Sunday 29 January 2012

Making Kimchi

Kimchi is said to be Korea's national dish. A name that encompasses a wide range of chilli-soaked fermented vegetables, Koreans eat it with most, if not all meals and there is a popular Korean saying - 'a man can live without his wife, but not without kimchi'. They take this stuff seriously.

There are hundreds of different types, characterised by main ingredients but also of which season they were made and which region they come from. For someone with such a love of pickles, it was only natural that I would fall in love with kimchi. Its sour tang, hugely pungent aroma and spiciness was a great draw.

Not content with commercial offerings (though very good they are too), I set about making my own. My first attempt was half arsed (below) and it showed. I lobbed a load of chilli powder in with some cucumber and daikon that I needed to get rid of. This produced a harshly flavoured affair and the lot went in the bin and I forgot about it all for a few weeks.

I wasn't to be deterred though and once the kimchi craving hit me again, I set about getting the ingredients to make it properly. Glutinous rice flour is used to make a paste with Korean chilli flakes - and specifically Korean, as they use a type of chilli that is redder and milder than others, thereby colouring your kimchi well without making it so spicy it'll blow your face off.

Mixed with flavourings and seasonings, the vegetable of choice is smeared with this and packed into jars to ferment.

Left out on the side for a couple of days to get the fermentation going, I arrived home one evening and heard a strange hissing sound. After a few minutes of total bewilderment, I discovered it was coming from the jar. I opened the latch and the kimchi promptly exploded across the kitchen wall and covered me in cabbage juice. Fermentation produces gases and I packed my jar too full, causing all the kimchi to rise to the brim (below) and make a break for freedom. My housemate was aghast.

It was a right pain to clean up.

After a couple of days fermenting the kimchi went in the fridge. It tasted great just after two days but for a stronger, more soured flavour the longer you leave it the better it gets. I've taken to eating a lot of it straight from the jar, but I've also used it as a flavouring for roasting broccoli, and frying rice with it.

Cabbage Kimchi

Makes quite a lot

2 heads of Chinese leaf (Napa cabbage)
Loads of table salt

Chop your vegetable up into even sized pieces. Wash thoroughly and then coat liberally in salt, and place inside a colander. Turn every half hour or so, and leave for 3 hours. This is so that the salt leeches the moisture from the cabbage.

110gr coarse Korean chilli powder (Londoners, you can get this upstairs at New Loon Moon)
60gr glutinous rice flour (plain flour will also work)
250mls water
125ml fish sauce
1 large onion, minced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2" piece of ginger, grated
2 eating apples, peeled and grated
A bunch of spring onions, top and tailed and chopped into three
Many people also add raw oysters or salted shrimp but I'm too much of a wuss. Next time, next time...

Whisk together the water and the glutinous rice flour and bring slowly to the boil, stirring all the time. Cook for a few minutes and take off the heat. Allow to cool.

Stir in the chilli flakes, then add the garlic, onion, ginger and apples. Add the fish sauce and mix well.

Wash the cabbage thoroughly, at least a few times to make sure all the salt has washed off. In a large bowl toss in the spring onions and then add the chilli sludge. Combine well using your hands - if you have any cuts on your hands wear gloves otherwise it'll sting like a bastard.

Pack into a sterilised jar, leaving plenty of room from the top to allow for fermentation gases. Leave out on the side for a day or two (open the lid to this every so often to let the gas escape) and transfer to the fridge. It's good to eat as it is for at least 3 weeks - after that it may become quite strong but still good to use in stews, stir fries and other hot dishes.


Miss Whiplash said...

I've made kimchi before, but just with fresh chillies and things, not with the magic powder.
It tasted good, but yours looks a lot more convincing - I must give it a go.
I love kimchi.

Shu Han said...

oooh so you did get down to making the kimchi (: glad you found the chilli powder, i got it from new loon moon quite a while ago so wasn't sure if they still stock it.

Chris Pople said...

I hope you don't get through this too quickly - me wanty want.

Platter said...

Next stop sauerkraut?

The exploding jar is a definite occupational hazard. And it's not just for cabbage. I once left a near empty bottle of OJ in the fridge whilst I hit Asia backpacking. For six weeks those sugars filled the bottle with high energy gas.

When I came to open it on my return, suffering slightly from Delhi belly, the bottle top shot off like a rocket. Hell of a noise it made too. The results were disastrous, both for my kitchen and my cream linen trousers.

The Grubworm said...

I've never really thought about the effect of fermenting cabbage when making this sort of thing. i'm glad you've lead the way here and I am forewarned. Have to say though, the result looks well worth the occasional red explosion and messy walls.

tori said...

Excellent cautionary tale. Love kimchi with fried eggs. Ultimate hangover cure.

Anonymous said...

"Not content with commercial offerings (though very good they are too)"

A few recommendations would be much appreciated; I've looked around (in Liverpool) and not seen any.

Food Urchin said...

I haven't set about making some fermented, funky, stinking muck for some time now. Kimchi sounds like just the thing for next project. Thanks for the inspiration Lizzie.

PDH said...

Oh god, the thought of a raw oyster in there is more than a bit scary. Definitely one for the brave!

Corina said...

I plan to make kimchi one day but keep putting it off - if I do I think I'll keep the whole jar inside a plastic bag, just to be on the safe side. Korean food is still a bit of an enigma for me.

Hollow Legs said...

Miss Whiplash - Do try it, makes the world of difference those Korean chilli flakes.

Shu - I did, thanks to your motivation!

Chris - time is ticking...

Platter - might very well be... Six weeks! Euuuuuwww.

Grubwork - Take heed of this warning! It was well worth it.

Tori - Thanks - Ooooh now that does sound good.

Anon - I'm not sure what they're called but in the top right of this pic:

FU - Get fermenting!

Pavel - Isn't it? Terrifying.

Corina - I think that's a bit too cautionary, you'll be fine as long as you leave enough space for the gas and put it in the fridge.