My dad loves spicy, funky food, so I wasn’t terribly surprised when he recently asked me to teach him to make kimchi—this traditional Korean dish of fermented cabbage doesn’t skimp on intense flavors.
Having taken Suzanna Stone’s fermentation class last fall, I’ve relished any and all opportunities to expand my repertoire of fermented foods and beverages, and teaching other people is a joy, especially my delightfully enthusiastic Popsicle—let’s just say I came by my fervent love of food honestly. Both my parents are proficient in the kitchen, and the belly-laughing French declarative “Honh honh honh!!” is frequently heard emanating from the kitchen as concoctions are sniffed and tasted.
So here’s what we used:
4 pounds napa cabbage
1 pound carrot
1 large bunch of scallions
1 large hunk of ginger, peeled and grated
2 heads garlic, cloves smashed and peeled
Dry red chilies—however many you dare to use (we used a couple dozen Arbol chilies *grin*)
3 T. Sea salt
- First, prep your ingredients—use organic, and do not wash them. Peel away the outside leave of cabbage and chop into 1 to 2 inch chunks. Chop or grate carrot in food processor—do not grate by hand as this will be too fine a grate for the carrot. Remove outer part of scallions and trim off ends, then slice on diagonal into 1 inch pieces. Smash garlic cloves and remove skin. Peel and then grate ginger—I find this easiest to do using a food processor.
- Next, begin layering your veggies into a large, sturdy stoneware bowl in thirds: spread a third of the cabbage in a layer, then a third each of the carrot, scallions, garlic, ginger, and peppers (I leave my peppers whole); then sprinkle 1 Tablespoon sea salt evenly over it all. Layer in the next to thirds in the same manner until all the veggies and salt are layered into the bowl.
- Allow contents to sit for a bit, maybe ten minutes—the salt will start to pull water out of the vegetables, and this will become your brine.
- Then take a pounding implement (you’ll be glad for the sturdy bowl at this point) and start to pound the mixture, and don’t be shy! The goal is to bruise the mixture, break down the cells walls, and draw out more and more liquid from the vegetables. Alternate mixing the contents and pounding, as my lovely paternal assistant demonstrates in the accompanying pictures.
- Once you have some brine puddling in the bottom of the bowl, it’s probably time to start filling your fermentation jar (I find that this recipe—about five pounds of veggies—almost exactly fills a wide-mouth 2-quart Ball jar). Add some of the veggie mix to the jar, then use your fist to smoosh it down, drawing the brine up over the vegetable matter and flushing out any renegade air pockets (which could cause spoilage during fermentation). Continue adding vegetable matter and smooshing it down till you’ve almost filled the jar and/or you run out of veggies. You’ll be amazed at how much juice is in there.
- Almost done. Wipe the inside exposed lip of the jar. Now we need to add something to the top of the jar to hold the cabbage mixture submerged in the brine. Some people use a stone, but Suzanna taught us to use a ziploc bag filled with brine**. Fit the baggie down on top of the kimchi, pushing it down to flush out any air bubbles. Seal up your jar and pat yourself on the back—good job!
- Ferment at room temperature for 1 – 4 weeks. Burp the jar once or twice a day to let any vapors out. Every few days, remove the ziploc, rinse and dry it, wipe out the exposed inside lip of the jar, and replace the baggie. Take a nibble occasionally to see if your kimchi is ready.
- When your kimchi tastes like it’s ready, refrigerate it. You’ll continue to store it with the baggie on top and wiping the inner lip with each use to prevent the molding that can come with air exposure, but if it does get a little mold at some point, just scoop out that part, wipe out the jar, and you should be fine. The kimchi will keep in the fridge indefinitely.
**On brine: First, the water for the brine must be chlorine-free. This can be accomplished by either letting the water boil and return to room temperature before using, or by letting the water sit out open overnight—either will allow the chlorine to evaporate. Mix at a ratio of 1 Tablespoon sea salt dissolved in 1 cup water. Second, the brine is used in this manner to preserve the batch: any vegetable matter that is exposed to air could potentially mold, hence the ensuring it is completely submerged in brine, and if the baggie breaks, you aren’t going to hurt your fermentation, you’ve only added a little more brine. No harm, no foul. We like that.
What are your fermentation experiments and experiences?