An easy Mac & Cheese with a bit of kimchi added in. The best part is the velvety, creamy cheese sauce that clings to every piece of macaroni. Yum!
I’ve been a fan of Food52 for a while now, but I never actually tried cooking up one of their recipes until now. This recipe for Kimchi Mac & Cheese was one of the first I bookmarked, and every time I was about to forget about it, it found some way to pop up on my social media feed.
And then I received a big package of cheese from the California Milk & Cheese Board some months ago. I can take a hint from the Universe, because that felt like an even bigger reminder for me to make this. I used some of the cheeses I received there to make this Kimchi Mac & Cheese dish, and in the process, I realized I have never cooked anything this indulgent before. There was a lot of cheese, my friends.
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Mac & Cheese isn’t particularly complex to make, but what excited me about this dish was the fact that kimchi was going to play a role in it. I’m a big fan of how Korea manages to fuse cheese into many of their spicy dishes, and I thought this experience would be no different.
It starts with the cooking of the kimchi with a generous amount of butter; a step that reminds me so much of how you would cook Kimchi fried rice. This is the base for your slurry or thickener, because you add the flour in with the kimchi and butter before you pour in your milk. The seasonings come in as you whisk the milk and thicken it.
The cheese is added in gradually, and you get a beautiful pot of cheese sauce that would probably also make an awesome cheese fondue. I loved the process of mixing this sauce until it was silky smooth, watching as the cheeses melted into the milk and created what was to become a mac & cheese favorite here at home.
For good measure, I prepared some Korean cocktail sausages and bacon to add into the mac & cheese, plus scallions for topping. If we were attempting a Korean-Western fusion dish, we might as well go the whole yard right? You can buy the Korean cocktail sausages in Korean marts. Make sure to buy kimchi in its homemade form in a Korean mart as well, because supermarket kimchi simply does not taste as good. The quality is just staggeringly different for me.
My personal favorite places to buy kimchi from, if you’re curious, are Shine Korea and Green Mart in Quezon City. There’s also a place in Ermita that makes awesome kimchi but I can’t remember the name of it. (I’ll update this once I do.)
To be honest, the reason why I don’t have any elaborate photograph/set-ups for this dish is because it wasn’t supposed to make it on the blog. There wasn’t enough kimchi oomph from this dish to make it a Kimchi Mac & Cheese, but as a Mac & Cheese in itself, it was simply scrumptious. Still, it didn’t turn out how I expected, so I was iffy about it.
But for the first time in forever, it was my brothers who encouraged me to blog about this anyway. They immediately stopped digging into the Mac & Cheese and offered it back to be photographed. They told me: ‘Masarap siya, i-blog mo na! You should tell people to try it!‘ And that is exactly what I’m telling you to do now.
I realize this might seem like a really random story to most of you reading, but the thing is, my brothers have never really expressed any opinions when it comes to what I blog about. Mostly, they just leave me to my own devices and gobble up whatever the heck I make because they’re confident I know what I’m doing. It was a new experience to have them actually telling me to write about something I was uncertain about.
And it’s all thanks to this Mac & Cheese.
I know the kimchi seems like a good amount during the first step, but once you add in the milk and the cheeses it fades into the night. You can barely feel it, except when you occasionally bite into a piece of cabbage. The most you can sense of it is an orange-y hue in the mac & cheese.
I love the kimchi I used for this recipe for eating, but it seems like it can’t hold its own in the mac & cheese. (Maybe it hasn’t been fermenting for too long, so the flavors weren’t that strong yet.) I would probably double the amount of kimchi next time.
Kimchi Mac & Cheese
- 450 grams uncooked elbow macaroni
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 120 grams cabbage kimchi, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground mustard powder
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
- 450 grams extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- 225 grams Gruyère or emmental cheese, grated
- 3 tablespoons pasta water, reserved from cooking
- Crumbled bacon and chopped Korean cocktail sausages, for add-ins
- Chopped scallions, for topping
Prepare the pasta
- 1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta until al dente, referencing the package instructions. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the pasta water in a cup just in case it's needed later on. Drain the pasta and set aside.
Prepare the cheese sauce
- 2. In a large pot or Dutch oven, over medium-high heat, melt butter for 1 to 2 minutes until bottom of the pot is coated. Sauté the kimchi in the hot butter for approximately 5 to 7 minutes, or until softened and the kimchi liquid has reduced by about half.
- 3. Whisk in the flour until completely combined. This will serve as the thickener.
- 4. Whisking continuously, gradually add in the whole milk. Turn down heat to low, then continue whisking. Make sure to gently scrape up the flavors at the bottom of the pot as you go.
- 5. Add in salt, mustard powder, and white pepper. Keep whisking until the sauce thickens. Gradually add in the grated cheeses. Switch to a wooden spoon or spatula and stir until cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth.
- 6. Add cooked pasta into the sauce, folding in the pasta with the wooden spoon until well-combined with the cheese sauce. Add in the reserved pasta water to thin out the consistency of the sauce as needed. Add in the bacon and cocktail sausages. Give it one last mix to make sure the pasta and the add-ins are evenly coated with the sauce. Turn off the heat.
- 7. Sprinkle the chopped scallions on top and serve immediately. In case there are leftovers, this mac and cheese may be reheated and enjoyed the next day.