I’ve loved this fiery Korean side dish ever since I had it with our New Year’s Bo Samm. While our local Korean market carries jar upon jar of it (some as large as a small child) in their cooler, I know that this is traditionally a home-made dish and have been wanting to try my hand at making it myself.
Kimchi is like sauerkraut’s kick-ass evil twin. They both start out as innocently enough as lacto-fermented cabbage, but sauerkraut ends up tart and humble, while kimchi gets hot and funky.
This is actually my second attempt at making home-fermented kimchi. The first batch was tasty, but it got a bit over-fermented and very odoriferous. It was tasty, but well… let’s just say I got a whole seat on the bus to myself the next day.
Gear note: for fermenting you’ll need at least a quart-sized jar or other non-reactive container with a lid. I use a Kraut Kap
airlock on a mason jar or a dedicated pickling container like Primal Pickler
1 pound Napa cabbage or bok choy
1 small daikon radish
1 small onion
1/2 inch long finger of fresh ginger
4 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons Singsong Korean Hot Pepper
4 tablespoons sea or kosher salt
6 cups bottled or filtered water
Make your brine by adding the salt in 6 cups of water and stirring until the salt completely dissolved. Note: using sea or kosher salt and filtered water is not just a bit of foodie pretentiousness – iodine, anti-caking additives, and chlorine will screw up your fermentation and kill the good bugs that you want to foster.
Wash and dry all the veggies. Slice the cabbage lengthwise into quarters and then chop into bite-sized chunks. Julienne or grate the carrot, radish, and ginger. Quarter the onion.
Put the cabbage, carrot, radish, and ginger in a very large bowl and cover with the brine. Put a plate on top to keep them submerged, then let sit for at least 2 hours.
Put the garlic, onion, fish sauce, and pepper in a food processor and give it a whirl to combine. Add a bit of the brine if needed to form a thick paste. Stash in the fridge while the veggies soak up the brine.
After 2 hours, taste the cabbage – it should have softened a bit but still have a little crunch and be pleasantly salty. How salty? It should taste like the sea, or that first sip of a salt-rimmed margarita. You can do some adjusting at this point by letting it soak for another hour if it’s not salty enough, or by rinsing with fresh bottled water if it’s too salty.
When you’ve got it tasting right, drain the veggies, reserving the brine.
Add the chile paste to the veggies and (wearing gloves to avoid stains and smells) use your hands to mix everything together.
Pack the kimchi in a clean quart-sized jar or pickling container. Tamp the veggies down to remove any trapped air bubbles, making sure to leave 1 1/2 inches of head space at the top of the jar.
Add enough reserved brine cover the kimchi and still leave an inch of head space to allow for expansion during fermentation.
If you are not using an airlock, seal the jar loosely to let air escape as the fermentation bugs crank out their CO2. If you are using an airlock, seal the jar tightly, insert the airlock and add water up to the fill line.
Let stand for one to two days in a dark place at about room temperature. You may see bubbles forming in the jar or bubbling through the airlock – this is a good thing. Taste the kimchi now and then to see how it is progressing. It should start to taste a bit wild and tangy after about 4 days. This flavor will get stronger as it sits, so once the flavor is where you like it, remove the airlock and seal the jar then move it to the fridge.
I like to let it sit for a week in the fridge to mellow a bit. It keeps for several months, longer if you push the remaining back down as you use it to keep most of the cabbage submerged in the brine.
Serve as a side to any Korean dish, particularly anything with pork. It is also a great addition to fried rice, or omelets and makes a great hearty soup.
This dish has it all – tangy, savory, funky, rich and spicy. There are so many things going on (including a slight tingle from the fermentation) that it gives your taste buds a real wallop. It’s hitting so many flavor buttons that it’s pretty addictive.
I am particularly happy considering this one of my early attempts at lacto-fermentation. I’ve been trying to get more healthy, probiotic bugs into our diet and kimchi is definitely the gateway food for that. I am already looking at getting another fermenter to keep us in all the sauerkraut, pickled onions, kimchi, and hot sauce we can eat.