Friends....so much to tell, not to mention this incredible fusion of Irish and Korean cuisine. Where to begin? Let's start with my trip to Wisconsin last month to Sargento Cheese Headquarters where I found my inspiration for this amazing dish.
A while back Sargento Cheese began working with celebrity Chef Rick Bayless on a project to identify upcoming flavor and food trends for 2013. Sargento went on to hire food writers and recipe developers, myself included, to explore these trends and how they relate to cheese over the next year.
It's truly an exciting project and my time spent at Sargento was nothing less than amazing, enlightening and not to mention "cheesy" in the best way imaginable.
Here we are, the Sargento Flavor Journey Correspondents for 2013, (left) Bren, Bree, Chef Rick Bayless, Cara, Ann and me.
We are not just smiling because we have spent a wonderful afternoon with Rick Bayless but also indulging in the flavor trends Chef Bayless has identified. This was followed by cheese and wine tasting and dinner. Pure Wisconsin bliss with lots of new friends made. I could gush for hours about the hospitality there and the wonderful way we were received.
Sargento culinary expert and executive chef, Ulrich Koberstein, was tasked with creating a menu to include the identified flavor trends. I tasted foods I had never experienced and other familiar tastes in ways I might have never put together on the same plate.
What you see above are shrimp wrapped in Kataifi, deep fried and placed in a flour tortilla with Sargento cheese and topped with a ginger pesto. There were no words for the flavor explosion that occurred there. It was truly food nirvana!!
And then came the kimchi.
In all honesty I had never tried it, even though it's been on my culinary bucket list for some time. Have you experienced it? Lucky for me Chef Bayless identified fermented food as "in demand" over the next year and it is one of the flavor trends I will personally be exploring.
Pictured above are Kimchi Fries made for us by Chef Koberstein in the Sargento kitchen. Wow, I was in love...love...love with the melding of the sour taste of the kimchi and the affect it had on the fries seasoned with Chinese-Five Spice powder. Topped off with pulled pork and spicy sauce, it was foodie heaven. My brain never even considered these flavors playing together in one dish.
Right then I began imagining how kimchi and other fermented foods would welcome themselves into my cooking.
Ironically, as a winemaker, managing fermentation is part of what I do. It's the perfect food trend for me to explore in this culinary expedition. Fermentation is something I understand completely on the scientific level and am looking forward to creating and playing with its flavors in my kitchen.
What fascinates me most about fermented foods is the evolution in taste and flavor they produce over time. In no way are they static. Starting out as one taste and changing into something more complex and flavorful is an exciting result. It was the process of fermentation and its outcomes that propelled me towards winemaking as a career. Wine never tastes the same from year to year. It evolves. It's alive. It's fascinating.
And I must mention I grew up on fermented food. Heralding from 100% Polish descent, you can almost guarantee sauerkraut was in my baby bottle. My mom's homemade sauerkraut is by far one of the biggest food pleasures in my life. Basically fermented food and I have a long history.
As I mentioned before, my experience with kimchi is isolated, unlike Korean households who eat upwards of 40 pounds of kimchi per person every year. So before I attempt making it on my own I needed a better grasp of what it tasted like. The fermented cabbage is made with salt, vinegar, garlic, chili peppers and other spices. I have read about all kinds of ways to create it and different experiences people have had with it, good and bad. I look forward to trying some of those methods and settling on something for my palate.
However, this is the brand I have seen on my grocery shelf for ages, it's refrigerated in the produce section of the market. While kimchi can be made with lots of different vegetables, napa cabbage is what we see most in the jars of the American grocery stores. Kimchi has lots of regional variation within Korea itself, affecting how it is seasoned with what's available in those areas of the country.
We can also not discount the health benefits of fermented food in our diets, boasting "healthy bacteria" and vitamins in every serving.
However, the really strong aromas and taste of kimchi may be overwhelming for some and can really "get" to some people. Think of the foods or beverages you tried for the first time with a negative experience. Only to find you love them now. Like beer, ha-ha.
Why Colcannon and kimchi?
When I started food blogging over five years ago, I had no idea what Colcannon even was. Never heard of it and I'd been around the "food block" many times. But as I was reading other food blogs I noticed an explosion of Colcannon recipes on the web around St. Patrick's Day. What was it?
It turns out Colcannon was just mashed potatoes, sauteed cabbage and sometimes bacon with the volume turned up on the butter and cream. I was a little shocked I had not been confronted with this dish in my life. Cabbage had worked itself into so many of my food experiences, why not potatoes, an obvious staple of my Eastern European heritage.
Luckily, I have been enjoying Colcannon ever since. And I couldn't imagine a St. Patrick's Day meal without it.
So, when kimchi came into my world last month, my mind immediately went to Colcannon. It seemed natural to combine these two unlikely cultural food experiences. Hoping the result would be something bigger and bolder than the sum of their parts.
However, I wasn't done. Adding cheese to my Colcannon brought another layer of flavor and creaminess. Although cheese in Colcannon is not traditional, I have never been one to play by the rules.
While at Sargento, I learned why their pepper jack cheese had an edge above the rest. They add habanero chili to flavor their pepper jack cheese along with the usual jalapeno. The habanero's spicy heat is easily balanced with the cheese, making it the perfect addition to my Kimchi Colcannon.
And it's worth mentioning the habanero chili is another flavor trend Chef Bayless has identified. Many of our palates have evolved and welcomed the jalapeno and the chipotle into our meals. Now, we are looking ahead for the next level of spiciness and distinct taste. For many, that uniqueness and complexity has been discovered in the habanero chili. It's definitely here to stay.
Cheesy Kimchi Colcannon
- 4-1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 1 jar (11 ounces) kimchi
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3/4 cup butter, cubed
- 4 cups shredded Sargento Pepper Jack Cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
- chopped fresh parsley
- Pour kimchi into a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. (use your exhaust fan) Warm kimchi through, cooking off some of the watery liquid in the pan; About 5 minutes.
- Place potatoes in a large pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Continue cooking until potatoes are soft and can be easily pierced with a fork. Drain and place potatoes back in pot over low heat on the stove for 2 minutes while mashing with a potato masher (this helps remove the residual water from the cooking process). Turn off heat.
- Add butter, cream and cheese into the hot potatoes and continue to mash to your desired consistency. Stir in warmed kimchi and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh parsley. Serve immediately.
This dish is great for anyone trying kimchi for the first time. It lets you ease into the flavors. For some, the taste of kimchi might be surprising and for others it will taste familiar and comforting. I loved it immediately and I can't wait to experience it with other unlikely cuisine.
The kimchi does bring a lot of heat and spice, but it is calmed immediately by the potatoes and cheese in this flavorful dish.
Fun fact: I have read Korean's do not say "cheese" when they take a picture, they say "kimchi". Cute right?
Disclosure: I am currently working with Sargento Cheese over the next year as a Flavor Journey Correspondent. While I have been compensated for my time, as always, all opinions are my own.
One Year Ago: St. Patrick's Day Recipes
Three Years Ago: Hilary's Heavenly Eggs
Four Years Ago: Medley of Roasted Potatoes with Balsamic Glazed Onions
Five Years Ago: Filo Tomato Tart