? For me, it brings up so many nonsensical dishes that people were just crazy for about a decade ago...but the idea of bringing together two different culinary cultures to make something new (or simply use what you have on hand in the country you're in) isn't really that strange, I've learned...I'm just happy that I can now find habanero peppers in Paris (which of course, they call simply piment). Jalapeños? Not a chance.

    1. Thanks, Ellise -- Indeed, I remember a comic from years ago putting on a bad Chinese accent and saying, "CON-fusion." I can't remember the context, just the punchline. Typical.

  4. I love that you suggested putting miso in the gravy. Now even I haven't thought of that and I put miso in many things. Am going to try the grilled kimcheese as soon as we get some bread in the house (mostly rice and noodles in our pantry). Arigato

    1. For the chicken-fried cauliflower I'm testing -- that's true! I love miso so much -- possibly even more than kimchi, it's true. Thanks, Yukari!

  5. "Foodoisie" -- love it! I want that on a T-shirt. But first I want to have this sandwich -- I haven't been able to think of anything else since I first saw your post this morning!

    1. Thanks, Cheryl -- I had a blast with this one!

  6. I have yet to try kimchee and dairy mixed together, but you may have converted me here.

    And thanks for the reminder about chicken fried steak. My favorite memory of it comes from a diner near Boise, ID that was named "the best truck stop in America"... which is a dubious title, isn't it?

    1. Ah, yes -- I thought I might get pinged on the dairy combo, Grace! I swear to God it works... That's hilarious about the Boise truck stop. Anyplace that refers to itself as world's best, or world famous, of course, usually is anything but.

  7. Very original! This is a combination that never would have occurred to me -- I'm definitely going to have to investigate all these alternative uses of kimchee!

    1. Let me know how it goes, Felicia!

  8. Oyster is my pizza, too. Must track down a reputable suburban kimchi source before sampling delish kimchee recipes. Looking forward to mac and kimcheese.

    1. Lucy, there's a decent brand that I see at most Whole Food Markets. I mean, it's not nearly as good as what you can make at home, or can buy at great Asian superstores, but it will do!

  9. Thanks for the great post Joe. I now have to get out my copy of 'Serve Yourself' and make your cabbage and pear kimchi. I have to be honest - until Emma's Kimchi Bulgogi Nachos post this month, I had no idea what kimch was! But now I am thanks for the inspiration. Your sandwich sounds FABULOUS...once I understand a little more about kimchi, this sandwich will be next on the list.

    1. You must try kimchi, Lisa. Hope you enjoy it -- let me know if you make my version...