Brussels Sprouts and Kimchi Are an Unlikely But Delicious Pair

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Charred and full of flavor. [Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt]

I've had a lot of kimchi in my house recently. I mean a lot. See, a few weeks back, as I was tweaking my recipe for fried chicken sandwiches, I got to thinking. I'd been experimenting with using pickle juice as a brine for my fried chicken. It's a quick and easy trick that helps your chicken retain moisture (thanks, salt!) while simultaneously tenderizing it (thanks, acid!) and adding flavor (thanks, lacto-fermented cucumber!*). I thought to myself, If pickle brine makes a great marinade for fried chicken, what about other brines?, which was immediately followed by Holy crap: KIMCHI-BRINED FRIED CHICKEN.

* Remember, kids, always cite your sources!

I immediately went out and bought every variety of kimchi I could find at the market and began experimenting, straining out the juices and using it as a base for my chicken marinade. The resulting sandwich is one of the tastiest damn things I've ever made,** but we're not here to talk about that today. Today, we're here to talk about what I did with the rest of that kimchi post-draining.

** And if you happen to be in L.A. on October 20, 2015, or Boston on October 25, you can taste it at one of my pop-up fried chicken sandwich book events.

You see, there's only so much kimchi I can personally eat. But, oddly, there is no end to the number of perfectly roasted Brussels sprouts I can eat. Brussels sprouts are a near-perfect vegetable for experimenting with new flavors. They're unique in that not only do they have great flavor of their own, but they've also got those layered leaves, which make them ideal for picking up flavors from other foods as well. Like kimchi.

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The key to great Brussels sprouts is to cook them right in the first place. I cook my Brussels sprouts according to my guide to roasting winter and fall vegetables: tossed with oil, then placed on a preheated rimmed baking sheet in a 500°F oven. High heat is essential: Cooking the sprouts to the point where they actually begin to blacken and char on the edges brings out the sweetest, nuttiest flavors, while rapid cooking ensures that they don't turn to mush inside. It takes about 20 minutes for them to go from hard and raw to tender and charred.

At first I tried to keep things simple: I tossed the roasted Brussels sprouts with some chopped kimchi, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and served them at a dinner party. They disappeared in moments, but I still felt they could use a little tweaking.

Eventually, I settled on adding some thinly sliced shallots and julienned ginger to the tray with the sprouts. When sliced thin, shallots and ginger both have a very low ratio of volume to surface area, which means they dry out pretty quickly and then turn dark. I mean really dark. This is a good thing: Taste a stick of near-black ginger as it comes out of the oven, and you'll find that almost all of its sharp, raw edge is gone and all that's left is the gingery aroma and a sweetness that develops as the raw ginger caramelizes. It goes brilliantly with the Brussels sprouts.

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With the kimchi, sprouts, ginger, and shallots, I had plenty of savory, nutty aromas and sharp, spicy flavors going, but the whole thing still seemed a little off balance. Honey lent some sweetness to the mix, while a splash of fish sauce further brought out the savoriness of the roasted sprouts. Rice wine vinegar brightened the dish up. Personally, I like to add a big pinch of red pepper flakes (or dried crushed roasted Thai chili, if you can find it).

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I top the whole thing with a little chopped mint after tossing it together. There's really not much to the recipe at all. Roast some sprouts, toss them with some things. So easy, so quick, but so darn good.

My recipes tend to fall into two categories. There are those that require a ton of research before I even head into the kitchen, and then there are ones like these, where an idea comes to me before I've done any digging at all. Of course, it usually turns out that the great original idea I thought I just had is a common one that's been done millions of times before, including by David Chang in the New York Times.

Great original ideas are hard to come by. Fortunately, revamped and reinterpreted old ideas can still be just as delicious.

Speaking of new ideas, I can think of another vegetable that falls into that tastes-great-on-its-own-but-is-also-a-sauce-and-flavor-sponge category: broccoli. It's like nature's delicious little sauce mop.

Be right back. I'm off to roast some broccoli...