Kimchi (김치) makes happy.
There are as many different ways of preparing kimchi as there are families in Korea. So there is no such thing as the one, true, authentic kimchi. I learned the way to make kimchi from Bok-Soon, a friend from Korea, in March 2019. We spent a great afternoon making kimchi, rice and bulgogi, talking a lot, eating and drinking together.
There are thousands upon thousands of types of kimchi. The best way I can sort of describe it, is like barbecue. Everyone does it in a little bit different way.David Chang
Kimchi has great cultural value. Gimjang (or Kimjang, 김장) is the name given to the process of preparing and preserving kimchi, which traditionally takes place in autumn (10th moon of the year). People get together to make large quantities of kimchi for stock. This is not only about making food, it is also a social happening.
I consider myself very lucky to have been able to watch Bok-Soon make kimchi and ask so many questions. Along the way, I learned many interesting details about ingredients, seasons, traditions, and making the different types of kimchi. By the way, making kimchi together, where the women of a family gather, is called Kimchi damggi. In this process, the younger ones gradually learn how to make kimchi from the older ones. I have deep respect for these inherited Korean traditions and am full of gratitude for this day.
- 1 smaller napa cabbage
- 1 handful of salt
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 pc. of ginger
- ½ hand full cooked rice
- 1 small white onion
- 1 fresh red chilli
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 3 tbsp gochugaru (Korean chili powder 고추가루)
- ½ leek
- 1 tbsp. fish sauce *
- 6 tbsp. water
- 1 small carrot *
Gochugaru, finely ground Korean chili flakes, are slightly sweet and taste best. But you can replace them with any other kind of chili flakes or even cayenne pepper, I learned. You can leave out the fish sauce and your kimchi will be vegan. Bok-Soon doesn't use fish sauce, I love the spicy flavor - your preference decides.
Cut the cabbage lengthwise and crosswise along the stalk and then tear it into quarters by hand. Wash and let it drip off slightly. Then salt well between the leaves, especially on the stalk. Place the quarters in a suitable bowl, weigh them down with a plate and let them soak for a few hours (or overnight) until they are completely soft.
Kimchi expert Ahn Mun-sukshows how to do this. I do not pre-water the cabbage, by the way. But if you do, it doesn't hurt.
Arbitrarily chop onion, garlic cloves, chili pepper and peeled ginger, add sugar, rice, gochugaru, fish sauce & water and puree to a flavor paste with a hand blender. Of course you can also do this in a food processor. The gochugaru make the paste absorb a lot of water, after a few minutes you can easily add more water. The 6 tablespoons from above are a guideline.
While the puree is infusing, remove the very dark green from the leek and cut the rest into fine, diagonal rings and the carrot into tender julienne. Mix the leek rings and carrot strips with the paste.
The next step is the most fun. This is the part where the napa cabbage is rinsed, wrung out and then lovingly massaged with the paste. Spread it well between all the leaves, then roll up the quarters like roll-ups and stuff them tightly into an flip-top glass. Press down neatly while doing so, as little oxygen as possible should remain between the layers.
Does the kimchi always have to be covered by brine?
If the kimchi is eaten fresh and ferments for a maximum of 3 days, it doesn't matter if not everything is covered by brine. The chili powder also creates a good microclimate in the ferment and prevents the formation of mold. With Kimchi, you have the least fear of mold.
The ingredients of many spicy fruits inhibit the growth of bacteria. Perhaps that is why spicy seasoning has become widespread in countries where the growth of bacteria (even undesirable ones) is favored by the prevailing climate.
PS. Depending on what else you have planned for that day, it might be a good idea to wear gloves when handling chili.
When to eat the Kimchi, your taste decides.
I put it in the refrigerator after 3-4 days to slow down the fermentation. It rarely gets older than 2 months, since we like it much too much.
Rice or rice flour?
I always use white basmati or jasmine rice.
If you don't have cooked rice at hand and don't want to cook half a handful of rice, you can also use glutinous rice flour you can buy at most asian grocery stores. This is not the same as regular rice flour and it is essential to use glutinous rice flour. For the right consistency you need 50g glutinous rice flour per 250ml water.
Boil the rice flour in the water until it thickens, then add the remaining ingredients for the puree, like described above.
Kimchi prepared with glutinous rice flour ferments faster and becomes more pungent. I like the kimchi with rice much better.
Not all kimchi is the same
There are as many different kimchi recipes as there are families in Korea. Therefore, there is not one true recipe. I like this one the best, and I'm sure that has to do not only with the great taste, but also with my history. And if I ever feel like making a variation, I make bachelor kimchi. You should try that, too!