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Monday, January 12, 2009

Kimchi and Me: Part II (with recipe!)

This is the final installment of my two-part kimchi post. If you haven't done so yet, check out Part I and then try out the recipe I've included at the end of this post.
--Frugal Son

Kimchi was originally developed as a method of preserving fresh produce through the winter and many Koreans—including Julie’s grandmother—continue to make it today much as it was made hundreds of years ago. Traditionally the kimchi was made in ceramic pots that were then buried for as few as three days in the summer when fermentation was rapid or for many months in the winter when the cold ground slowed the process. In Louisiana, however, where it is warm even in the winter and ceramic kimchi pots are nowhere to be found, I still found a way to capture the essence of Korea in a homemade kimchi.

While kimchi is certainly not a staple food in the United States—and I’ve also noticed that Korean cuisine in general is conspicuously absent from the landscape of restuarants in America—it is something that I think is inherently appealing to almost everyone: it’s like a pickle but with way more character.

My long awaited opportunity to make kimchi finally presented itself shortly after New Years when cabbage went on sale for $0.25 a pound. An interesting side-note: the cabbage was so cheap because it is a Louisiana tradition to eat black-eyed peas and cabbage on New Years for good luck. The kimchi preparation was simple and took only about five minutes of combined effort by my father and me. In addition to the cabbage we added some scallions, turnips, and hot peppers from the garden while sugar, salt, fish sauce, soy sauce, and garlic rounded out the potent brew.

After letting it sit overnight and stirring it around a few times to make sure the brine reached every crevice, we took off the plastic bag covering the top of the bowl and lo! Kimchi! Enjoying the kimchi took the combined effort of the whole family and under such an assault, it was gone within a day. Next time, I’ll make more so that I can see how it changes taste and texture as it continues to ferment—in this respect kimchi is a living, evolving organism—and maybe there will even be enough left for me to incorporate old kimchi into some dishes.

Making kimchi really encapsulates everything that I love about cooking: it brought together the family, transported me to another place, and allowed me to enjoy the ethnic foods I so enjoy for a pittance. Even if kimchi isn’t the kind of thing you’d want to eat, there are so many amazing and simple dishes which are a lot cheaper, better, and family oriented than eating out.

The recipe for kimchi, which is very flexible, is one that I created by combining the aspects I liked of three different recipes. Also note that none of the quantities below are set in stone...adapt the recipe as you like: make a smaller amount, use different vegetables etc. Kimchi is a food that is meant to be played with!

2 cabbages
1-2" of ginger root
10-12 cloves of garlic
Scallions (quite a few, at least 8 bunches I'd say)
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup fish sauce
about 1 tbs sesame oil
2 tbs sugar
1/2 to 3/4 cup pepper flakes (I used 1/2 cup of pepper flakes for the 1.5 cabbage batch just to give you a reference point)
Salt for brine
2 – One gallon glass jars with plastic lids.

Chop up the cabbages into chunks about one or two inches long. To brine them you can put the chopped cabbage in a large mixing bowl or pot and add enough water to cover. Alternately, you can stuff the cabbage into the jars as tight as you can and then pour water over them. Whichever method you use, add salt and mix it up so that the salt dissolves. I don't have an exact amount of salt to use but the brine should be about as salty as tears. Let the cabbage soak in brine for at least 24 hours.

Next, drain the cabbage but do not rinse it. Try to get as much water off as possible. Shake it out, or transfer it to a large, dry pot, let it sit for 10 minutes and then scoop it out by hand which should leave most of the water behind. At this point, mince the garlic and ginger into fine pieces about the size of a grain of kosher salt. If all that chopping sounds too tedious or if you are too pressed for time to do it by hand, you could just put the ginger and garlic into the food processor with the red peppers and blend it into a paste / flakes mix. That is a totally acceptable method. Also, cut your scallions into pieces about one inch long. Pour the fish sauce into a mixing bowl and add the sesame oil, ginger, garlic, pepper flakes, and sugar and mix it all up.

Add scallions to the cabbage and then divide the sauce amongst your chopped cabbage and jar it. Make sure the brine / paste mixture is evenly distributed on the cabbage chunks. You will probably want to toss it around with your hands but either wear gloves or wash your hands afterwards because the red pepper flakes can cause painful burning if you touch your eyes or nose long after you are done cooking. Push the cabbage / sauce mixture into the jars, stuffing it as tight as you can because the cabbage will shrink during the fermentation process. Now all you have to do is let the jar(s) sit for at least 24 hours and resist the urge to snack.

This recipe is really quite flexible. I think the main things I would fool with are the amounts of fish sauce and pepper flakes (especially for non-Louisianans the amount of pepper I added might be too much). The fish sauce gives the kimchi some of its pungency and salt but I'm not sure what the proper amount is. The pepper flakes obviously add heat but NOTE that the pepper flake sauce seems (to me at least) hotter when it is first made but it then mellows out as it is aged and fermented. Thus, a pepper sauce that is the right heat at the time of jarring may be too mild after fermentation. Experiment!

The finished product:


shahbaz said...
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Chance said...

Yay! Great recipe and post, thanks for the clear explanations. This is now my identified weekend project, I'll let you know how it turns out.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I enjoyed eating kimchi when I lived near an international market. I haven't found a place to buy it since moving to a new locale. Also, I have concerns now about food packaged in plastics, as the kimchi I used to buy was. However, I hadn't realized that it wouldn't be too difficult to make my own. I had thought an elaborate fermentation process might be required, something like miso-making.

Frugal Scholar said...

@lorecircles--Truly, we could not believe how simple this was to make. I guess I always assumed it required canning. Let us know if you try it!

Anonymous said...

I have a friend, a Vietnam vet, who loves this stuff. I may pass your recipe along.