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From Madness into Method

I came away from tidying the house to see that desperance asked me how I do my kimchi. So I dug up this old post from another blog, long since deleted and purged:

Like this...

Start with cabbage. Any cabbage will do, but Napa cabbage is best, followed by the Chois, followed by a good, tight green cabbage, the kind you make slaw or sauerkraut out of.



Clean your cabbage. Really well. Clean off all dirt, slug poo, and anything that looks bruised or red. Let it soak to get crisp, if you can. This contradicts the next step, but it keeps the flavor in. Then cut it in strips, smallish pieces. If you use head cabbage, make these quite thin. Napa cabbage/Choi in 1 inch strips. Also, now, add some of the optional ingredients (not much, but necessary for the right flavor): slices of green onion, young garlic plants, bulb onion, shredded carrot, whatever you also need to preserve. It helps if it's fresh, because it's the sugar in the vegetables that gets fermented.

Put it in a large bowl or deep platter (ceramic or glass; no metal, and ESPECIALLY no copper), in single leaf layers, and salt it with sea salt. Fine or coarse, Un-iodized if at all possible, but iodized isn't a disaster. This draws the water out of the cabbage and adds the salt, that will keep the cabbage from growing salt-intolerant nasties. Be liberal with the salt. In this recipe, which was about 16 cups of packed sliced cabbage, I must have used three tablespoons. You wash most if it out afterwards.



Weigh it down with a non-metallic plate or wooden board with a large weight on it. I'm using my 25lb mortar here, but I usually use a pot of water on a clean board in smaller batches. The watch is for scale.



In about eight to twenty-four hours, depending on the weather, the cabbage will be down to about 1/2 volume. You might have to pour the juice out a couple of times in that period. Then, using a colander, sifter, or (my favorite) a salad spinner, dunk the cabbage mixture in cold water to wash off most of the salt. Don't try to get it clean or let it soak back in the water you just got out of it. Try a piece. It should be strongly cabbage and somewhat salty, not sweet. Then get all the water off. This is where I like a salad spinner.



Peel/shell a healthy portion of ginger and garlic. For this recipe, I used four heads of garlic and about four inches of ginger. Don't fret about portions, but err on the side of too much rather than too little. Kimchi is supposed to be powerful strong stuff.



Chop up your ginger and garlic together.



Mash mash it into a semi-fine paste and mix it thoroughly with the cabbage mixture.



You'll need this stuff. I use the "Wang" brand. It's a kind of dry ground pimento pepper that's unique to Korea. It has some serious burn, but it's mostly a fragrance that you're adding. Normally, cheyenne pepper is too strong and not flavorful enough, but you can use it, if a little more moderately. For this recipe, I used about a cup. Cheyenne pepper flakes would be about a quarter that.



You'll also need something fishy. Because we've washed out most of the salt earlier, I use Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce. it's just anchovy essence in seawater, really, but it's an important part of the preserve and the proper flavor. if you use something like saltwater, you'll get a kimchi with no "bottom note"; something closer to sauerkraut. Not nearly as nice.



All mixed up? Put it in a ceramic or glass container, about 4/5 full and pack it down very firmly, so there's no air bubbles inside. Over the next four days it will generate a lot of gas, so expect the strong smell of flatulence in your kitchen, and keep packing it down. Maybe move it somewhere cool like the cellar if it's hot in your kitchen. Four days is about the minimum to get that sourness that will both preserve it and give it the authentic flavor. I like mine really sour, so I leave it at least a week, two of it's cool. Moving it to the refrigerator will drastically slow the process, and you can probably keep it there for two or three months. Maybe a year, but use your own judgement. That is, keep an eye on it. If it takes a change to another smell or flavor, it may have gone bad. Don't take risks.

So that's that. Now you have a condiment for Korean cooking, but I really like it with Pho, or even in an extremely inexpensive soup ($0.30 a bowl?) with just itself, hot water, rice noodles (cooked separately and then put in the broth) and a green onion chopped on top. Hoisin sauce goes well in that.

Kimchi is one of the most foolproof lactic acid preserves. It rarely ever grows any fungus or mold, like traditional German Sauerkraut tends to do (on the surface of the brine, not in it, phew), so it doesn't have the "oh, my God, what am I doing?" factor that occurs to you halfway through the process. The garlic and ginger have strong antibiotic qualities, and the salt ensures that only the lactic bacteria (the good stuff, that's incidentally very good for your gastric tract, especially after modern antibiotic treatment) flourishes. The bacteria looks after itself, generating the acid that kills the really dangerous anaerobic nasties like the four flavors of botulism.

Comments

( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
desperance
Nov. 6th, 2010 07:44 pm (UTC)
I'm really grateful for the thoroughness of this. I love kimchi, and I had been wondering about the viability of making my own. (I still regret a purchase I didn't make: in Seoul, I found a two-volume coffee-table book all about kimchi. One volume about the history, the other full of recipes. Both replete with gorgeous photos. I wanted it then, I would love to have it now; but it was forty quid, and bloody heavy, and I decided against. And have lamented it ever since...)
barry_king
Nov. 7th, 2010 12:08 pm (UTC)
No worries—as I said, it's just a re-post of an old recipe.

I am told that kimchi is never made the same by two people. From what I've had, I have to agree. But once you get the taste for it, there really is no substitute, is there?
birdhousefrog
Nov. 6th, 2010 08:34 pm (UTC)
you posted this some time around Montreal's worldcon. I remember reading it.

Oz
barry_king
Nov. 7th, 2010 12:10 pm (UTC)
Yes! I seem to recall that the first words you said on meeting me was "You're Barry King—the guy who does the kimchi!".

There have been worse honorifics. No, really.
lowly_scribe
Nov. 7th, 2010 04:24 pm (UTC)
Barry, you are truly amazing. I've never known anyone before this who made their own. And I've lived in Hawaii where it's as common as ketchup.

I also didn't think of how healthy it can be, especially in cold season.
barry_king
Nov. 7th, 2010 09:09 pm (UTC)
I should explain that I'm into this madness because I'm trying to learn different traditional techniques people used to make food from the summer last all winter. People at the farmer's market are convinced I'm nuts.

But also because I LOVE kimchi. Maybe because I've burned out my buds for all other kinds of experiences.
lowly_scribe
Nov. 7th, 2010 09:34 pm (UTC)
So Barry, this is sounding like a great blog idea. You could be the next Julie and Julia.

Or was that your old blog?
barry_king
Nov. 8th, 2010 09:01 am (UTC)
No, the old blog was about disconnecting with my old country and getting to know my new one during the years three of our four parents passed away. I became less trustful of LJ privacy and decided it had too much personal content to keep online.

I saw that movie about a year ago. It was fun in a personal way because I also learned a lot from Julia (her full-color picture cookbook from the 80s is one of the best learner's cookbooks ever). My mother was also a bored Foreign Service Housewife and got a lot of joy out of learning from the old one. So it was fun to watch another set of alternating histories surrounding these books.

But no, I have too many project already and not enough focus to spare on a project like that.
asakiyume
Aug. 18th, 2012 10:03 pm (UTC)
How much of the fish sauce? (I'm making this now, but I'm only at the first step. I'm not sure I've used enough salt, but I've sprinkled, hmm, maybe two tablespoons? And I had 12 cups of cabbage)
barry_king
Aug. 19th, 2012 07:17 am (UTC)
Somewhere around 1/8-1/6 of a cup should do it, I think (I'm winging it; it's a very forgiving recipe)
asakiyume
Aug. 19th, 2012 05:54 pm (UTC)
Thx. Just going now to see the wilted cabbage. Checked on it earlier and it looked suspiciously un-shrunken; I realized I didn't have much weight on it. Oh well, live and learn; I'm going to soldier on and see what I end up with.

barry_king
Aug. 19th, 2012 07:39 pm (UTC)
Yep. Especially if you don't use much salt, the pressure is key for getting the salt to draw the moisture out.
asakiyume
Aug. 19th, 2012 08:02 pm (UTC)
Packing it up now. Cross your fingers for me! But the raw stuff tastes right, so--I'm hopeful?

Out of curiosity, why is metal no good?
barry_king
Aug. 19th, 2012 09:34 pm (UTC)
It's a high-acid food, and impurities in metal containers (or mis-identified metals) can easily leach into it. Stainless steel is generally safe, but not all stainless is food-grade. When you start getting manufacturers that churn out stainless steel refrigerator doors and using the same material in kitchen appliances... Who knows what could be in cookware from the same factory?

So I say that to be better safe than sorry. Plus, it extends my "everyone should have crockery" political agenda.


livejournal
Aug. 19th, 2012 11:18 pm (UTC)
some things were extreme today (others less so)
User asakiyume referenced to your post from some things were extreme today (others less so) saying: [...] also pretty dang extreme. First came the kimchi making, thanks to this recipe and set of directions [...]
asakiyume
Aug. 22nd, 2012 08:43 am (UTC)
Is it okay if, as it's fermenting, dark juice is accumulating up on top? I didn't have a tight lid, so I put a plastic bag over the top to be the lid, and then I've just got a weight on top of that--so it's not really what you'd called "sealed"

I sort of figure some of that juice is because I didn't thoroughly wilt the cabbage earlier, and part is maybe natural as it ferments?
barry_king
Aug. 22nd, 2012 08:45 am (UTC)
Probably. Especially if the colour is dark red. Are you pushing it down regularly to get the air out? How does it smell?
asakiyume
Aug. 22nd, 2012 08:46 am (UTC)
The color is dark red. It smells amusingly right. And if by "regularly" you mean once or twice day, then yes :-)
barry_king
Aug. 22nd, 2012 08:47 am (UTC)
Yep. All sounds good.
asakiyume
Aug. 22nd, 2012 08:48 am (UTC)
phew!

I am excited for kimchi times.
barry_king
Aug. 22nd, 2012 08:51 am (UTC)
Should be fine to taste, see if it's sour enough.

"enough" is to taste, I suppose. I have some now on its third week. It's pretty much been finished for ten days, but it hasn't needed refrigerating yet.
mnfaure
Aug. 25th, 2012 03:43 pm (UTC)
Found your recipe thanks to asakiyume. I made batch and am eager to taste it. Three more days to go...at least. I've never had kimchi aside from the last batch I made (which I liked very much [different recipe]), but it took over 10 days for it to taste fermented. I'm hoping it sours more quickly this time because I'm very impatient to eat some. :P
barry_king
Aug. 25th, 2012 09:40 pm (UTC)
The key to a quick ferment is freshness. If the cabbage has been cut for more than a couple of days, the sugars start to form starches, and they are harder for the yeasts to turn into vinegar.

But also, the flavour is much better with very fresh cabbage. It seems that way with most fermented pickles.
livejournal
Aug. 27th, 2012 06:48 pm (UTC)
Same Same But Different
User mnfaure referenced to your post from Same Same But Different saying: [...] his forehead. >:} In other spicy news, I made another batch of kimchi based on 's recipe [...]
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )