Korean kimchi pancake with chicken

Savory, crunchy and often spicy, pickled kimchi is the Korean national dish. It’s also the delicious heart of this weeknight-quick pancake.

Blue Kitchen
With some basic ingredients, this simple Korean dish comes together in about half an hour.

Kimchi is a living thing –beautiful, colorful, naturally fermented cabbage, rich with garlic, red pepper, fiber, and vitamins. When I opened the jar of kimchi to make this pancake, it began bubbling around the edges of the liquid in a very satisfying way.

We first thought of making this pancake a few weeks ago, when we were passing through Rochester, N.Y., and had dinner at Young’s Korean Restaurant. And if you ever happen to be in that part of the world, get your GPS to take you there (and you’ll need it).

Young’s is cozy and welcoming, but it is located kind of beyond a dreadful strip mall, in the confusing middle of an office park, in what looks like a warehouse on: Mushroom Boulevard. It is just wonderful. Everything we had that night was delicious, the banchan were crunchy and fresh and the humblest dish of all was this simple pancake. It was so unassuming, and yet so flavorful, that I just had to give it a try.

As with every traditional recipe, there are hundreds of variations on it around the Internet, but they all share one thing in common: speed and simplicity. This is a terrific weeknight dinner or weekend quick lunch. It is fast, simple, inexpensive, healthy and amazingly savory. It comes together in a few minutes and then cooks in under 15 minutes. If you have all the ingredients in the house, and these are pretty basic ingredients, you’ll be eating dinner in less than half an hour.

Traditionally, this pancake is made not with wheat flour but with dried mung beans, soaked and then puréed. When I started looking for recipes, though, I found that almost everyone, Korean or not, uses wheat flour, so I happily went with that.

Kimchi is now widely available in metropolitan areas around the United States. We got ours at the Korean market in our neighborhood, but even Whole Foods carries it in many stores (it will be in the refrigerator section). If possible, I recommend getting it at a Korean store, where it will be as fresh as possible. Because it’s a living thing, kimchi doesn’t have a durable shelf life. It won’t be hanging around like your jars of mustard do. A month in your fridge is too long. It should be fresh and consumed within a couple of weeks of purchase. (See Kitchen Notes for additional uses.) For this recipe, I bought the smallest jar, which was a quart. I could have bought a gallon jar, and if I had gone to H Mart, I could have had an even more dazzling selection of brands.

This recipe makes a 12-inch pancake that is suitable for a light dinner for two or as a snack or side for three or four. If you are a vegan, omit the egg and the chicken – just use a bit more water in the batter and all kimchi. You can also add anything else you might like – cooked sweet potato is awesome in here. Just try not to overdo it on the additions, so that it remains a pancake and not a clump of mysterious objects lightly cloaked with glue.

I used chives for this because the chives have come up in the yard and we were out of scallions. Scallions are far more authentic and are available year round. For the spicy dipping sauce, I was too lazy to chop garlic (and that is lazy), so I went with a traditional Chinese spicy dipping sauce instead.

Finally, this dish is pretty addictive. I made this on Saturday night and then again in a slightly different version on Sunday night. On Monday, at the office, I wondered what we were having for dinner. I thought, I hope it’s kimchi pancake.

Korean kimchi pancake with chicken
Serves 2 as a light meal, 4 as a side

For the pancake:

1-1/2 to 2 cups kimchi or 1 cup of kimchi and 1/2 cup chopped cooked chicken

1 egg, beaten

1 cup flour 1 cup water (maybe more)

3 tablespoons kimchi liquid

3 tablespoons chives cut into 2 inch pieces (or use green part of scallions)

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons oil

For lazy Marion’s dipping sauce: 

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/4 rice wine vinegar or white vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon hot oil (or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes)

Make the pancake. Chop the kimchi and chicken into small pieces – this is so the ultimate result is a flat pancake and not a great miscellaneous jumble. Put the flour, beaten egg, water, and kimchi liquid into a mixing bowl and stir together. The batter should be runnier than American pancake batter – if it doesn’t seem runny enough, add even more water. Err a bit on the side of runniness rather than thickness. Once you have mixed the batter together, add in the chopped kimchi and chicken and stir everything together.

In a 12-inch nonstick pan, heat the oil over medium flame – let the pan warm up completely before you start cooking. Add the chives and sauté them for a minute. Then pour in everything else and spread it around evenly. Then leave it alone as it cooks for 4 or 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, make lazy Marion’s dipping sauce. Mix all the ingredients in a medium bowl and portion into individual small bowls for each person.

Once the pancake is nicely golden on the bottom (lift up the edge to check with your spatula), then flip the pancake and cook the other side. You can flip it using the plate trick (slide onto a plate, then hold the skillet upside down over the plate and flip it) or just flip the whole thing, exercising caution. Cook about 3 more minutes, then slide onto a serving plate or charger.

Traditionally, this pancake is sliced into long strips just before serving – we used a pizza wheel. It is great fresh from the stove. It is also great at room temperature, making it a good summertime dish, something you can cook in advance and then serve in the hot part of the day.

Kitchen Notes

Commercial Korean pancake batter mixes are available in Korean markets, but we chose not to buy any. I would have bought one of the mixes if it had been based on mung beans, but all the mixes at our local market were wheat flour plus salt plus additives we didn’t want, such as sugar and preservatives. It doesn’t really save any time to use these mixes, but it does cost more.

Omitting the egg. Many versions of this recipe do not use egg at all – if you are cooking for vegans or the egg-averse, it is OK to leave it out entirely.

Other delicious add-ins. Cooked sweet potato; cooked, diced barbecue pork; well sautéed firm tofu cubes; other forms of kimchi, such as radish; diced shallot or onion; thin-sliced zucchini – for the last two, I would sauté them first until they are translucent. When you are adding in, just remember to keep the proportions of batter to additive sane.

What do you do with the rest of the kimchi? If you don’t make this recipe repeatedly until you’ve used it all, that is. After the kimchi has been in your fridge a week or two, marinate some sliced pork (or some firm tofu) in a little soy sauce for a few minutes, then sauté the kimchi, then mix them together. Simple, delicious. You can also use kimchi to top a pizza or in a grilled cheese sandwich.

Even lazier dipping sauce for the pancake? That would be soy sauce.

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