When we were in elementary school, one of my younger sister’s teachers left on medical leave. In that teacher’s place was an older man – this was in a school staffed mostly by young women and nuns, btw – who was a Korean War veteran.
Now, one of our grandfathers was also a Korean War veteran, but the difference between the two was that our grandfather never talked about the war. This substitute teacher did. A lot. Every night, my sister would tell stories at dinner about the atrocities this teacher had shared and the way he’d threaten the class. If they didn’t shut up, he said, he’d bury them up to their necks in dirt and kimchi.
“YOU KNOW WHAT KIMCHI IS, KIDS?” he’d scream. “IT’S ROTTEN CABBAGE THAT THEY STICK IN THE GROUND FOR YEARS AND THEN THEY DIG IT UP AND EAT IT.”
So for years, everyone in my family was understandably horrified by the idea of kimchi.
But eventually, like many other things I once referred to as “grody,” I came around to kimchi. Perhaps it was the development of my adult palate and its appreciation for things sour, spicy, and funky that did the trick. Perhaps it was moving to a city with a larger Korean population. Perhaps it was the proximity of Kimchi House, a restaurant in my neighborhood that advertises kimchi-and-pork belly fried rice, and the way I gaze hungrily at the menu board while passing it on my walk home every day.
Whatever it was, I transformed from an adamant kimchi-hater to a kimchi fan, and I like Kimchi House the best. If you live in Seattle (especially in Ballard), I highly recommend stopping in for a meal and a takeaway container of their tinglingly-spicy, just-about-crunchy, not-too-farty kimchi.
And if you can’t figure out how to use it at home, may I recommend these kimchi cheese fries?
Yep. I made kimchi cheese fries. It may sound weird at first (or maybe you’re like me and it sounded fucking amazing from the get-go), but when you really consider its parts – creamy, crispy roasted potatoes, beefy marinated flank steak, zingy chopped scallions, melty mild cheese – what better accompaniment to cheese fries than a piquant and lip-smacking kimchi?
It’s the perfect blend of my family’s culinary history (lots of potatoes), my Midwestern roots (cheese, please) and one of my most recent culinary appreciations (kimchi). It’s salty, spicy, earthy, and satisfying, and as with many of my favorite meals, it goes great with a beer.
Kimchi Cheese Fries
1 lb. (or more) thin-sliced or flank steak, cut against the grain into strips
2 tbs. low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
½ tsp sugar
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
1 tbs. ketchup
2 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into finger-sized “fries”
2 tbs. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch scallions, chopped
6-8 oz. kimchi, roughly chopped
2-3 cups mild melty cheese (I used a Kroger-branded shredded mozzarella and a Mexican blend)
Preheat oven to 405 degrees.
Combine the steak strips with soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt, and ketchup in a bowl and allow to marinate.
In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the potatoes until they are just fork tender. Gently drain and let rest for about 5 minutes, until much of the steam has escaped.
Arrange potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet (two baking sheets of necessary), and dress with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place in oven and allow to bake for 30-40 minutes, until the bottoms are crispy and the tops are dry. Feel free to toss them once if you’d like two sides to be crispy.
While potatoes are baking, sauté the steak strips in a skillet over medium high heat until just barely cooked through. They should be sliced thin enough that this should only take a couple of minutes at most. Remove from heat and set aside.
Remove crispy potato fries from oven, and top with minced garlic, steak strips, scallions, kimchi, and cheese (I like doing mine in two layers because casseroles are in my blood, yo). Return to oven and cook until cheese is melty but not browning, about 5 minutes.
Remove baking sheet from oven and allow to set for about 2 minutes. You’ll have to eat it with a fork but who cares, you’ll have a beer, too.