Saturday, April 12, 2014

White Guy Kimchi

So. Kimchi. Also spelled Kimchee or Gimchi according to Wikipedia. The first time I tasted it was when I lived in San Diego. I can't remember the occasion, but I remember the sensation vividly. Spicy, hot, sour, crunchy. If you left it in the fridge for a couple of days with the top of the container tightly sealed, it would bubble when you opened it.

I didn't grow up with a tradition of fermented foods, so it was alien and wonderful all at the same time.I would buy it on and off when I would see it in the market. It was hellishly expensive so I would never keep it as a staple. That has come to a screeching halt.

I've been perusing kimchi recipes online for a while. A friend at work has a lovely Korean mommy who made some kimchi which I got to taste. That was it. I had to make some.

Here is the recipe I followed. It's kind of an amalgamation of several different recipes with a little slap-dash invention that I came up with just because I'm sort of slap-dash as a rule. I put mine in a couple of mason jars to age, as that way I could control the fermentation a little better than I'd be able to in a bucket or some such.

White Guy Kimchi

1 head (1.5 to 2 pounds) napa cabbage or green cabbage, cut into 2 by 1-inch pieces.  I cut the cabbage head into quarters, cut out the core and thinly slice it and add it back to the pile of cabbage.
1 daikon radish, if it's really big cut it in half
1 leek, cleaned and sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
3 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 large cloves)
1 1/2 teaspoon peeled, finely grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon shrimp paste
1 teaspoon sugar
3-5 tablespoons Korean chile pepper flakes (gochugaru). This is completely up to you, based on your tolerance for heat. I tend to go for really hot, as the heat mellows as the kimchi ages.

Cut up the cabbage and place in a very large bowl. Cover with water and add the salt. For the daikon, I peeled it, and then, using the peeler, cut long strips of the radish and dumped that in the bowl with the cabbage. For the leek, cut off the root end, slice the rest into rounds. Be sure to wash the leek well because those suckers will ALWAYS have dirt in them. Always. Let the whole thing brine for a minimum of one hour, more time is better. Maybe 3 hours tops. Some people say brine overnight, but to me that makes it a little too soft.

Meanwhile, you can prepare the red pepper paste.  In a separate bowl, combine the other ingredients. You may need to add a little more fish sauce than indicated in order to get a really loose pepper paste.

Drain and rinse the cabbage/daikon/leek mess, and put it back into the big bowl. Add the pepper paste and toss. I used rubber gloves to do this. Put a little water into the bowl you had the pepper paste in to slop it all up and pour this into the cabbage mix as well. Toss this all around by hand until everything is coated with the red pepper goodness.

If you're using a large container to cure the kimchi, just dump the whole thing into the container and cover loosely. I used a couple of quart mason jars. If you're doing that, just pack the cabbage mixture into the jars tightly, leaving yourself about an inch of headspace. I then put a lid and ring on the top of the mason jars and left the ring loose. You'll find out why.

Whichever type of container you use, you now just need to leave it out at room temp. For 3 days. If using the mason jars, be aware that the jar WILL 'outgas' and bubble over with liquid. This is normal for food that is fermenting. Bubbling is good.  I put the jars on top of my stove on a big plate with a lip, to keep the juices from running rampant when the inevitable bubbling-over happens. Every night I would rinse off the jars, rinse off the plate, and use a clean utensil to pack down the kimchi in the jar to keep everything covered.

After the 3rd day, you can put the kimchi in the fridge. The fermentation will continue in the fridge, but at a much slower pace. The online wisdom is that it should keep for 6 months or more in the fridge, and the flavor will deepen over time. I've never been able to keep it around that long.