It should be no surprise that I love a good mac and cheese recipe, but sometimes basic mac and cheese recipes can be a bit one-dimensional. This Kimchi Mac and Cheese is anything but one-dimensional.
This version, from my food blogger friend Lauren’s cookbook, MODERN COMFORT COOKING, is packed with bacon, cheddar cheese, kimchi, and crispy panko breadcrumbs. It’s a special mac and cheese recipe and one that I now crave on the regular.
Dive in and make it happen!
Why does Kimchi work in Mac and Cheese
Mac and cheese is obviously a very rich dish. If you are doing it right you are making your own cheese sauce, starting with a bechamel sauce and then folding in whatever cheeses you are using, cheddar in this case.
If you aren’t careful though, mac and cheese can end up being creamy on creamy and not have any character to it.
Adding some crunchy notes to the mac and cheese (bacon, breadcrumbs) and some umami and spicy notes (kimchi), it actually makes the creaminess of a good mac and cheese seem somehow creamier than if it were just on its own.
It’s kind of magical, but trust me when I say that kimchi definitely WORKS in mac and cheese.
What kimchi to use for this mac and cheese?
I’m not picky on kimchi, especially for a recipe like this that has plenty of other stuff going on. These days you can find kimchi made of all kinds of vegetables but I would stick with the traditional kimchi which is made from napa cabbage.
Kimchi is one of my favorite things in the world. I eat it straight out of the jar. Grab a pretty spicy one for this mac and cheese. The slightly sour, spiciness really balances well with the creamy cheese.
If you haven’t purchased kimchi before, don’t be scared! It’s very available in most grocers these days and if you are lucky enough to have an Asian market in your area, then you can probably find some big barrels of kimchi to choose from!
Making the Mac and Cheese Base
The basics of this recipe will be familiar to you if you’ve ever made homemade mac and cheese. Make a roux with a few tablespoons of butter and flour and then whisk in whole milk. Then add the cheese, crumbled bacon, and diced kimchi. The recipe called for 2/3 cup of kimchi but I upped it to a cup of kimchi because I can’t help myself.
Start by making a roux with unsalted butter and flour over medium-low heat in a pot or saucepan. Then whisk in your warm milk into the roux to form your base sauce.
Once that sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon, you can stir in the cheddar cheese (sharp cheddar cheese is good), chopped kimchi, and crispy bacon (which Lauren recommends to bake separately).
Season the sauce well to taste with salt and pepper. Remember that both the bacon and the kimchi are pretty salty so it might not need much salt.
Drain your al dente pasta and stir in your cooked elbow macaroni pasta and then transfer the macaroni mixture to a baking dish.
Finishing the Kimchi Mac and Cheese
Lauren’s recipe says to bake it so that’s what I did, but personally I thought the mac and cheese was very delicious just out of the pot and would save you a baking step. You can eat it RIGHT NOW though if you want.
For a topper on this baked mac and cheese, toss together some melted butter, panko bread crumbs, and cayenne pepper. Easy!
To bake it though, transfer it to a baking dish and top it with the panko topping. It will only need about 15 minutes in a 400 degree oven.
If you wanted to add a little garnish to the finished macaroni and cheese, you could sprinkle on some fresh green onion or minced cilantro.
What to serve with this dish?
This is a pretty rich dish, obviously, and I would recommend keeping the serving options light. It definitely doesn’t need any extra carbs or fat so I would stick to serving it with a lean protein like this five spice roast chicken or these broiled pork chops.
What to do with leftovers
It’s very possible that this mac and cheese is better on day two or three, which is evidence that making it in advance is a fine idea.
If you are reheating the entire baking dish, just pop it back in a 350˚F oven until it’s warmed through. If it seems dry on the inside, you can add a splash of milk to it before reheating it.
This mac and cheese actually also reheats okay in the microwave even if it isn’t my preferred method of reheating mac and cheese. You can place a smaller portion of the mac and cheese in a microwave-safe dish and microwave it on high until it’s warmed through and you’ll be in good shape.
This kimchi mac and cheese has absolutely everything I want in a mac and cheese. Crispy toppings (plus crispy bacon), spicy kimchi, and super creamy sauce. It says it serves six, but at my house, it served like three.
More on Modern Comfort Cooking
The cookbook that this recipe is from, MODERN COMFORT COOKING, is everything you think it would be from that title. It has the kind of recipes that make you want to close your doors and do nothing but cook.
I love the flavor combos she introduces in the book: Thai Chicken & Rice Casserole, Korean Pulled Pork Lasagna, Bahn Mi Breakfast Tacos… these are recipes I need.
Definitely pick up a copy if you haven’t already!
Kimchi Mac and Cheese
- 5 slices bacon, baked
- ½ pound elbow macaroni
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 ¼ cups whole milk
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
- ⅔ cup chopped kimchi
- ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. On a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper, bake bacon until crispy, 12-15 minutes. Remove bacon and let it drain a few paper towels. Roughly chop.
- Cook pasta according to package. Drain and set aside.
- In a large pot, melt 4 tablespoons of the unsalted butter and whisk in flour over medium-high heat. Cook for a few minutes until the mixture turns a light tan color, then gradually add milk and whisk until sauce thickens, maybe five minutes.
- Add cheddar cheese and whisk until smooth. Then add salt, pepper, bacon, kimchi, and cooked macaroni. Stir together well.
- Melt remaining butter and stir together with breadcrumbs and cayenne pepper.
- Transfer macaroni mixture to a 13×9-inch baking dish and top with buttered panko. Bake mixture until golden brown, 10-15 minutes. Serve while hot.