Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Kim Chi Madness

A few years back I got somewhat obsessed with making kim chi. I'm not sure what triggered this since I wasn't eating a lot of Korean food back then ... but now that I think of it I was watching many Korean films at the time like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and some other one with two girls at a lake house and a mean step-mother. The latter film I associate with giant jars of kim chi, fermenting underground for years. The idea of home-based mass production fills me with a particular lust. Perhaps this was the trigger.

I found a basic kim chi recipe on the website of a certain Dr. Ben Kim*. It's a simple recipe, and kim chi is an easy self-fermenting DIY type of pickle that is delicious and therefore awesome. Obsessed as I was, over the next several years I recorded the variations and results of many batches in a text file and the proportions used in an Excel spreadsheet (called Kim Chi Quest), so I could eventually standardize and replicate my ideal standard kim chi. Here's my version adapted from that recipe:

A Napa cabbage - about two pounds
Brine of 2 tsp salt (not iodized) per quart of cold water, at least 4 quarts for starters
5-6 cloves fresh garlic, minced or pressed
A thumb of fresh ginger, minced
8-10 fresh scallions, moderately chopped (incl. greens)
2 tsp dried red chili pepper flakes
2 Tbsp paprika
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt or to taste

Assume a 2 lb cabbage will fit into a quart jar and a pint jar, and a 1.5 lb cabbage may go into a quart jar. I put ~5lbs into a half-gallon jar recently.

Half gallon of Kim Chi next to a quart jar for scale.
This is how you deal with a 5lb Napa cabbage.
Separate, wash, and chop cabbage leaves as desired. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons salt evenly on this in a non-reactive (glass or ceramic) bowl and add water to cover. Weigh this down with a CLEAN plate or similar to keep the cabbage submerged. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day throw all this in a colander and rinse well. Back in the bowl or whatever, add the other ingredients and mix this together to coat evenly. I typically use a slotted spoon for this -- I have one that fits into a wide-mouth Mason/Kerr jar and is very convenient for packing the mix into the CLEAN jars: which you will now do. Pack that stuff in there with force to get out any air pockets and add any liquid from the bowl as well. Ideally there's a layer of liquid submerging the kim chi.

Give yourself an inch or two of headspace, close the lid (tight but not white-knuckling tight), and let it sit in a room-temperature place for 3-4 days. Each day I check this and use the CLEAN slotted spoon to compress it and expel CO2. If it's hot and/or the lid is too tight and/or there's not enough headspace and/or you've forgotten to vent it for a few days, expect it to erupt like a warm carbonated beverage: i.e., take it to the sink FIRST and vent it slowly. I've cleaned trails of kim chi brine off my counters, cabinets and floor enough to now take this precaution seriously.

Kim chi stores well in the fridge, becoming more sour over several weeks, and the rate of fermentation slows to non-catastrophic levels. That's it. You have your own basic kim chi. I like adding kim chi to noodle soups, and I wrote a good deal of my dissertation eating ramen with a dashi stock and this kim chi on top. I have been thinking about a cabbage salad with sesame oil/rice vinegar dressing that includes a ton of kim chi as well. Kim chi is down-home, good stuff. It will probably make you happy when you make it yourself and eat it.


*I don't wholeheartedly endorse his site because he's always going on about superfoods and Omega-3 fatty acids and this sort of crap that I hate.

1 comment:

  1. Despite writing my diss while eating this kim chi, the diss still was a horrible atrocity, as are most of them.