David Chang is a genius. I know, I know, I’m not the first person to say that about this chef. I’m probably not the thousandth person either. It’s pathetic to admit how long I waited to try one of his restaurants–blame it on fear of potential 2 hour waits and an overall inability to get a reservation. Chang is the brilliant chef behind the Momofuku empire, including Ssam Bar, Noodle Bar, Ko, Ma Peche, and 4 Milk Bar locations in NY. Excuses aside, I finally managed to walk in the doors of Momofuku Ssam Bar on a Friday night with friends Marcy and Sarah (I know, FRIDAY night no less!) with a 30-45 minute wait. Best part was that I was able to give the hostess my cell number so she could text me when our table was ready. One glass of vino later at nearby Bar Veloce, we were in. Of course, 6 amazing dishes later, I was beyond embarrassed to admit to the fool I’d been waiting to try it for so long. During this visit we shared these plates:
corvina – plum, mitsuba, green peppercorn
steamed buns – pork belly, hoisin, cucumbers, scallions (+1 to go for hubby Nick)
market greens – xo sauce
honeycrisp apple kimchi – maple labne, jowl bacon, arugula
catfish – kabocha squash curry, green mango, peanut
spicy pork sausage & rice cakes – chinese broccoli, sichuan peppercorn
Every single bite was phenomenal, unique, and so tasty. Awesome spice level was consistently balanced with freshness. Many of these dishes, though mostly available in recipe form in Chang’s excellent Momofuku cookbook, seemed unrecreatable. I mean, of course I could DO them, but would it be the same? I decided to go after the apple kimchi dish at home. The ingredient list was readily available in a 10 block radius of my apartment, so on football Sunday, just 2 days after dining at Ssam bar, I went for it. Some corners I cut: I bought fresh kimchi already prepared at a Korean market and pureed that, and I used thick-cut bacon instead of the jowl bacon. All in all, delish. Great balance of crispness, spice, sweetness, creaminess, saltiness, crunch, and soft. It was also super fast to prepare–maybe 20 minutes all in.
Apple Kimchi Salad with Maple Labne and Bacon
slightly adapted from David Chang’s Momofuku
4 Fuji (or Gala or Honeycrisp–as long as they’re very crisp) apples, peeled
1/2 cup Napa Cabbage Kimchi, pureed
1/2 cup labne (or whole-milk thick Greek yogurt)
2 to 4 tbsp. maple syrup (add depending on how sweet you like things)
8 slices thick-cut smoky bacon
1 loosely packed cup arugula
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Cut the apples into wedges or very large cubes: The size of the apples will dictate what works best—what you want are pieces that are one big bite or two small bites. If they’re too thin or small, they’ll be limp and won’t assert their appleness; if they’re too big, they won’t take on enough kimchi flavor and the salad will be hard to eat. Toss the apples in the kimchi puree. You can do this just before making the salad or up to 6 hours in advance—any longer, though, and the apples will be sublimated by the kimchi.
2. Combine the labne and maple syrup in a small bowl and whisk together until they’re married in a smooth and homogeneous mixture. It should be assertively sweet from the syrup and perceptibly tart from the labne. Adjust if necessary, but don’t play down the sweetness too much. You can do this days in advance and keep the labne-syrup mixture in the fridge—it’s good with granola or spread thickly on a piece of toast.
3. Heat the oven to 350F.
4. Arrange the bacon on a rimmed baking sheet and pop it into the oven. Bake for 18 minutes, or until it is browned and crisped. Transfer the meat to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. It needn’t be any more than lukewarm when you serve the salad, but it shouldn’t be cold or greasy. (If you’re preparing all the elements in advance, slightly undercook the bacon up to a couple hours ahead of time and then reheat and recrisp it in a 200 to 300F oven.)
5. To serve, plop a dollop — 1 to 2 tablespoons — of the sweetened labne in the middle of each plate and top with one-quarter of the kimchi apples. Stack 2 pieces of bacon over the apples and drop a handful of the arugula over the bacon. Hit each plate with a couple turns of black pepper, and serve at once.