Kimbap – seaweed and rice rolled around vegetables and some type of protein – is child-friendly food that adults enjoy too. Because the rolls are sturdy and eaten out of hand, they are great for picnics or packed lunches.
I occasionally bring kimbap for lunch at the office, but because I don’t want to wake up too early to make the rolls, I use a technique that takes far less time. I make the rolls in advance, then refrigerate or freeze them. In the morning before work (or whenever I want to eat the kimbap), it takes only about 10 minutes to dip the rolls in beaten egg and panko, then fry them, which warms the interior and adds a crunchy texture. Cut the fried kimbap into bite-size pieces and pack them in a lunchbox with side dishes and fresh fruit.
Luncheon meat might not seem very “foodie” but many of us grew up eating it, and still crave it occasionally (my favourite sandwich, from Yue Hing, in Central, has the unlikely combination of luncheon meat with peanut butter, scrambled egg and cabbage). I prefer the Korean and Japanese brands of luncheon meat. For kimbap, be sure to buy luncheon meat that is in a rectangular can, rather than a round one.
A bamboo sushi mat makes rolling the kimbap much easier. I like kimbap to be quite small – about 3cm in diameter. If you want larger kimbap, almost double the amount of rice for each one, spread it over a larger area of the seaweed and add proportionately more filling. In addition to danmuji/takuan (Korean or Japanese pickled radish), carrot and cucumber – which seem to feature in all kimbap – you can also add spinach (blanch the leaves and squeeze out the moisture, then mix with a little sesame oil and salt), chopped kimchi (squeezed dry) and thin egg omelette; if you dislike luncheon meat, substitute cooked beef, pork (such as ham or char siu), surimi (fake crab legs), firm tofu (pan-fried) and even cheese.
500 grams Korean or Japanese short-grain rice
1 can (340 grams) luncheon meat
1 whole danmuji or takuan
1 medium-sized carrot
1-2 Korean or Japanese cucumbers
Cooking oil, as needed
2 packs (10 sheets each, about 20cm x 22cm) toasted seaweed sheets
Perilla oil (optional)
2 eggs (or more, if needed)
Wash and rinse the rice in several changes of water, then drain off as much liquid as possible. Add water so the rice to water ratio is 1:1.2. (Add a little extra water if the rice is old.) Soak for about 30 minutes, then steam in the rice cooker. When the rice is cooked, stir it with a rice paddle and let it cool to room temperature.
Cut the luncheon meat lengthwise into 32 evenly sized sticks. Heat a skillet and rub it lightly with cooking oil. Pan fry the sticks of luncheon meat on all sides to brown them, then place them on a small tray. Cut some of the danmuji/takuan lengthwise into thin batons (you won’t need the whole piece of radish). Cut the carrot and cucumber into long, thin shreds. Lay all the vegetables in separate piles on a dish.
Lay one seaweed sheet on the work surface, preferably on a sushi mat, with one wide side nearest you. If using perilla oil, brush it very lightly over the surface of the seaweed sheet, leaving 1cm unbrushed at the far edge. Dampen your hands and take about 60 to 70 grams of the cooked rice (for small rolls) and spread it in a thin layer along the near width of the seaweed sheet and about 7cm deep. Place two pieces of luncheon meat end to end across the rice, then add one or two pieces of danmuji/takuan and some of the shredded carrot and cucumber. Tightly roll the seaweed and rice around the filling, continuing to roll until you get to the unbrushed part of the seaweed sheet. Lightly coat the unbrushed part with water, then immediately finish rolling. (If you brush it with water in advance, the seaweed sheet will curl up.)
Lay the kimbap on a tray and continue with the remaining seaweed sheets, rice, luncheon meat and vegetables. You will have 16 rolls. (Tightly wrap the excess seaweed sheets in cling film; if they get soggy, toast them by fanning them gently over an open flame of a gas burner.)
If not eating the kimbap immediately, lay the rolls flat in an airtight container and refrigerate or freeze.
When needed, take the kimbap from the fridge or freezer (smaller rolls can be cooked from frozen; larger ones should be thawed in the fridge overnight). Pour oil to the depth of about 5mm in a skillet and heat over a medium flame to about 170 degrees Celsius. Whisk the eggs and put them in a tray long enough to fit the kimbap. Pour some panko into another tray. Roll the kimbap in the beaten egg, then dredge in the panko, pressing so the breadcrumbs adhere. Carefully place in the hot oil and cook, turning as needed, until the panko is evenly browned, frying for about five minutes in total. Drain on paper towels.
Use a sharp knife with a thin blade to cut the kimbap into 2cm to 3cm pieces and place them in a lunchbox (or on a serving dish). Do not refrigerate (if you do, the rice will get hard), and eat within several hours.