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How to Make Kimchi

December 9, 2014

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Kimchi kimchi kimchi! Now I know a lot of people are dying for a recipe on how to make kimchi, but it’s not as easy as “just put all these things together” and BAM. Not all families make homemade kimchi, but those that do all have different recipes. As Soozee explains in the video, her mom isn’t even following written directions but rather an instinct of “add more” and “that looks right” just from making kimchi for so many years. Now before I give a breakdown of the ingredients and the basics behind making kimchi, I want to explain something. Asking someone for a kimchi recipe is like asking them for a bread recipe. There are so many varieties of kimchi just like there are bread recipes. The kimchi we made today was a Cabbage Kimchi aka Baechu Kimchi 배추 and there are many variations on just this one kimchi. Imagine asking someone who makes bread for a bread recipe. And they say, “what kindof bread? White? Brown? Whole wheat? Sourdough? Rye” and you say, “just bread.” You have to be more specific. Even after specifying on “white bread” there are different variations on how that bread tastes. Is it made with rosemary? Cheese? How much sugar? What kind of yeast? You would never describe all white bread as tasting the same, and the same goes for kimchi.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people making with kimchi is going to a Korean restaurant, trying kimchi for the first time and saying “I didn’t like it, therefore I won’t try it again.” That’s the equivalent of having a piece of bread at an Italian restaurant for the first time and saying, “whoa, I don’t like this bread therefore I will never eat bread again.” You must try different types and styles of kimchi in order to find out what your style is, and even if you’ve already had Baechu Kimchi, try it again at a different place and it will have a different taste.

So why does baechu kimchi have different tastes? There are a few factors involved including the base ingredients and the fermentation time. I’ll be talking exclusively about Baechu kimchi (cabbage kimchi) in this blog post so take the word kimchi as meaning that style. So fresh kimchi is just like it sounds. It’s freshly made kimchi that hasn’t been fermented so it tastes very crunchy and crispy because it still has lots of water in the cabbage in vegetables. The ingredients don’t blend together and all the individual ingredients taste very clear. It’s often very gingery/garlic (deepening on the ingredients) and it doesn’t have a sour taste. It almost tastes like a sweet cabbage with a sauce on top. The longer you ferment your kimchi, the more the flavours blend and the deeper the flavours become. Fermented kimchi is less crunchy and tends to be more floppy. The sauce has had a time to soak into the cabbage so the flavours are mixed together and the individual flavours are tougher to discern, it’s become a united with it’s fellow ingredients. It also, however, becomes more and more sour. Some kimchi is so sour it’s almost exclusively used for making soups and for cooking. You might have heard people call it “cooking” kimchi. It can be so sour you really can’t enjoyable eat it cold, but it is freakin’ fantastic hot. Suggestions including adding to your grill when you’re grilling meat and adding it to your ramen. I find that places outside of Korea often have extremely sour kimchi which I don’t find enjoyable. I have a theory that it’s because they just can’t use it as quickly as people in Korea do, which means they let it ferment and it just gets more and more sour. I think a lot of people have tried that type of sour kimchi and felt disappointed in the taste.

So now that you know the difference between fresh and fermented kimchi, let’s move on to basics of making it! I’ll bring up the importance of properly fermenting your kimchi at the end of the blog post. In Korea kimchi making season is based on availability of the cabbage crops, so last year there was a much smaller crop of cabbage due to problems with the weather and people panicked in Korea thinking that there wouldn’t be enough cabbage to make kimchi. Kimchi shortage fears were all over the news and the price of cabbage skyrocketed. Serious stuff man. So the taste of the cabbage really changes the taste of the kimchi. Soozee’s mom bought a lot of cabbage if you couldn’t tell, because she’s making it for the whole year. She’s also giving a lot of it away to friends and neighbours, and they all kindof exchange their different types of kimchi. Then everyone gushes on about how delicious one person’s kimchi is and so on…hahahah! One day, having had observed kimchi making for over the years I will make my own recipe and it will be delicious! Okay moving onto the understanding the basics of making baechu kimchi!

Baechu Kimchi Basics

For those of you who prefer pictures rather than blocks of text, we made a small gallery below that has all of the steps. Different people learn different ways, right? But now for text:

WARNING! YOU NEED LONG GLOVES FOR MAKING KIMCHI OR YOU WILL BURN YOUR SKIN! From salt to hot pepper flakes, kimchi making is a notoriously burny and messing task. Don’t be a hero. Wear gloves. WARNING OVER!

Step One: Dry vs Wet Brining

Brining is done to inhibit the growth of bacteria and also to tenderize the cabbage by using a whole lot of salt. Brining removes excess water from the cabbage allowing it to be soft and pliable and it also preps it to ferment without going all gross and mouldy. Ew. A Dry Brine is done by sprinkling each cabbage leaf down with coarse salt and letting it sit for 4-8 hours before being rinsed off. A Wet Brine is what Soozee’s family did, which was soaking the cabbages 12-16 hours in a salt water mixture. It’s usually 15-20% of salt which is similar to the salty ocean. I’ve even heard of some families living near the coast using ocean water to brine their kimchi. Some people use a combo of the dry and wet salt method, but I always favour the wet method because it seems to evenly get all those little gaps between the leaves.

Step Two: Make the Broth for the Kimchi Secret Sauce

Ingredients:
Green onion 파 (pa)
Whole White onion 양파 (yangpa)
Whole Garlic (root and all) 마늘 (manul)
Dried Pollock (Fish) 황태 (hwangtae)
Dried Anchovy 마른 멸치 (marun myeolchee)

The broth is just like making a soup base. Some people don’t make a broth for their sauce, they just make a glutinous rice paste sauce mixed with red pepper flakes and all the other ingredients and I find this make very boring kimchi. The broth being flavourful is really what makes bombastically delicious kimchi. You’re boiling all these ingredients together for hours and taking all their yummy flavours. Then you strain them to leave just pure tastey broth. Pop the broth in the fridge until it’s cold and you’re ready to mix it with the other veggies.

Step Three: When Broth Becomes Sauce

Hot Pepper Flakes 고추가루 (gochu garu)
Korean Fish Sauce 까나리 액젓 (gganari ache-jeot)
Brined Mini Shrimp 새우젓갈 (saeyou jeotgal)
Glutinous Rice 찹쌀 (chapsal)
Soft Persimmon 곶감 (gotgam)

With your broth you’re going to add the hot pepper flakes according to how spicy you like your kimchi. Some like it hot. I know I do! Wink wink. No seriously I think I’m addicted to hot food. Then add the Korean fish sauce which is NOT the same as other Asian fish sauces. This one is clear and a golden colour, it’s made from a soaked fermented Korean fish. Sounds so yummy! Much sarcasm! The tiny brined shrimp are used both as salt and to add a hidden layer of fishy taste. This step is why I always warn people kimchi is not necessarily vegan or vegetarian friendly. Lots of hidden fish sauce and stuff goes into it. Some people use salt instead, but I think the mini shrimp are necessary for richer flavours. The finally important step is adding the glutinous rice which is mashed up into a paste. This will thicken everything up, it’s really like adding flour to thicken up a gravy. I’ve seen some people use glutenous rice flour 찹쌀가루 instead of mashed rice. The persimmon can be de-seeded and mashed into the sauce. The persimmon is used in place of sugar, but some families will use sugar instead.

Step Four: Sliced, Diced, and Chopped Veggies

Asian Pear 배 (bae)
Giant White Radish/Daikon 무 (moo)
Dropwort/Minari (tastes a bit like parsley stems) 미나리 (minari)
Mustard Greens (kindof a peppery tasting leaf) 갓 (gat)
Squid 오징어 (Oh-jing-ooh)

Majority of the video seems to be us slicing and dicing veggies into a huge pile. These tiny sliced veggies are going to be mixed with the sauce and with the cabbage so you don’t want huge pieces or it will be difficult to get it in your mouth. That’s what she said. The addition of squid is purely a Soozee Family Kimchi trait, not everyone does this, but I find it makes for a lovely additional flavour. You can’t even taste “squid” it just adds something different that you can’t pinpoint. Now at this point the only thing I disagree with is the lack of ginger. Soozee’s family does not add it, but I love gingery spicey kimchi. Take all those sliced veggies and add them to a mixing tub. Dump the Kimchi Secret Sauce onto and start mixing with your glove protected hands!

Step Five: Cabbage 배추 Time

As you saw in the video, Soozee and her mom removed the outer cabbage leaves, cleaned, and cut the cabbage into halves before brining them. Now it’s time to rub the Kimchi Secret Sauce onto every single cabbage leaf. You take a little bit of sauce (with the radish/pear bits and all) and spread it onto the leaf. Then you flip, add more sauce, and rub it onto the next leaf. Once you go over the whole cabbage head once, you start all over again checking the opposite side of the leaves for missing sauce. It’s important to get every single leaf because it will make sure the whole thing ferments evenly and properly.

At thing point, you can put aside some heads of cabbage to add fresh oysters 굴 to, but be aware that those cabbage heads must be eaten within the week or the oyster will rot and make you sick!

Step Six: Storage and Fermentation

You want to pack your cabbage heads into a container that can seal tightly and be oxygen free otherwise it won’t ferment properly. There is a ubiquitous brown kimchi container that almost every Korean household uses since it comes with the purchase of a kimchi fridge. It’s like a lock and snap plastic container. You want to layer and press the cabbage down tightly to remove all the air. If there is room on top but not enough space to add another cabbage head, you can add some leftover outer kimchi leaves and then place some plastic wrap tightly on top of the cabbage before closing the container. You don’t want to totally fill it to the brim or it might overflow during the fermentation process. You can see in the video Soozee’s mom has fresh cabbage leaves on top before wrapping it in plastic. After that DO NOT place it in the fridge and DO NO open it! You want to leave it for about 3 days at room temperature which allows it to ferment. After that you can put it in the fridge where it will continue fermenting but now it’s ready to eat at anytime. The longer you leave it, the more sour it will become.

It’s Over!!!

So those are the basics on how to make awesome homemade Baechu Kimchi. I didn’t include exact measurements because Soozee’s Family Recipe didn’t have any (hahah) but now that you know how to make it, you can find an exact recipe online and start to make tweaks. While some of the basic steps are necessary (such as brining and the fermentation process) the other ingredients are really just personal. You can eat the Kimchi Secret Sauce as soon as you make it which allows for you to make changes easily. I’ll admit while we were making our kimchi a few pieces broke off and we just ate it right there. Yummy and fresh and spicy! I’d love to know if anyone has attempted to make kimchi themselves, if so which kind? Do you have a recipe you can share? Let us know in the comment section below! Thanks for putting up with my giant post everyone, turns out I’m very passionate about my kimchi. :D

I’ve included some pictures with extra labels to explain some of the steps that might include vegetables you may not know:

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How to Make Kimchi

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  1. Interesting, I’ve actually always loved the more sour kimchi. The cabbage (배추) is probably my favorite, but I also like cucumber (오이). Thanks for the video, guise!

    3 years ago
  2. I actually prefer sour kimchi. I often just bought the cooking kimchi and ate it. I’m not too much a fan of fresh kimchi. When I came back to the USA and bought kimchi, it was still quite fresh, and I ended up adding vinegar to it because it wasn’t sour enough for me. =/ I didn’t realize that older kimchi isn’t as popular as I thought it was…

    3 years ago
  3. when i make kimchi i use maangchi’s recipies, they’re really nice. i do want to try soo zee’s family recipe tho, since maangchi’s don’t use the broth.
    i definitely agree with having to try different kimchis, i don’t know what it is in the store bought glasses but i get allergic reactions when i eat it (can’t breathe, rash on my skin) but it doesn’t happen when i make it myself. that’s why i’m sometimes hesistant eating in restaurants here in germany, in case they serve that as well.

    if soo zee’s mum always makes that much kimchi i assume she doesn’t have pets? my cats always want to jump on the counter when i start cooking

    3 years ago
  4. I totally agree with you guys that kimchi has to be tried more than once. I can’t handle spicy food very well, and my first exposure to kimchi was the storebought kind my mom liked to buy. It just made the whole kitchen stink, so I didn’t take too well to it at first. When I moved to college though, one of my roommates brought her Dad’s homemade kimchi, and out of politeness I tried it, and it was SO GOOD! Going to school in Los Angeles changed my palate, I didn’t like milk tea or boba until I came here. Think part of it must be the increase in Asian population. The magic of trying food you didn’t like more than once :D

    3 years ago
  5. I am not a fan of baechu kimchi but I do like water kimchi and Kkadugi kimchi. And I love cooked kimchi. Kimchi Jiggae and Kimchi Buchimgae are wonderfully delicious! *drools*

    3 years ago
  6. I don’t care how you make kimchi. I just ate. And now I’m feeling hungry again. Gosh, why do that has to look so delicious? *3*

    3 years ago
  7. I am one of the people who found your website while looking for a kimchi recipe! Eat Your Kimchi? Must be about all things kimchi related, right? I’ve made kimchi using Maangchi’s recipes. Her easy kimchi is pretty good. Her emergency kimchi, for all your kimchi emergencies is made with regular cabbage. Not bad, kind of like a spicy vinegar dressed cole slaw.

    3 years ago
  8. What is that song starting at 1:52? So smooth. Watching this process in making kimchi also has me extremely curious about bottled manufactured kimchi. I mean, look at how much time it took, and making sure the seasoning was on each and every cabbage leaf. How do they do it? *runs and researches*

    3 years ago
  9. Awesome! I also make my own kimchi but it is a much much smaller amount, hehe. Just like enough for me, myself and I and maybe some friends. Everyone seems to like it though. I think I have some new ideas from this video. ^^

    3 years ago
  10. Where is Simon in all of this? Don’t tell me he wasn’t invited ! :( because that would suck for him…

    3 years ago
  11. mmm kimchi… i’m addicted to it!! i make a simple cut cabbage kimchi at home once in a while, but my last batch turned out horrible :( i have a feeling it’s because for the first time, instead of following a recipe, i just kind of eyeballed it… oops :D it turned out really gross and SOUR as hell. maybe i left it to ferment for too long? (i left it for 3 days). if anyone has any tips to avoid the sour next time that would useful :) or i guess i could just follow a recipe next time :P

    3 years ago
    • you have to leave it for 2 weeks. Radish, can eat after few days, that’s the better taste. Maybe you add something too much…

      3 years ago
    • taste it as it ferments that way you can refrigerate it when it gets to the right “sour”. i thing 1 day might be enough

      3 years ago
  12. Cooking in a bath and a little pool… that’s a lot of kimchi o_o

    3 years ago
  13. i’m going to be making radish kimchi as soon as i can find the right container. :( I’ll post pics

    3 years ago
  14. “Seems right” is how my mother makes arroz y gandules (everyone LOVES my mother’s arroz y gandules). Finally I just grabbed a camera and took pictures of her doing each step. For instance she doesn’t measure the salt, she just takes an old wooden spoon that she likes and makes a line of salt down the middle, and that’s “right”.

    3 years ago
  15. Wow that’s a lot of Kimchi.
    And yes it’s true about Kimchi, I tried it 5 times. The very first time I was like “nah, not really my taste”, the 2nd “ew gross!” and the 3 next to that where ok. Not the best I’ve ever eaten but still I’m sure there must be a Kimchi I absolutely like. :)

    3 years ago
  16. ahahaha my mom’s like that!! she never follows instructions, just does stuff how she thinks is right!! but of course she can get away with it since she’s experienced!! ah~ the knowledge of mom’s!!
    hehehehe spotted Kim Woo Bin on the TV!!

    3 years ago
  17. Do you cook the squid or add it raw? Does it rot like oysters or stay fermented?

    3 years ago
  18. Hats off to the women of Korea that make this! I had my first experience a few weeks ago and it was intense. Thankfully the hubs helped and the rule of hierarchy paid off. His aunt was absent which bumped his mum up to the highest so we/ I got out of a lot of work. You can check it out if you want here: https://matjibhunters.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/kimchi-making-by-the-mountains-i/

    3 years ago
    • Holy Cow that was a lot of kimchi! And here I thought that the tub at Soozee’s parents’ home was large. But it looks like the men and the women of the family all take part in the kimchi extravaganza, so that’s nice!

      3 years ago
  19. It was really nice to see Sooze’s home and family and is an amazing process how to make kimchi!

    3 years ago
  20. I was salivating throughout the second half of this video :P This reminded me a lot of my grandmother’s annual mango pickle making process. She used to have like six mango trees in her garden and every year she would pick at least half of the crop in the early summer before they ripened and make the most mind-blowing raw mango pickle awesomeness ever. She doesn’t do it anymore because she finds it tiring, so we just eat store-bought pickle. But nothing beats her homemade stuff.

    BTW what was the music you guys used in this video? It was really good :)

    3 years ago
  21. I’m with you guys, I love adding ginger. Never used the broth method though. I’ll have to try that!

    3 years ago
  22. I’m a vegetarian, and I had fish ( anchovy in broth ) on accident once. Once. So I’d probably have to make my own kimchi, and since I -also- can’t eat fermented food ( it tastes like mold and nothing else, I will throw up if I try to eat it ), I’d have to eat it fresh too. I found some recipes a while back for vegetarian Korean foods including kimchi, but I’m a few hundred miles away from the nearest area where I can get most of the essential ingredients. :(

    Kind of makes me sad thinking about my intended move to Korea, since a huge part of the cuisine is basically off-limits to me. Not that I have a problem with people eating animals, I just get sick if I try to eat them myself. :(

    3 years ago
    • A lot of vegans/vegetarians use dried mushroom broth in place of things like fish broth. I recommend trying that out! Plus you can eat kimchi fresh without fermenting it so maybe try a small batch of just one cabbage head! :D Also, it is tough for vegetarians in korea if you don’t live near vegetarian restaurants (there are a few but they exist) but most of my veggie friends just cook at home! We did a FAPFAP on a Vegan/Vege restaurant in Korea too :D

      3 years ago
      • I know, I watched that video! :D I hope there will be a few more vegetarian-friendly places when I get to Korea, but I’m used to cooking for myself at home anyway. I can figure it out no matter what!

        I can’t get the red pepper powder, and I haven’t seen that particular kind of cabbage around here often. There are lots of other pears here, but they’re too soft I think for kimchi ( I haven’t seen any Korean pears ). I’d have to find recipes for making stuff like glutinous rice by hand first then using it to make kimchi, so it would be a ridiculously long process by myself, even for just one head. I’d so love to try it though. [ I’m about a 4 hour drive from Seattle, WA, which has all the Asians ever. Sadly it’s not worth the drive right now, but eventually I’ll live there and later on Hawaii ( for school ), so I can try everything! ]

        3 years ago
  23. its funny because i just tried making kimchi for the first time ever just moments ago:b

    3 years ago
  24. I’ve always found the part where the sauce and sliced tidbits come together so satisfying, and when you slather that mix into all the leaves….ermahgerd such a good food feeling. Especially when its done in a kimchi pool.

    3 years ago
  25. This was a really cool look inside of Korean culture!
    Thank you to Soozee and her mother for sharing!

    3 years ago
  26. I like Maangchi’s Korean Food Website! I haven’t tried making her Kimchi recipes but she gives you more exact measurements. If anyone wants to give it a go: http://www.maangchi.com/recipes/kimchi

    3 years ago
    • Oh I LOVE her channel! She’s cute and the recipes sound so great.

      3 years ago
  27. GET IN MAH BELLY!!!!!

    3 years ago
  28. This was really cool to watch. It was more of a behind the scenes/real life in a Korean family kinda video (if that makes any sense). I love veggies and seafood but I actually think that I would be too scared to try making this. Fermentation worries me….what if I do it wrong and my food rots? EEK! Does that happen? Do you hear about food poisoning often in Korean (from food that hasn’t been fermented correctly?) …now i’m curious…

    3 years ago
  29. Wow that looked fun and delicious. My mouth won’t stop watering.

    3 years ago
  30. I’ve been wanting to make kimchi for so long but my house mate is allergic to seafood – do you or Soozee know of any substitutes for fish sauce???

    Btw – do you guys watch 비정상회담 (Abnormal Summit)? I saw it on in the background. I find it a really interesting show but I wish there were more women on the show – it’s very one-sided a lot of the time…

    3 years ago
    • I suggest dried mushrooms rehydrated in water as a fish sauce substitute! I don’t watch Abnormal Summit, it was just playing in the background b/c no one changed the channel for hours. Hahah!

      3 years ago
  31. We’ve waited six years for this!

    3 years ago
  32. Is it only the ladies that makes kimchi? Don’t the guys help out? Seems like a pretty back-breaking work.

    3 years ago
    • DD

      In many cases, the buying and delivering the ingredients were sometimes men’s job, especially for cabbage and radishes. It is changed now because of good delivery services at market. My father helps moving the stuff for my mom. Such as moving the air packed buckets for temperature control.. But the whole work of cooking(?) is woman’s work.
      I think Korean men should know how to cook basic Korean dishes as much as Korean women because korean food needs many ingredients than it looks like, if it tastes right. Even small steamed spinach banchan needs at least 4~5 ingredients if it tastes correctly. If man can’t count these correctly, they can just think the price of kimchi will be same as the price of kimchi product and it is obviously not.

      3 years ago
    • This is one of the old school sides of Korea rearing its head. This is totally a “woman’s job” and even though a lot of Korean men have seen their families make it, they don’t actually know how to make it. Hopefully Korean families will start to teach their sons how to make kimchi too and make it a family job, rather than a woman’s job.

      3 years ago
    • it IS back-breaking work. and no, most of them time men don’t help with this. most families who make their own kimchi do it in early winter, for the whole year — so that’s a lot of kimchi.

      3 years ago
  33. Now I really want kimchi T^T

    The restaurant I work at makes a fusion kimchi…I don’t think I would call it kimchi though. We do a version of cabbage kimchi. We do brine the cabbage, but the sauce/seasonings are different. Because a lot of the ingredients are hard to get here, my dad (who is the chef) just substituted/made up his own version. We use fish sauce, oyster sauce, plum sauce, red pepper flakes (ground to a powder), sugar, and sweet thai chili sauce. There are probably more ingredients in it but I’ve only had to make it once and don’t remember it all. Because we only use it on one dish, and because we go through so much of it (especially during the summer), we don’t ferment it. Like I said: I wouldn’t call it kimchi. Maybe a well seasoned cabbage?

    Annnnnnd a random side note: Woo! Abnormal Summit in the background~ I love that show :D

    3 years ago
  34. I’ve always thought it looked like a ton of fun (and a ton of work) to make a huge batch of kimchi. It looks so delicious~

    3 years ago
  35. I have watched several kimchi making videos and it always amazes me the little differences that make it so unique to the chef. I personally don’t like spicy foods too much so fresh kimchi is actually my favorite since the veggies still have a lot of water in them. Of course, I think now, I may be ready to try making my own kimchi that will be able to ferment AND not be spicy because I won’t add a bajillion red pepper flakes! ANYWHO! This was super fun to watch…but…Where was Simon?

    3 years ago
  36. Wow..that looks amazing. I wish I could make kimchi, but as a non-korean, it would be very difficult because there definitely is a level of culture you have to understand. I would love to try fresh, homemade kimchi.

    But does making kimchi for an entire year greatly change the flavor? If it gets more sour over time, by the end of the year, does it become really sour?

    3 years ago
  37. That was a bathtub… full of cabbage… and a kiddie pool full of sauce! Looks tasty. Will Soozee marry me??? She seems nice, but I really just want the kimchi.

    3 years ago
  38. This looks like a totally awesome thing to do. Baechu Kimchi might be worth a shot over Christmas Break. I totally do not have better things to do and I have access to a Korean Super Market! Also fresh kimchi is so yummy. It’s really comforting that there are no right or wrong ratios of ingredients. It makes the process both more scary and less scary at the same time!

    Wish me Luck! I tend to make things explode when I try them for the first time. Exploding Kimchi might be awesome or horrible…

    Awerrible? :)

    3 years ago
  39. SooZee’s family is so darn cute

    3 years ago
  40. So..Much.. Food Porn.. I can’t take it…. RUSH TO FRIDGE FOR MY FACTORY MADE KIMCHI!!!!

    3 years ago