THE DAY – Roasted seaweed is the powerhouse of this pantry pasta

One of the things I love most about writing each month on the topic of pantry-friendly meals is that it forces me to think outside of my own concept of the kitchen pantry. The ingredients I usually use can differ greatly from those in my neighbor’s kitchen.

Take a look inside the kitchen of New York Times food writer Eric Kim, and you’ll likely find roasted seaweed, also known as Jim. In his first cookbook, “Korean American,” Kim highlights the versatility of gymnema in this creamy bucatini recipe, “a simple and perfect pantry black dress,” he wrote. Although it’s often marketed as a snack, Kim’s mantra is that roasted seaweed is so much more: “It’s a powerful ingredient,” he wrote, calling it “one of the greatest Korean pantry items of all time.”

Over the phone, Kim recounts memories of watching the old ladies at the end of the grocery store checkout line manually toasting paper-size sheets over a metal tray, brushing them with sesame oil and then sprinkling them with salt. He likes to add it to “anything that has a comforting taste,” he says, pointing to porridge, rice dishes, and oatmeal as examples. “You need a blank canvas so you can really appreciate the nuances of umami in seaweed and also the sesame oil shortening.”

While not all stones are cleaned with sesame oil, its allure is one of the defining characteristics of the ingredient for Kim. This flavor, along with the salt, is what distinguishes gim from Japanese nori, which is often unusual. “It’s the flavor of the sesame oil and salt that makes you think of the gym,” Kim says. “So there’s a reason I would fortify any Jim dish with these two extra ingredients, because I think if you’re Korean and grew up with Jim, you kind of associate that flavor, salty and nutty, with roasted seaweed.”

This dish came while Kim was experimenting during the pandemic. Inspired by fettuccine alfredo, his recipe in the book calls for heavy cream and fresh garlic to make a simple sauce to soften delicious bucatini noodles, and adding the jim “has this umami as if you had added shrimp to your alfredo,” he says. I made this pantry-friendly recipe even more by using canned evaporated milk and garlic powder to make the sauce.

Kim urges chefs not to be shy about salt when preparing this dish: “You really need extra salt to capture the flavors of those calming ingredients,” he says. “I call them quiet because they don’t punch you in the face. But if you convince them well, it’s just a very comforting flavor to me.”

Kim credits recipe tester, Rebecca Vercker, who suggested a pinch of gochugaru, a mild Korean red chili flake with a hint of sweet smoky. “It’s good to have a little of that heat,” he says. “It’s a very rich dish.” On my first test of this recipe, I didn’t have any gochugaru on hand and grabbed crushed red pepper flakes, which have a much higher spice profile. Although I enjoyed it, Kim suggests chili as a closer alternative.

Once it’s cooked, you crush the jim with your hands and sprinkle it chaotically over the pasta. Kim says, “I think there’s some beauty in organized chaos.”

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Creamy bucatini with roasted seaweed

15 minutes

3 to 4 servings (about 5 cups)

In food writer Eric Kim’s first cookbook, “Korean American,” he shares a recipe for what his family calls “Pasta Jim,” a “simple and perfect little black dress from a pantry dish featuring chewy bucatini, roasted seaweed, and cream,” he writes. Jim (often romanized Kim) is seaweed roasted, seasoned with salt and sometimes smeared with sesame oil, and Kim describes it as “one of the greatest Korean pantry items of all time.”

Storage notes: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 5 days.

Where to buy: Roasted seaweed and gochugaru can be found in Asian markets, well-stocked supermarkets or online.

Ingredients

good salt

8 ounces dried bucatini

One (12 ounce) can of evaporated milk

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Ground black pepper, for serving

Flaky sea salt for serving

1 package (0.35 ounces) roasted seaweed snacks, preferably sesame-flavored, or more to taste

Gochugaru, Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper flakes, to serve (optional)

directione

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Add the bucatini and cook until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of the starchy pasta water, then drain the bucatini and return to the pot.

Add milk, garlic powder, and about half of the reserved pasta water to the pasta (save the rest of the water to thin out the sauce later if needed). Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sauce has reduced by half and bucatini has shredded, 4 to 5 minutes.

Stir in sesame oil. Taste and season with more salt if necessary (pasta should be generously salted to complement the seaweed’s natural saltiness). If the pasta begins to stick together, stir in more of the reserved pasta water to loosen it.

Divide the pasta between bowls and finish with black pepper and fine sea salt. Crush the roasted seaweed with your hands over the bucatini, sprinkle with kochugaro, bell pepper, or ground red pepper flakes, if using, and serve.

Adapted from “Korean American” by Eric Kim (Clarkson Potter, 2022)

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