I first heard about Kimchi years ago after a friend returned from teaching english in South Korea. At the time, the fermented cabbage dish seemed quite exotic, but I’ve since developed a love for the bubbling red cabbage.
Like its german cousin, Sauerkraut, Kimchi is at its core shredded cabbage that has been fermented in a brine solution. Kimchi is spicy, its slightly fishy and funky and sour. It’s freakin’ delicious.
A few weeks ago Morgan and I invested in two very cool Mason Jar gizmos, Croc Rocks and Kraut Kaps. Morgan recently became a Kombucha brewer and between her brewing habits, and my fermenting fever.
Croc Rocks are weighted glass stones designed for wide mouth mason jars. they keep your fermenting veggies weighted down under the liquid. Since oxygen can reach cabbage that floats on the surface, these stones help ensure your fermentation is successful.
The Kraut Kaps are basic airlocks designed for wide mouth mason jars. During fermentation, oxygen is your enemy, so an airlock keeps out air while letting out any gasses that build up from the fermentation process.
Don’t get me wrong: You can successfully ferment without these things. I’ve used plates and mason jars full of water or plastic lids weighted with tupperware. Kimchi has endured through the ages primarily because it’s hard to mess up.
Similarly, recipes for Kimchi are all over the place, and most encourage creativity, using what you have on hand and adjusting things to your own preference. Got extra carrots? Go for it! Love garlic? Double the cloves!
Every recipe, no matter how loosey goosey, needs a starting point. When it comes to fermentation, I usually reach for Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation.
Sandor Katz’s book is full of great fermenting recipes.
Nearly all recipes I found started with 1 lb of Napa cabbage. I happened to have a 2 lb monster, so I doubled the recipe. Kimchi starts with the shredding of cabbage, a task made quite easy by the tendency of cabbage to grow in tight overlapping layers. Second, add onions and radishes. Third, make your kimchi spice mixture.
Kimchi is traditionally made with Gochugaru, which is Korean for Hot pepper powder. You can often find this powder in Korean markets, but my last asian market excursion was to a chinese mart (Great Wall in Rockville), so I substituted a hot pepper powder from Sichuan, China. Another ingredient found in authentic Kimchi, is dried shrimp. These little shrimp are pounded into a powder and add a distinct funk to your Kimchi. For this recipe I also added some Fish sauce to really pump up the Umami.
Dried shrimp, which you can usually find in Asian food markets.
– 1 lb Napa Cabbage, shredded
– 1 onion sliced thinly
– 1-2 Carrots (I didn’t have these, so I skipped it.
– 1 handful of radishes, or 1 Daikon radish, sliced thinly
– 1/4 cup red pepper powder
– 1/4 cup fish sauce
– 2-4 garlic cloves, diced (I used more like 6 per recipe b/c I love garlic)
– 1/4 cup of minced ginger (I freeze my ginger and then toss it into the food processor, which makes a fine paste)
– 2 tbsp dried shrimp, ground into a powder
– 4 tbsp of kosher salt
Step 1. Shred cabbage (Reserve 1 whole leaf uncut), slice onions, slice radishes, slice carrots.
Step 2. Mix red pepper powder, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, and shrimp paste. toss with veggies in a large bowl.
Step 3. Add salt to your mixture and toss well. Let this sit for an hour or two to draw moisture out of the veggies.
Step 4. Pack into your fermentation vessels. Pack tightly, pressing and mashing until your liquid levels rise above the solids. It may seem like you don’t have enough liquid, but I promise, if you keep smashing and packing, you will eventually have enough liquid. In a worst case, just add a little filtered water to your mixture (Tap water contains things like chlorine, which may inhibit the fermentation process. Filter your water, or use bottled water for this sort of thing.)
Step 5. Use a weight to keep Kimchi submerged. Use the reserved cabbage leave as a top cover. Place this on top of the kimchi and then place your weighted object on top. this will keep all the little floaties down below the liquid. Either use a airlock, or put on a lid that will allow pressure to escape. Another option is to leave the container open and cover with cheese cloth to keep bugs out of the kimchi. Leave out on the counter for 1-4 weeks, tasting every few days.
In Korea, they have a thousand different varieties of Kimchi. They have different names for Kimchi that has aged for different periods of time. Kimchi can be kept on the counter for a very long time (years), but the flavor will change and the veggies will get softer. When your Kimchi reaches your preferred level of fermentation, store it in the fridge to halt the fermentation process. You could also can it at this point, but that would also kill all the probiotics in the Kimchi.
For now, my Kimchi will ferment for the next couple of weeks. I’ll post again once its done.