Monday, March 25, 2013

Too Much of a Good Thing

As today is my first post I figured it best to start with something super-simple and work my way up in obscurity. Kimchi.

Kimchi is one of those ubiquitous foods that everyone's heard of, almost everybody has tried, the majority of people like, but for some crazy reason most people don't keep in their fridge. Korean foods, kimchi being a prime example, are often bold, pack one hell of a punch and as a result impart some of my favorite flavors to work with. Despite their 'aggressiveness' (or because of it) they also often work well in fusions with other, sometimes dissimilar cuisines. I recently picked up a large (see: the size of a small dog) jug of kimchi at my local Costco. Despite my ability to chow through an unseemly amount of fermented cabbage in one sitting, an impending dinner party left very little room in my refrigerator for holding the remainder. My only choice: make it smaller.

Idea 1: Bag it

My first thought was simply to cryovac the remainder. Although this wouldn't have significantly compressed the contents, the convenience of sealing it in a completely leak-proof, flat package that could be folded and stuffed into the nether regions of my refrigerator seemed like a plausible solution until I remembered rule 1 of Kimchi Club.....Never Seal the Cabbage. Kimchi is not only a fermented product but a fermentING product. Sure, sealing it in a chamber vac would have produced a tidy and stashable bag for my fridge but within a day my ice chest would have been taken over by a large cabbage balloon followed by a garlic and spice explosion that would have covered a majority of my expensive dinner party ingredients with a burning fermented sauce. Umm, no.

Idea 2: Extract the flavor.

I've had great success in the past separating the flavors of pure ingredients with my Rotovap and I knew that kimchi would be no exception. A rotovap (short for rotary evaporator) is simply a piece of lab equipment that evaporates and separates flavors. By boiling the source ingredient under extreme vacuum, a rotovap quickly evaporates while bringing very little, or often times NO heat to the party. Boiling kimchi at room temperature would preserve its fresh and original flavor AND I would reduce its volume from the Costco sized cubic yard to a much more manageable, and intensely flavored few ounces. Like most compounds that come out of the business end of a rotovap, a kimchi extract would have been an amazing flavoring to add to vodka (Korean Bloody Mary?). The resulting liquid would be just as useful in preparations such as a component in a Miso based salad dressing, the base of a short-rib glaze or even a flavor that's then vacuum compressed into an airy vegetable like celery (for use of course in yet another Bloody Mary) Despite the assured usefulness, and deliciousness of the resulting tincture, I had a dinner party to prep. The thought of cooling down the water bath, replacing the oil in my vane pump, monitoring the evaporation to prevent bumping not to mention cleaning the entire unit of fermented cabbage bits when it was all done seemed like more than I was willing to take on. Next.

Idea 3: Shrink it

Cabbage is about 93% water so surely removing this would greatly reduce the size. No explosions, no monitoring, no heavy cleanup. Sold! I ran the kimchi in my dehydrator on high for about 14 hours. The resulting chip was incredibly crunchy, bright red, super spicy and packed with the most ridiculously intense umami (umamiest?) taste in every crunch. As an added bonus I was now also able to fit the entire batch in a single Tupperware tub on my counter. I could have totally eaten these chips (or as I dubbed them K-Crisps™) before even closing the lid but in some inexplicable way they seemed to be asking me for more.

cherry smoked fingerling potato, crème fraîche, paprika, kimchi crisp

dehydrated kimchi
Dehydrated Kimchi
Dehydrate for 14 hours at 68C (155F) or until crispy

fingerling potatoes
Fingerlings, Bacon Fat, Cherry Wood
Rub potatoes with fat (bacon, duck, etc) and soak wood for smoker

smoked potatoes
Smoke potatoes (about 2 hours or until tender)

grilled potatoes
Smoked Potatoes

smoked potatoes, crème fraîche, coarse salt, smoked paprika and crispy kimch
Plated Dish
Finish with dollop of crème fraîche, coarse salt, smoked paprika and crispy kimchi

I recommend making this dish in advance as the flavor and texture of the smoky potato is even better when served cold.

Footnote: Since making this dish I've discovered that Trader Joes is now selling packs of already dehydrated kimchi for those on a time budget or without access to a dehydrator.  I'm still sourcing pre-smoked fingerlings but until then you're on your own.

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