Korean Cooking … Kimchi

Going into my Korean Cooking course, the lesson I anticipated most was learning how to make kimchi. The first thing I learned was that it wasn’t possible to make kimchi in class. The entire process takes days of preparation followed by more days of fermentation.

In Korea, entire villages would participate in harvesting and preparing kimchi for winter. Cabbage crops would be ready by late fall when it was cool during the day and chilly at nights. Families would rush to pick, brine and pack the vegetables before winter’s onset. Friends and neighbors would pitch in to help and it’d be a community effort to get everything ready. The making and sharing of kimchi is called kimjang and is recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage Item of Humanity for Korea.

If you’re interested, this video offers a fascinating look at kimjang.

Time and kitchen space didn’t allow us to make kimchi in school. Instead, Chef demonstrated the process of preparing the vegetables and making a kimchi ‘porridge’ of gochugaru chili powder, rice slurry and pickled shrimp which would enable fermentation.

I made my first batch of kimchi at home. There were some key lessons from Chef’s class that I’m glad I noted and followed.

The Importance of Gloves

In a Korean grocery, stacked along side 10kg bags of nappa cabbages and 2kg bags of chilis, are boxes and boxes of plastic gloves. In an effort to reduce plastic use, I had thought to not purchase them. I am glad I heeded my teacher’s warning and bought them anyways.

Look at any photo of kimchi making and you’ll see people wearing gloves. There’s good reason for that. Essential to kimchi is a potent porridge of red hot gochugaru chili powder. The porridge needs to coat every leaf of cabbage and given the quantity of cabbage, is best done by hand. The mixture is extremely messy to work with and aside from the sting of raw capsicum, the red color stains.

The Importance of Judgement. Failing that, a Good Scale

Unlike a Korean village, I wanted to make a small batch of kimchi. I had eye-balled my cabbage and radish purchase but over-estimated its weight. My proportion of cabbage to porridge was off, resulting in a fiercely red and densely coated vegetable. As I packed the red mass into jars, I wondered if it would ferment or just solidify into a brick.

One day later, the red mass looked like it was approaching brick status. I added some water, poked it around to distribute the liquid and hoped for the best.

Fermentation

Kimchi is a superfood made by lacto-fermentation, so called because of the good bacteria Lactobacillus, used to convert natural sugars into lactic acid and preserve food nutrients. The process of making kimchi is one of controlling bacterial growth; first by brining, then by fermentation.

The lacto-fermentation process works because of the lucky fact that bacteria that could be harmful to us can’t tolerate much salt, while healthy bacteria (think yogurt) can.

Think of them as the bad guys vs. the good guys. Lacto-fermentation wipes out the bad guys in its first stage, then lets the good guys get to work during stage two.

-Leda Meredith. “Lacto-Fermentation: How Does It Work”. The Spruce Eats. December 2022

Chef had warned that fermentation results in overflow and we should loosely cover the jars and place them in containers to catch the percolating liquids. What she hadn’t told us (or I hadn’t noted), was how long it would take.

I anxiously awaited the first signs of fermentation.

On the third day I was relieved to see it.

How did it taste? It was a bit spicy but not too spicy. A little tangy but not sour. A little intense but not too much.

Overall, not bad for a first batch.

Would I do it again? Absolutely!

Besides, I have an entire box of plastic gloves to use up.

21 Comments

  1. I have food prep gloves!!! I guess that means I need to do this?
    Actually I have not gone down this rabbit hole because of batch size – watching those KDs where the families have their neighbours all come to help …
    But it looks like you only had to fill 2 jars? I will go look at the Spruce Eats article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have a scaled down recipe for 3kg of nappa cabbage, which I halved to make 3 bottles of kimchi. It takes as much time to make 2kg as 20kg of kimchi, so if your family likes it …
      The Spruce Eats article doesn’t have a recipe, but if you’d like my scaled down recipe, let me know.

      Like

      1. I hear you – which is why many make so much more than less.

        I am looking at Eric Kim’s recipe in Korean American – it calls for 2 heads of cabbage.

        Appreciate the offer of your recipe.

        Like

    1. Have you tried it? Either eating or making? It seems to be making the rounds as the ‘in-thing’ … or maybe it’s Korean food in general. In December I read about a gochujang cookie and this month, it’s kimchi-grilled-cheese. I’m going to try the latter soon

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh yes, I really like kimchi! I enjoy it as accompaniment to other foods, like a relish or salad. It’s been popular here in the southern U.S. for a few years. Kimchi grilled cheese sounds interesting!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, there is always potential for catastrophe. I’m a little less intimidated because I’m used to tending my sourdough starter. Some people get emotionally attached to their starters, calling it names etc.
      I might be getting so with my kimchi. I checked on my jar today and was pleasantly surprised when it talked to me! Actually, it was just a little whisper as it bubbled ‘Hello!’

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I really enjoyed reading about how you made kimchi! I have been thinking of making my own sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables as a way of processing the vegetables I hope to be growing this year. I would now add kimchi to that list. And I will buy gloves LOL!

    Deb

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear it. After reading the Spruce Eats article I felt more confident about the process … even though I read it after the fact. Somehow knowing the science behind brining & fermentation takes away my fear of death by botulism and other horrible things. I look forward to reading about your adventures in fermentation!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad I learned how and tried it out. I read that kimchi is superfood because of it’s nutrients, vitamins & probiotics. It says that we should eat 100g of kimchi daily. I’m going to have to make more!

      Liked by 1 person

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