Kimchi Risotto

If you follow this blog you’d know that I’m a tad obsessed with two things: kimchi and risotto! As much as I love both, I must admit I had my reservations about combining these two distinct flavour elements into a single dish. Kimchi and rice; that was a no-brainer, but kimchi and cheese? I just couldn’t get my head around how that would actually taste, frankly it sounded like fusion-cooking gone mad!

For a long while I just dismissed the notion of a kimchi risotto as a misguided attempt to make spicy fermented cabbage palatable to the uninitiated, by giving it a conventional context; but like cream-cheese sushi, it risks becoming a cultural and culinary aberration, an oxymoron that contradicts the very essence of what it purports to be. If you like that sort of thing, great, but it’s simply not for me. Generally speaking, fusion for fusion-sake leaves me cold.

Then one day I found myself in a serious food-rut; we’ve all be there before, we all know what grim times ruts can be. As I stared blankly at the contents of my refrigerator, I desperately hoped for a spark of inspiration. Nothing, we were mere minutes away from ordering pizzas for dinner, again. Then my eyes eventually rested upon that omnipresent fridge staple – kimchi. So strong was my desire not to have pizza, I thought: “Oh, sod it”. I figured making kimchi risotto was a win/win situation; either it would be amazing and I would love it, or it would be deplorable and I’d feel justified in my initial scepticism. I don’t mind admitting that I hoped for the latter, I don’t like being wrong.

As hungry as I was, I tried my best to dislike it, but I couldn’t. It was fantastic! My initial concerns about the combination of kimchi and cheese were unfounded. In reality the richness of the cheese muted the bite of the kimchi; mellowing it just enough to allow for an appreciation of the subtle flavours that normally hide behind the spicy, sharp bravado of kimchi. To my surprise, fusion cuisine had done the unthinkable – it had made kimchi taste better.

Does this fusion revelation mean I’ll be tucking into a portion of cream-cheese & biltong maki any time soon? Don’t count on it, but there are plenty of fusion temptations out there; bacon ice-cream, anyone? Perhaps not.

RECIPE NOTE: The rice quantities for these recipes vary depending on the number of people you are feeding and whether you intend making the risotto as a main meal or an accompaniment. As a general rule of thumb, I use approx. 70-80ml of rice per person for a main meal and 50-60ml as an side dish. Generally, risotto recipes on my blog are based on 2 people eating a full portion.


1 cup Mak Kimchi, roughly chopped
1/2 onion, finely sliced
2 tbsp. olive oil
50g butter
150ml risotto rice
1/2 cup white wine, optional
A large pot of hot chicken stock or water

For the mantecare:
50g butter, cold & cubed (keep refrigerated until needed)
50g parmesan or pecorino, finely grated (keep refrigerated until needed)


First make sure your stock/water is hot and is on a medium simmer.

Set a kitchen timer to 18 minutes but don’t start the clock just yet.

Heat the olive oil and butter into a thick based saucepan (I use a cast iron pot), sauté the onion till soft then add the chopped kimchi. Sauté for another 5 minutes.

Add all the rice to the pot and coat the rice in the kimchi. This is a vital step in the cooking process and should not be skipped. Sauté for a minute or so on a medium heat until the rice begins to look shiny and a little opaque.

Add the wine, if using.

Now start the timer – for the next 18 minutes you will need to remain focused on the risotto.

Add your first ladle of hot stock/water, you want enough stock to just cover the rice.

Using a wooden spoon, stir the rice every minute or so. You must pay particular attention to the bottom of the pan as you don’t want the rice to stick. The rice will start to absorb the stock/water and once you are able to “cut through” the rice to the bottom of the pan with your spoon, it is time to add more liquid. Never let the rice dry out completely.

Continue adding stock/water in this fashion until you are about a minute and a half away from the end of the 18 minutes. Check to see if the risotto needs any more stock/water, if so add it but do so judiciously – you don’t want to end up with a soupy risotto. After this point you don’t want to add any more stock.

When the timer sounds, take the pan off the heat and put to one side (uncovered). Set your timer for an additional 2 minutes and allow the risotto to rest.

Now for the mantecare.

Remove your cold butter cubes and grated cheese from the fridge. Once the risotto has rested for 2 minutes, add your butter cubes – stir until the butter is incorporated completely. Add most of the grated cheese and stir to combine.

Check for seasoning and add accordingly.

Spoon out onto warmed plates and sprinkle on the remaining cheese.

Garnish with some finely chopped chives or spring onions.

Eat with: Goes well with Korean marinated meats, like bulgogi or galbi. Would also be great with a plain grilled steak, perhaps topped with a runny fried/poached egg.


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