Wild and Lazy Fermentation

Kimchi

Although kimchi has quite a few steps, it is not difficult to make!

Although kimchi has quite a few steps, it is not difficult to make!

Making kimchi, at least the way I do it, is super fun and easy.  We eat it most days at our house.  It’s great on egg and pasta dishes, and our casual party favorite mac and kimchis. We eat it in alone, in small quantities, and it is fantastic as a filling (mixed with some kind of protein such as beans) on top of a sourdough crepe.  I also use it in ways that other people probably find disgusting, such as mixed with cottage cheese or on a veggie dog.  But, I digress.

The great thing about kimchi is that it’s flexible and you can sub what you’ve got.  I’ve used regular cabbage instead of napa, french breakfast radishes instead of daikon, and I’ve used leeks and/or red peppers and tons of other stuff I’ve pulled out of my garden or the off the stands at the farmer’s market.  All-radish kimchi is traditional and so good!  I’ve made it so spicy my spice-loving husband teared up and so unspicy my bland-loving friends and relatives raved.  YOU CAN USE ANYTHING.  Anything!  Except tomatoes, cukes and squash which would mush.  It’s going to taste delicious regardless of your vegetable choices so play around.

A note: generally when working with ferments, metal is not your friend.  You won’t kill your kimchi like you would your kefir grains or your kombucha scoby, but as a habit, wooden or plastic utensils are better to use.  During long fermentation, any metal in your container could corrode due to the lactic acid that is being produced.

Mixing up all that hot stuff.  Gloves might have been a good idea.

Mixing up all that hot stuff. Gloves might have been a good idea.

Here’s my basic recipe to get you started, but remember, it’s up to you to make it taste how you like it to taste!

Basic, Flexible Kimchi (Adapted from Sandor Katz’ Wild Fermentation and the Art of Fermentation, The Kimchi Chronicles Cookbook by Marja Vongerichten and myriad YouTube videos over the years)

Ingredients

Makes one quart

1 – 2lb head napa cabbage, skanky outer leaves removed and reserved

1 large daikon

1-2 bunches of scallions (or Korean chives if you can find them)

3 large carrots, julienned (optional)

1 leek, thoroughly soaked to remove debris and sliced (optional)

1 red or yellow bell pepper, sliced or chopped into 1/2 inch squares (optional)

4 T salt (possibly more)

1/8 c rice flour (or a chunk of fruit, equaling about 1/3 c.  Stone and tropical fruits work great!)

3 inches ginger, unpeeled, or to taste (I use more)

4 cloves garlic, or to taste (I use more)

1/2 an onion

2 T red pepper flakes

1/4- c gochugaru (Korean red chili powder) (omit this if making a white kimchi)

 

The Process

  1. Thoroughly rinse cabbage, daikon, carrots, leek and bell pepper.  Chop cabbage, discarding core.  Put it in a big bowl full of room temperature water.  This is to remove any excess dirt and debris.  Rinse after 10-15 minutes of soaking.
  2. Chop carrots, daikon, leek and bell pepper according to preference.  Most traditional is larger pieces of cabbage and matchsticks of other veggies.  Put chopped veggies in a large bowl. Add rinsed cabbage.
  3. Mix salt into 8 cups of water (or more if needed) until dissolved. Pour over chopped veggies.
  4. Submerge veggies under brine using whatever you have that fits. I use a plate.  Cover container with a large cloth and secure with a rubber band. Let sit overnight or up to 24 hours.
  5. After vegetables have brined, mix rice flour with 1 c cold water until dispersed.  Put in a small pot over low heat.  Stir constantly, 3-4 minutes, until mixture has thickened.  Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.*
  6. While the rice mixture is cooling, start prepping the other paste ingredients.  Coarsely chop ginger. Cut out any questionable parts, but do not peel.
  7. Coarsely chop onions, scallions and garlic.
  8. Place ginger, alliums and red pepper flakes into food processor and blend into a paste.** (If using fruit instead of rice paste, blend that up, too)
  9. Once rice is room temp, mix together your allium/ginger paste, your rice gruel and your red pepper powder.
  10. Strain brined veggies.
  11. Mix together veggies and ginger/allium paste until veggies are well-coated.
  12. Press them tightly into a jar (or other container that you could compress them into) and make sure they stay submerged. (We’ll discuss a couple methods for this).
  13. Put them in a place out of direct sunlight, away from other ferments and that has a consistent room temperature (above 68, below 80).
  14. Let them sit for 3-7 days, but for your first solo batch, feel free to start tasting at 3 days to see when it hits your flavor preference.  When it’s done, stick it in the fridge.  That will slow, but not stop, fermentation, so your kimchi will be more sour if you pull it out of the fridge in a month than it was when you put it in.

*If using fruit for your paste, skip this step

**If using fish sauce and/or shrimp paste, you would add it here. 1/8 c or to taste fish sauce.  One T shrimp paste or a few tiny salted guys, added at the hand-mixing stage.

In the US, kimchi usually means one particular kimchi recipe that contains cabbages, radishes, ginger and spice.  There are many other traditional kimchis and even more recipes made in individual homes.

**You can let this ferment as long as you’d like.  Start tasting at 3 days, but if you like it a bit more acidic, keep it going.  According to “The Art of Fermentation” by Sandor Katz a study conducted in Korea found the ideal fermenting time for kimchi is 3 days, due to changes in the type of bacteria that thrive during early and late fermentation.  I usually try to leave mine a few days more but we are generally too hungry for kimchi to leave it much longer.

7 Comments

  1. Jim
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    Is there a step 6? if so its missing from the recipe.

  2. Amanda
    Posted November 7, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    Good point, Jim. Looks like the picture erased step 6. I fixed it!
    Happy Fermenting!

  3. Amanda
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    The funny thing is I find if people don’t hear the words “fermented cabbage” kimchi is much less of an acquired taste. :-) So odd how that works. Hope yours turns out great!

  4. Marybeth
    Posted January 19, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Hi,
    Instead of using rice flour, could potato starch be substituted in the kimchi recipe? Why is rice flour used?
    Thanks.
    Marybeth

  5. Amanda
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Hi Marybeth,

    Rice flour is traditionally made to make gochujang (the paste the serves as a kind of binder in kimchi). The purpose of the flour is to both thicken the mass and to feed the microbes the sugars they need to thrive. I’ve made kimchi with nothing to serve that role, with various kinds of fruit, with wheat flour, etc. I’ve never tried potato starch, but you could give it a try with a small batch. It wouldn’t be my first choice, because I’m not sure how it’s processed, so depending on your fermentation time, it might be a bit rough on your digestive system, and could add that slimier potato starch texture.

    You could definitely sub any kind of wheat flour, or just skip the rice flour step and combine your veggies with the pureed garlic/onion/ginger/hot pepper mixture.

    I hope that helps!

  6. Laura
    Posted January 24, 2014 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    So my kimchi came out way, way too spicy. I didn’t have the right kind of chili powders and improvised. In an attempt to make it less spicy, I added some sugar. I had to go away and it’s been in the fridge about a month. It’s still ridiculously spicy, I can feel my insides burning as I write this. But, now it’s gooey/goopy (instead of liquidy) in between the pieces of cabbage and carrots, is this normal? Should I throw it away? Also, when I opened it, it popped like there was a seal on the jar, is this just because it kept fermenting in the fridge? Really hope I didn’t just food poison myself by eating it. Thanks for the help

  7. Amanda
    Posted January 24, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Hi Laura,

    First things first: you didn’t food poison yourself, so no worries!

    As for the issues, gochugaru (the traditional pepper powder) is not very spicy at all, so even substituting hot pepper that normally isn’t super hot to you could cause “overheating” if you use it in the same proportion as the gochugaru that is called for.

    About greatly increasing the sugar, it will not counteract heat, and it will give you the wrong kind of fermentation. I don’t mean an unsafe kind, I mean that it will favor yeast over bacteria, causing extra fizz, the production of alcohol and mush much before you should have it. That explains your “goo” and the extra pop on the jar (although my containers often pop, just from vigorous fermentation that doesn’t completely stop in the fridge so that in itself is not of concern).

    So for next time a few things that might help: omit or greatly reduce the sugar. Find a source for gochugaru, or reduce the amount of spice powder you use if using another kind. Also, remember that heat/spice is definitely subjective. I’ve eaten things that didn’t even register as spicy only to watch someone else have a coughing fit from the same level of spice. If you don’t love spice, try with a lower level with a new recipe. You can always add more later!

    For this batch, you could try making some jigae (kimchi stew, google for recipes) or adding some fresh cabbage and other veggies to dissipate the heat a bit.

    I hope that helps!

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