I know, cheese and kimchi sound a world apart, but if an app existed to match up ingredients, kimchi would surely swipe right on comté. Despite their geographic separation, both are products of lacto-fermentation and share an intense umami with a mature flavor profile thanks to their age. But just because they share a lot in common doesn’t mean they’re a boring old pairing either. With plenty of complimentary characteristics that interplay as if pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the two together have a synergistic relationship.
Kimchi is firm with a toothsome fibrous texture that’s somewhere between crispy and crunchy. Weeks of fermentation given it a tart taste and earthy flavor that’s funky in a good way. While it plays nicely with many ingredients, it tends to dominate most pairings thanks to its pungent aroma of garlic and chili peppers.
Comté, unlike some of its overbearing relatives, tends to get along with almost any ingredient, melting into a velvety pool of stretchy creamy cheese. But don’t let its seductive texture fool you, behind its mild-mannered facade is an earthy full bodied cheese that only gets better with age. While delicious on its own, it also has a way of enhancing other ingredients so they’re better together than separately.
So how do you bring these two together? Easy … just stick them between two sheets of bread and apply heat. By turning this combo into a grilled cheese, the comté melts between the layers of kimchi, literally bonding the sandwich together and allowing their flavors to meld. Tart, crunchy fermented kimchi with rich, nutty, melted comté between two slices of crisp toasty bread is a match that can only be described as sublime.
When making this sandwich, be sure to squeeze the extra juices out of the kimchi before measuring it. This does two things. The first is that the extra moisture tends to render the bread soggy as it heats up and the liquid is released. The second is between the cheese and the kimchi, the sandwich can get a bit salty if you don’t get rid of some of the juices in the kimchi. By squeezing out as much liquid as you can at first, it allows you to add a ton of kimchi to the sandwich without rendering it soggy or salty. The best part is that the juices come in handy for making kimchi fried rice and kimchi jjigae, so don’t throw it out.
Kimchi Grilled Cheese
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 slices sandwich bread
- 1.8 ounces (50 grams) comté cheese, sliced with a vegetable peeler
- 2.1 ounces (60 grams) kimchi, squeezed well
- 1 scallion, thinly sliced
- Use a pastry brush to evenly brush the olive oil onto one side of both slices of bread, making sure to get the edges around the crust as well.
- Flip one slice of bread over (to expose the un-oiled side) and then spread half the cheese on the bread.
- Top with the squeezed kimchi and scallion, and then cover with the remaining cheese.
- Place the other piece of bread on top to make a sandwich, with the oiled side facing outwards.
- Put the sandwich in a heavy bottomed frying pan and then stick another very heavy frying pan (like a cast iron skillet) on top to press the sandwich down.
- Turn on the stove to medium, and let the sandwich fry until the bottom is golden brown and crisp.
- Remove the weight, flip the sandwich over and then put the weight back on. Fry until the second side is golden brown.
- Slice in half and serve immediately.
Yield: 1 sandwich
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.