Recipe: Favourite Kimchi
Kimchi is a fermented vegetable dish traditionally found in Korean cuisine. Like Mexican salsas and Italian tomato sauces the variations on the recipe are endless and every cook has a favourite way of preparing it, but the essentials of chili, garlic, fish sauce, ginger and sesame tend to show up in one concentration or another in most recipes. Our favourite kimchi is made with fresh local cabbage, but if you like this recipe we suggest experimenting to get it exactly the way you love. Try it with sliced cucumbers or broccoli. Experiment with add-ins like matchstick-sliced daikon or water chestnut to add textures, and never be shy about writing your notes on your recipe a month later to tell you what to increase or reduce next time!
This recipe requires soak time for your cabbage. Plan to chop cabbage in the early morning or late evening and finish your recipe 12 hours later; then plan to add another 12 hours for kick-start fermenting if you decide on that option. This recipe has been scaled down to 1/4 its original size.
- a bowl or pot large enough to hold 2gals water and your cabbage
- a bowl large enough to mix in
- 2 gals water
- 1 1/2 C salt
- 2-3 clean pint or half-pint jars and lids
- 2 heads cabbage – napa or savoy
- 3/8 C fish sauce
- 3/8 C chili-garlic sauce*
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- 1″ chunk of ginger, minced
- dash sesame oil
- 1 T sugar
- fistful of green onions, chopped fine
- toasted sesame seeds
- optional: 1/2 T Korean red pepper powder
Brine your cabbage:
Fill your pot or bowl with 2 gals water and 1 1/2 C salt.
Slice the ends from your cabbages and remove the withered outer leaves. Wash well in clean water. Shake off excess water and slice horizontally into strips about 2″ wide; plunge into salt water. Hold your cabbage beneath the surface – another bowl will do the trick – and let it sit for about 12 hours.
12 hours later – mix your seasonings:
In a large bowl, mix 3/8 C fish sauce, 3/8 C chili-garlic sauce, 8 cloves minced garlic, 1″ minced ginger, a dash of sesame oil, 1 tablespoon sugar, chopped green onions, toasted sesame and about 1/2 tablespoon “wang powder” (Korean red pepper powder). Mix well.
Drain your cabbage and then, taking comfortable fistfuls, squeeze out lots of the water. Lots! Drop your squeezed cabbage into the spice mix and then mix it all together. NOTE: if you have any nicks or cuts on your hands you may wish to wear rubber gloves for this part. The most effective way to mix your cabbage and spices is with your hands – don’t be shy about working it right in there – and chili stings.
Leaving your kimchi out at room temperature encourages it to begin fermenting. The more it ferments, the more sour it will become. If you’re feeling adventuresome you can leave your entire batch out for days before refrigerating. Some Koreans never refrigerate at all. Here, we like to hedge our bets somewhat. We leave the entire bowl out for another 12 hours to start fermenting, and then jar the whole batch. Half of the jars then stay out for another 12 hours and half go into the fridge. The jars that stay out an extra 12 hours will be more sour; we do this for the variety.
If this is your first kimchi adventure you may want to jar and refrigerate your kimchi as soon as it’s mixed. It will ferment slowly in the fridge and will give you the chance to enjoy it fresh first, so you can gauge how much fermentation suits you.
Pack your kimchi tightly into your jars. If there is any liquid in the bowl, split it between the jars. If you plan to kick-start, put the lids on loosely so gas can escape. Before you refrigerate your jars, tighten the lids down.
Eat your kimchi:
Kimchi is ready to be eaten as soon as it’s spiced, but its life is long and it is said that it improves with age indefinitely; the fermentation process continues until it is consumed, so your kimchi grows ever more sour. How long kimchi lasts at your house will depend on how much you like it and how willing you are to wait for the development of sourness.
At our house the kimchi monster has been known to empty an entire jar in the middle of the night, but civilized folk like to serve it as a side-dish to oriental foods, as a sandwich condiment and in pickle trays. Some Korean recipes call for it as an ingredient.
* Chili-garlic sauce: We find this in the Asian Foods section at the Superstore. The 18-oz plastic jar has a green lid and white printing with a rooster image on it and you can tell that it contains coarsely ground chili.