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Tara O'Brady/The Globe and Mail

Canadians’ love of Kraft Dinner is internationally known, but as social-distancing continues to affect the way we eat, the affection has undeniably reached a new level. By mid-March, multiple outlets reported sales of KD had already doubled those of two months prior. The Kraft Heinz Company’s Montreal plant ramped up production to a staggering 400 boxes per minute to meet demand.

Boxed mac and cheese holds nostalgic appeal for many; what’s more, it is inexpensive, shelf-stable and easy to prepare – a boon for those not accustomed to cooking daily, or those simply tired of it.

With the idea of gussying up this classic, I cribbed the notes of Mandy Lee’s spicy tuna melt onigiri. As an aside, her book, The Art of Escapism Cooking, might as well be the kitchen manifesto for this spring. She tints the tuna with Korean gochujang, a fermented chili paste, folds in American cheese, then tucks it all into sticky rice. It is cheesy-spicy-funky delicious, and the formula made similar sense for pasta. I built upon her framework with extra flare from kimchi udon, a dish of sautéed kimchi, noodles, gochujang and egg.

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The resulting macaroni is comfortingly rich; it’s a bit like Tuna Helper with a kick. The kimchi grants an unexpected depth and vegetable crunch that is especially welcome when the crisper drawer is empty. Classic kimchi udon is served with a raw egg yolk, like in bibimbap, to be stirred into the hot pasta to thicken the sauce. These days, as eggs might have been in the fridge for a while, I advise frying or boiling to whatever doneness feels comfortable for you. Also, use the whole egg, instead of the traditional yolk alone, to reduce waste.

There is also space for variation to suit your kitchen inventory. Replace the kimchi with sauerkraut and hot sauce. Instead of tuna, add sliced ham in its place, directly added to the sauce before the pasta. Or, use bacon. Chop two slices and fry before the kimchi. Remove the bacon from the pan, then continue with the recipe as written, reducing the butter to 1 tablespoon. Reintroduce the cooked bacon at the finish.

Spicy Tuna Melt Macaroni

Serves 2

  • 1 box classic Kraft Dinner or similar (the type with the dried cheese packet)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2/3 cup chopped kimchi plus extra for serving
  • 1 tablespoon gochujang, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup milk, any fat will do
  • 150 grams tuna in oil, filets or solid
  • 2 eggs, boiled or fried to your liking
  • 2 scallions, white and light green parts only, cut thinly on the bias
  • Toasted sesame seeds, nori flakes or shichimi togarashi, for sprinkling

Start by boiling the noodles according to the package instructions.

While the noodles cook, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Tip in the kimchi and cook, stirring regularly until it is caramelized at its edges, 5 minutes. Stir in the gochujang and the cheese packet from the macaroni. Pour milk and bring to a simmer, stirring.

Drain tuna, saving the oil for another use. Place filets in a colander. Tip the hot, cooked noodles over the tuna to drain (this will heat the fish), then immediately tumble all into the skillet with the cheesy kimchi, and fold to combine.

Serve immediately, topping each serving with an egg, scallions, sesame seeds and extra kimchi.

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