Let’s start out by addressing the elephant in the room: Kimchi is an acquired taste. It is not for everybody, and that’s ok - we’re still going to talk about it and show you how you can make your own kimchi at home. If you are a big fan of umami, spicy, slightly sour, salty goodness (with a hint of fish flavor), you just might be a kimchi person! Despite the flavor complexities, kimchi is pretty easy to make at home.
So, what IS kimchi, anyway?
At it’s core, kimchi is pretty much just fermented, salted vegetables in a spicy paste. Yes, that’s a fairly simplified explanation, but it works. Most kimchi you’ll see is made with fermented Napa Cabbage, so that’s what we’ll talk about here. For the other vegetables, you typically see carrots, a radish of some sort (like diakon), maybe some onion, but it’s pretty basic. The key to kimchi is it’s spicy pepper paste, utilizing “gochugaru”, or Korean red pepper powder. This stuff packs a punch, and a little goes a long way, however, as your kimchi ferments you should find the spiciness will diminish as the sour takes over. Even so, it might take you a few batches of kimchi to get the spice just right for you.
The process is pretty simple, and can be broken down into three steps:
1 - salting the cabbage
2 - preparing the pepper sauce
3 - fermentation
Once the cabbage is salted properly, we mix the ingredients together, slather (yes, slather) the cabbage with the sauce, and put down to ferment. That’s it!
Now that we understand what’s going on, let’s gather our ingredients to salt this stuff.
About 6 pounds of Napa Cabbage
½ cup of Kosher salt
To start, we’ll need to split the cabbage into quarters. Make a slit at the bottom of the cabbage, about two inches long, with your knife, and gently pull the two halves apart. The goal here is to not shred the leaves and to keep them bound to the bottom core. Now take each half and make another two-inch cut in the bottom core and split the cabbage again. So you have 4 pieces now - bravo! Rinse them gently in some cold water, lifting each leaf as you go. Let it drain out, and then take your kosher salt, lift up each leaf, and apply the salt liberally to each one. It might seem like a lot of salt, but you’ll be washing it off eventually so don’t worry.
You can let these sit for several hours as they are, or add them to a large bowl of salted water - the choice is yours. The main thing you want to do is make sure the cabbage is bendable in the white stalk parts. Some folks let it sit in water for 6 hours or overnight even, others only for 2 hours not in water. It depends on how firm you like your cabbage, I suppose.
Once it’s done to your liking and the cabbage is as soft as you like, rinse all the leaves with cold water and let drip dry while you prepare the next step .. The Paste!
The Pepper Paste
Put 2 cups of water into a small pot and add 2 tablespoons of sweet rice flour (or regular flour if you can’t find any) and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Mix well, turn your burner on at a medium heat until it just starts to boil, then remove and let cool. While you are waiting, get your other ingredients ready:
About 20 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 tsp minced Ginger
1 medium Onion, minced
½ cup Fish Sauce
¼ Fermented Salted Shrimp, called “Saeujeot”, diced (with brine)
2 cups Hot Pepper Flakes
You can take this time to get your veggies ready, as well:
2 cups Radish (like Daikon), cut into sticks about 4 inches long
1 cup Carrots, cut into sticks about 4 inches long
8 Green Onions, chopped
Once the rice flour mixture has cooled, add the spices and mix well. Then, add the veggies.
Now comes the more tedious part … the paste application.
First off, you’ll want to put some latex gloves on for this step. Not only are you handling fish sauce and fermented shrimp, two smells that might not be desirable on your hands, but the red pepper flakes will turn your hands red. Fair warning.
Lay your chunk of cabbage down, with the large leafs down on the counter. Gently lifting up each leaf, slather the kimchi paste everywhere you can, paying close attention to getting in between each nook and cranny of every leaf.
Once all of your cabbage is properly covered, it’s time to start fermenting. The easiest way to do this is to get a large-mouthed mason jar and some cheesecloth, but you can also go fancy and pick up one of those e-Jen containers we talked about in our hot sauce post previously. That’s what we use and they are pretty amazing. And, like hot sauce, what you’ll be experiencing is a lactic acid fermentation. However, ulike with hot sauce, you don’t need to worry about oxygen, and you are not letting this go for two weeks or so. Generally, kimchi is best fresh, after one to two days of fermentation. At this stage, the pepper flavor/heat has mellowed from the salt, and the sour/tartness has just started to appear. Of course, the longer you leave it the more sour things will get - be sure to experiment and find the best timeline for you.
That being said, after a couple of days at room temp, you should place your fermentation vessel in the fridge to slow down. It will still plug along, so be sure to keep releasing the pressure in whatever vessel you are fermenting in.
That's about it! If you want to learn more about kimchi, or Korean cooking in general, visit Maangichi - her site is great, and her videos are even better. It's the site we learned all about kimchi on.
Kimchi can make a great present - either as a housewarming gift, or something spicy and salty to break up the monotony of chips and salsa at movie night. To make it personal - and you probably know where this is going - try making some labels for your little fermented offerings! If you are handing out larger mason jars full of your homemade kimchi, our Front and Back Wine-Style labels would be a great fit, and a good way to incorporate some additional food pairings on the small back label.
Whatever vessel you choose, GrogTag has a label that will not only fit well, but look great!