What is it?
Kimchi is a fermented vegetable pickle that's crunchy, spicy and completely addictive. Usually made with cabbage (baechu), the vegetables are first brined, then rubbed with chilli paste, garlic, ginger and fish sauce, and aged in jars for days, weeks or months until intensely flavoured, earthy and pungent. Can also be made with daikon radish, nashi pear, oysters, cucumber and even shrimp and fish.
Where is it?
At St Ali in South Melbourne, chef Andy Gale's favourite breakfast dish is his kimchi scrambled eggs with blue swimmer crab, Yarra Valley salmon roe and brioche croutons. "It's a very underrated relish," he says.
"People think it's something you only eat with Korean food, but it works really well with eggs."
At Provenance in Beechworth, chef Michael Ryan makes his own cabbage kimchi ("We're a long way from Chinatown") as part of a plate of pickles, alongside celery, cucumber and carrot, each preserved in a different way. "Kimchi isn't as funky as some fermentations; it's so clean and lactic," he says. At home, he eats it with fried eggs, rice and Korean bibimbap. "I personally have to have it on hand at all times."
Brad Simpson at The Smith in Prahran turns out some very moreish ''Asian Kilpatrick'' oysters with kimchi puree and crisp pork belly. "They're hot and cold and spicy and salty," he says. "It's a great way to turn something a bit scary like kimchi into something quite approachable."
There is always some sort of kimchi on the menu at Ms. G's in Potts Point. At the moment, it's a fresh apple kimchi served with crisp pork knuckle, lettuce and herbs. "Kimchi is the perfect pickle," executive chef Dan Hong says. "It has sourness, saltiness, crunch and a real umami. It's great as a side for instant noodles, a fried egg on rice, and steak." He also suggests whizzing kimchi into mayonnaise to serve with fried chicken.
At Sydney Madang in the city's K-Town, the traditional array of side dishes (panchan) includes five kinds of kimchi. Fanatics – and there are many – can also order crisp kimchi pancakes and a whole-cabbage kimchi that will keep them happy for hours.
At The Star, Momofuku Seiobo chef Ben Greeno not only serves kimchi as part of a bar plate of pickles, he gives every diner a little packet of house-made kimchi as they depart. "Some restaurants give you brioche or granola as you leave," he says. "We give you kimchi." Its appeal, he says, is in its signature spiciness. "Sometimes, it's almost like a challenge to eat it."
Why do I care?
Because 75 million Koreans can't be wrong. Kimchi is so crunchy, hot, bright and funky, it lifts a dull meal in an instant. Serve on the side or add to stews, stir-fries, egg dishes, fried rice and soups.
Can I do it at home?
St Ali, 12-18 Yarra Place, South Melbourne, 9686 2990
Provenance, 86 Ford Street, Beechworth, 5728 1786
The Smith, 213 High Street, Prahran, 9514 2444
Ms. G's, 155 Victoria Street, Potts Point, 8313 1000
Sydney Madang, 371A Pitt Street, city, 9264 7010
Momofuku Seiobo, The Star, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont, 9777 9000
Beef with kimchi
Kimchi can be used as an ingredient as well as a relish, adding punchy flavour and a chilli kick to a simple beef stir-fry.
2 scotch fillet steaks (about 400g)
4 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
300g cabbage kimchi
2 tbsp kimchi juices
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, halved and finely sliced
1 carrot, julienned
Sea salt and pepper
1 tsp sesame seeds
3 spring onions, sliced
Soft lettuce leaves for serving
Steamed rice for serving
1. Trim off any excess fat from the steaks, and finely shave the meat at an extreme diagonal to get nice thin slices. Toss with 2 tbsp soy sauce, sugar, kimchi and its juices and set aside for 30 minutes.
2. Heat the oil and fry the onion and carrot for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Add a dash of extra oil, raise the heat to hot, and add the beef and kimchi mixture, remaining soy sauce, sea salt and pepper, tossing until the meat is just cooked.
3. Scatter with sesame seeds and spring onions and serve with steamed rice and lettuce leaves for wrapping.
Serves 4 with rice
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