If, like me, you have found yourself with a formidable amount of leftovers from your holiday ham, you might be looking for creative and tasty ways to use your surplus. I recommend a winter warmer that is one of my family’s favorite dinners: kimchi fried rice. This is one of my workday go-to meals. By midweek, I am sure to have some leftover rice in the refrigerator, and am equally likely to want to cook something quick. For years I’ve been making Chinese fried rice, either vegetarian or with leftover chicken, if I have it. But then I had the eye-opening experience of tasting kimchi fried rice for the first time, at a hole in the wall Korean pub in the foggy Outer Sunset district near San Francisco’s Ocean Beach.
It had been literally years that my friends and I wanted to try out Toyose. It was shrouded in as much mystery as it was in fog—its entrance behind a garage door, with vague hours of operation, and a reputation for being where chefs went to eat after work. The problem was that we all have young children, so we tend to eat dinner on the early side as opposed to in the wee hours of the morning. Finally, the stars aligned, and we made ourselves comfortable in the dimly lit, wood-paneled one room restaurant. We were presented with a long menu of items we weren’t too familiar with. When in doubt, we order a bit of everything. There were some hits and some misses, but even the 5 and 6 year olds in the group, who normally were not spicy food eaters, could not get enough of the kimchi fried rice, so much so that we ordered another platter.
I still can’t fully understand how the addition of chopped kimchi, or the traditional Korean accompaniment of Napa cabbage leaves pickled and fermented in bright red cayenne and garlic, can transform humble fried rice into something truly sublime. But now it is the only fried rice I make, and I always make room for a huge tub of kimchi in my refrigerator just for this purpose.
My “recipe” varies each time I make it. I’ve made it vegetarian some nights, and other nights I’ve added leftover chicken, turkey, ham and sometimes even bacon. I’ve outlined a recipe to serve 4 people below, but the general recipe is flexible. The ratio is 1 part kimchi to 2 parts rice, with the optional addition of a small amount of meat. This is an adaptation of Molly Wizenberg’s recipe on Orangette, which includes the brilliant addition of butter, which really rounds out the flavor (maybe that’s why the kids like it so much). There’s also a last minute drizzle of sesame oil, and toppings of sunnyside up eggs, chopped scallions, and a sprinkle of the seaweed-sesame Japanese topping known as furikake.
Hope you enjoy this recipe. What are some other ways that you like to use up leftover ham from the holidays?
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Kimchi Fried Rice
recipe adapted from Orangette
1/2 to 1 cup diced cooked ham
2 cups Napa cabbage kimchi, diced
4 cups cooked rice, cooled
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for frying eggs
2 tsp. sesame oil
Sesame seeds or furikake, for garnish
Sliced scallions or sweet spring onions, for garnish
Eggs, for frying, 1-2 per person
1. Warm some oil in a large skillet or wok, then add ham. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about a minute. Add the kimchi, and cook for several minutes, until the kimchi is hot and starting to caramelize.
2. Raise the heat to high, and add the rice, stirring well. Cook, stirring occasionally, for several minutes, until the rice is hot.
3. In another skillet, melt some butter and fry as many eggs as you’d like, seasoning with salt to taste.
4. When the rice is ready, stir in the butter and sesame oil, and season with salt to taste. Divide between 2-4 bowls, and top each with a fried egg or two. Garnish with sesame seeds or furikake and scallions.
Yield: 2 -4 servings