Crispy Kimcheesy Rice: The One-Skillet Snack Your Late Night Needs
What do you do with leftover rice? Easy: Make fried rice.
But what if you have a lot of leftover rice? Easy: Make a lot of fried rice!
No, but what if you have so much leftover rice, you get sick of fried rice? What if you’ve eaten fried rice twice a day for five days straight, and you’re still looking at a fridge filled with leftover rice?
This isn’t a question many people have to answer. Before last month, I thought it was impossible to get sick of fried rice, which is one of the most perfect foods in existence. But then I was assigned a rice cooker review, and I had to make a lot of rice! So much rice! And I was wrong: One can become sick of fried rice. Quite quickly, in fact!
Faced with this unimaginably large surplus of cooked rice of different varieties, I figured I could come up with some use for it that didn’t involve a wok. But I also wanted whatever cooked thing I could make out of it to be as simple as fried rice. I wanted it to be something that could, in a pinch, be made with stuff I had lying around in my pantry or my refrigerator, which is, in the final consideration, at least half of fried rice’s charm.
So this is what I came up with: crispy kimcheesy rice. It’s got texture (!), a ton of flavor (!!), a bunch of cheese (!!!), and kimchi (!!!!). And some fussily cut scallions on top, because we are a food website in 2019.
How to Make Crispy Kimcheesy Rice
You can use almost any kind of leftover rice to make this, just like with fried rice. I find it works better with glutinous varieties—the resulting kimcheesy rice takes the form of a kind of crispy-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside slab due to the sticky starch from the rice, sort of like a savory, cheesy, rice-y version of a cast iron cookie—but long-grain varieties, like jasmine and basmati, also work well. What they lack in stick-togetherness, they make up for with a bit of added aromatic flavor.
Once you have the rice on hand, you’ll need chopped kimchi (cabbage kimchi is fine, but a nice mix of different types is better—see our guide to kimchi for inspiration); gochujang; soy sauce; rice vinegar; sliced scallions; and a fair amount of shredded/grated cheese.
I ended up preferring to use shredded low-moisture mozzarella cheese, grated Gruyère, and some kind of hard cheese, like Cotija or Parmigiano-Reggiano, because those cheeses taste good together and provide a bunch of different cheesy textures, and because I generally always have mozz, Gruyère, Cotija, and/or parm in my fridge. But I’ve tried this dish with other cheeses, too, including cheap supermarket cheddar, and it was still pretty good.
Other than the ingredients, all you’ll need is a 10-inch cast iron pan and a tablespoon of softened butter to grease it.
The process is incredibly simple: Crumble up four cups of cooked rice in a large mixing bowl (warming the rice in the microwave can help to break it up), and stir in three tablespoons each of gochujang and soy sauce, along with a tablespoon of the vinegar and the white parts of the sliced scallions.
Once it’s all thoroughly mixed, scrape half of the seasoned rice into the greased pan, and, using the bottom of a drinking glass or measuring cup, smush the rice into an even layer. Distribute half of the grated mozzarella and Gruyère evenly all over, then scrape the remaining seasoned rice into the pan, and, again, smush it into an even layer.
Pop the pan in a preheated 400°F (200°C) oven for 35 minutes. At that point, the bottom layer of rice should be quite crispy and a little charred at the edges, and the top layer should be dry and hot to the touch. Turn off the oven and switch on the broiler element.
While that heats up, blanket the top of the dish with the chopped kimchi. (If you’re using a variety of kimchi, try to make sure the different kinds get distributed evenly—you don’t want one side to be all radish kimchi and the other cabbage kimchi…unless you do, in which case, whatever.)
Distribute the remaining grated mozzarella and Gruyère evenly over the kimchi, and, finally, top everything with the grated hard cheese. (I call for Cotija in the attached recipe, but, again, it can be parm or whatever hard cheese you like.)
Slide the pan under the broiler for about two minutes, or just until all the mozzarella and Gruyère melts and gets gooey and the Cotija starts to char a little bit. Pull the pan out, top the dish with the thinly sliced scallion greens, and serve it immediately.
The main question that remains—for me, for my colleagues, for you, too, I’m sure—is, what is this thing? Is it a side dish? An appetizer? Something you eat standing, liquidly, in your kitchen late at night? Does it serve just one, or is it meant for four people or more?
And my answer is yes, sure, go right ahead, eat it whenever, as whatever, however much you want. Although I can tell you that, after making many, many pans of this cheesy, crispy stuff, and eating many, many pounds of leftover rice, the thing it most resembles in my mind is a kind of crispy caked-rice quesadilla topped with kimchi, and I sort of (tr)eat it accordingly. By which I mean: I douse it with hot sauce and shovel it into my mouth while sitting on my couch.
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