We’ve upped the ante on the original pantry staple—grilled cheese—with one powerful ingredient: kimchi. And we use it two ways for a double dose of flavor.
Cheese with kimchi may sound strange, but the pairing is nothing new. Budae jjigae, otherwise known as military base stew, dates back to the Korean War. It’s a hot pot made with American surplus foods like hot dogs, baked beans, and instant noodles along with kimchi and American cheese.
It loosely inspired this recipe from our ‘Cook What You’ve Got’ book, which draws on pantry staples to put together an easy weeknight meal. Sauerkraut and its tasty brine come together in a spicy, crunchy, umami-rich sandwich that’s far more interesting than what you had as a kid.
In addition to putting the kimchi between the bread, we mix its glaze with mayonnaise to coat the outside. Using mayonnaise instead of butter allows you to cook the sandwich on a (slightly) higher heat. This heat helps to melt the cheese inside, but also increases the flavor browning of the bread with less risk of burning.
Sliced deli ham or cooked bacon will turn the sandwich into a fuller meal, but the sandwich is just as tasty without them.
From start to finish: 30 minutes
1 tablespoon kimchi juice, plus 1⅓ cup kimchi cabbage, drained and chopped
8 slices of hearty white sandwich bread
8 slices of cheddar OR pepper OR whole milk mozzarella cheese
4 slices thinly sliced deli ham OR 4 slices cooked bacon
In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise and kimchi brine. Spread evenly on one side of each slice of bread. Turn 4 slices mayo-side down, then top each with 1 slice of cheese, 1 slice of ham (or 1 slice of bacon, torn to fit) and a quarter of the kimchi. Place a slice of the remaining cheese on each, then another slice of bread, mayonnaise side up. Press down on the sandwiches to compact the fillings.
Heat a 12-inch nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium-high until the water droplets that drip onto the surface quickly sizzle and evaporate. Add 2 sandwiches and cook until golden brown on bottom, 2 to 3 minutes. With a wide spatula, flip the sandwiches and cook, pressing lightly and adjusting the heat as needed, until both sides are golden brown and the cheese has melted, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board. Cook the remaining sandwiches in the same way (the second batch may cook faster). Cut each sandwich in half diagonally.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more recipes, visit Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at 177milkstreet.com/ap