Whenever I went on a school field trip as a wee lass in Long Island, my mom would send me off with the quintessential Korean packed lunch: kimbap (pronounced keem-bahp). Many of you might know this as "Korean sushi," but I was actually kind of surprised when I first heard the term. Although I love and eat both, I would never have thought to describe kimbap that way.
What's Inside Kimbap?
Essentially, kimbap is made from white rice and various other yummies of your choice, which are then all rolled up in some kim (pronounced kheem), or roasted seaweed. You can use nori as well.
In the kimbap-making session at Serious Eats World HQ, I included bulgogi, takuan, spinach, carrots, and odeng, but this is just one possible combination out of the millions that exist. Possible additions include:
- Chinese sausage
- Spicy canned tuna
- Fish surimi (artificial/imitation crab meat)
Kimbap-making is a bit of a process in that you have to get all your ingredients prepped and ready before you're ready to do the whole shebang. Using the photo above, I'll go over the ingredients--starting with the rice, and moving clockwise. To make four rolls (enough for four people, unless you're a monster), have four cups of cooked white short-grain rice at the ready. Ideally, it will be warm (not hot or cold!), because you want it to be easy to spread out on the kim.
Next, the spinach. I used adult spinach, leaving the leaves whole and only trimming the stems by a few inches. Blanch or gently sauté the spinach in a little bit of sesame oil. The spinach should be fully wilted after cooking. Mix in sesame seeds if you like.
Take the julienned carrots and sauté those in sesame oil as well. You could blanch these, too, but I think it's easier to sauté them. The goal is to take out a bit of the carrots' raw crunch, so a couple of minutes on medium heat should do the job.
The odeng is easy peasy. It comes ready to eat and packaged as a halved log. Just slice them an 1/8 inch thick (go thicker if you like) to produce thin half moon pieces, then slice those in half lengthwise. You could also prepare the takuan that way, but the more traditional preparation is what seems to be, in terms of French technique, the allumette cut. Basically, it's a thicker julienne cut, and if you're not in a rush, I suggest taking the time to do it; the kimbap will look better and be easier to roll.
Finally, the bulgogi! I bought some from a local Korean place, right around the corner from the office, but for those that want to make their own, you can try this beef bulgogi recipe.
Lay out a piece of kim in front of you on the bamboo mat. Take approximately 1 cup of rice and spread evenly over the bottom 2/3 of the sheet, leaving a 3/4 inch border of rice-less space. If you have a rice paddle, this is the time to use it. If you don't, no worries—just use your fingers or a plain old spoon. Your kim now has a rice blanket ready to be seasoned. Sparingly brush sesame oil over the rice blanket. (Be careful, because too much sesame oil can be overpowering.) Sprinkle some salt over that and you're ready to fill.
With about an inch of empty rice space at the bottom, place the filling ingredients on top of and next to each other. They want to be close together, but since it is logistically impossible to have a Jenga tower of kimbap filling,"on top of and next to each other" is the next best thing. See, Mr. Odeng is sad he is not closer to the bulgogi!
Now that you have all your fillings set and ready to go, get ready to roll. Your palms may sweat and your stomach may feel queasy, but it's okay—we can do this! Slowly and gently roll over the bamboo mat end that is closest to you, and keep rolling while pulling back that same bamboo mat edge. Once you've started the roll, the roll shape should be maintained. After fully encircling the kimbap filling (visual confirmation is suggested), give a couple of extra squeezes with your hands to firm up the roll. At this point, you can check to see if the edges of the kim are sticking together. If the bond is too loose and your kimbap are about to erupt, use a couple of grains of rice as glue.
Remove the bamboo mat, and get ready to slice up the kimbap. Keep a paper towel soaked with some sesame oil nearby to wipe your knife. You'll need to wipe it every so often to keep the knife from getting too sticky. And that's it! Let the kimbap feast commence!
Kimbap is so versatile. Its packing-friendly shape and easy deliciousness make it ready for picnics in the park, beach excursions, road trips, and any transportation situation. So try your hand at making some and let me know how it goes, especially if you have any tips for the other newbies out there. Have a kimboperiffic day!