December 9, 2014
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!
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
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.
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: