Kimchi Mac and Cheese Ups the Game

A delightfully crisp panko crust, along with kimchi and gochujang take this mac and cheese to another level.
A delightfully crisp panko crust, along with kimchi and gochujang take this mac and cheese to another level.

Get ready to raise your mac and cheese game.

All it takes is a little kimchi and gochujang.

“Kimchi Mac and Cheese” is from the new “The Honeysuckle Cookbook: 100 Healthy, Feel-Good Recipes to Live Deliciously”(Rodale), of which I received a review copy.

It’s by Dzung Lewis, a financial analyst in the Bay Area who moved to Los Angeles and pursued her real passion of cooking. Born to Vietnamese immigrants, she started the popular YouTube channel “Honeysuckle.”

Lewis’ forte is taking familiar dishes and adding a fun spin, such as in “Matcha-Almond Breakfast Loaf,” “Miso Udon Carbonara” and “Ginger-Cardamom Lemon Bars.”

Kimchi is a staple in my fridge, so I was eager to add it to mac and cheese. It did not disappoint, adding a touch of acidity and a real depth in the way that Dijon mustard often does in this classic.

The heat level is actually fairly gentle. So much so that next time, I’ll definitely add more kimchi and gochujang to kick it up. That’s why I added in “or more to taste” in the recipe below. Or you could just serve more kimchi on the side to let everyone add in as much as they like at the table.

This mac and cheese has a ton of cheese — both sharp cheddar and Gruyere to make it extra creamy and rich. All that cheese also probably dampens down the heat of the kimchi, so that’s why you’ll definitely want to add more than the indicated 1 cup if you like it spicier. I also found that the heat dissipates more the longer it sits, if you enjoy the leftovers a day or two later.

Bet you can't wait to crack into that crunchy crust.
Bet you can’t wait to crack into that crunchy crust.

Lewis notes that she went through a lot of trial and error to discover the perfect cooking time for boiling the macaroni before adding it to the cheese sauce and baking in the oven. Her recommendation of 4 minutes on the stovetop is spot-on, so that when you pull the mac and cheese out of the oven, the macaroni ends up nicely toothsome, rather than completely limp.

Panko bread crumbs get strewn all over the top, giving this mac and cheese a thoroughly golden, crunchy crust that endures, even after refrigerating leftovers.

It’s an honest-to-goodness dish with a little something extra that sure hits the spot.

Cheese, cheese, and more cheese.
Cheese, cheese, and more cheese.

Kimchi Mac and Cheese

(Serves 6 to 8)

1 pound elbow macaroni

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk, warmed

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons gochujang or more to taste

1/4 teaspoon ground (or freshly grated nutmeg)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 cups grated Gruyere cheese

4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (such as Tillamook)

1 cup packed kimchi, roughly chopped or more to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a rapid boil. Add the macaroni and boil for 4 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

Meanwhile, put the panko in a bowl, drizzle with the olive oil, and mix until all the panko is evenly moist. Set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed ovenproof pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute as the mixture bubbles. Drizzle in the warm milk, whisking to get rid of any clumps. Once the mixture is smooth, whisk in the mustard, gochujang, nutmeg, and salt. Switch to a wooden spoon and continue stirring until the sauce coats the back of the spoon. It’ll just take a few minutes. (When you draw your finger across the back of the spoon, the sauce should be thick enough not to run into the line your finger makes.)

Remove from the heat and add both grated cheeses, the macaroni, and kimchi and mix until the pasta is completely coated with cheese and kimchi sauce. You can bake the mac and cheese right in the pot, as long as it’s ovenproof, or you can pour the pasta into a wide, shallow casserole-style dish. Top with the panko mixture and transfer the pot or dish to the oven.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes for a shallow casserole pan or 35 to 40 minutes if using a deeper pan, until the panko topping is golden brown and the cheese sauce is bubbling at the edges. The finished dish can be refrigerated for up to 3 days and reheated.

Adapted from “The Honeysuckle Cookbook” by Dzung Lewis

Plus A More Traditional Version: Macaroni and Cheese by Clark Wolf

And More Recipes Using Kimchi: Kimchi Pancake

And: Korean Scallion Pancakes

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