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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. If only it didn’t take so much time and effort to make kimchi I’d make it everyday!! :'(

    5 years ago
  2. First off love Kimchi!!!Never made it before but would like to have a big KIMCHI MAKING EXTRAVAGANZA PARTY!! lol maybe one day :D p.s. Also spotted the Kim Woo Bin on the telly!!

    5 years ago
  3. YUM! A lot of American kimchi from the grocers are sour, i find the best place to buy kimchi here in America is from an Asian market where the kimchi is in bags like Martina is holding at the end. That’s typically fresh kimchi and tastes much different than jarred kimchi!

    5 years ago
  4. Love the music in this segment – especially the funk stuff. There’s a band called Nomo out of Ann Arbor, MI, which sounds similar… For example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOrNrLCIPug

    5 years ago
  5. So much cabbage! Holy, holy. Very cool. And I’ll make some, but only one cabbage, but with japanese twist: little less hot. heheheh I wonder this amount will last for how much time. After all, so much kimchi!

    5 years ago
  6. I made Kimchi once, I even bought a pot that is used especially for fermenting. It was VERY yummy at first, but I failed to let it ferment long enough (I let air in all the time), so it begann to rot after like 3 days. Came home to find my kitchen full of flies and a weird freaking smell, hahaha :D!

    The recipe I used was VERY different and probably went against everything even remotely traditional about Kimchi-making. I still have the pot (although I should probably use something smaller for starters) and I honestly think I will give this another go, with YOUR recipe this time, after Christmas! Thanks for inspiring me, guise!

    5 years ago
  7. So much kimchi. Yums!

    5 years ago
  8. OOOOOOOOO Finally~! I saw it made in boys over flowers and to me it looked like a lot of fun, kinda like making salsa ^^

    5 years ago
  9. Wow! That seems like a lot of work! But it looks really fun too! What a cool experience!
    This video kind of made me miss China. I just came back from teaching there a few months ago. My apartment was right on the open air market street, so I really miss that atmosphere.

    5 years ago
  10. This video just made my kimchi making embarrassing. I think I make “a lot of kimchi” when I fill two mason jars. But in my defense, I live in a small apartment and my husband can’t handle spicy food.

    5 years ago
  11. I love kimchi! I love cooking! To date I have made: Pa Kimchi, Gat Kimchi, Dongchimi, Kkakdugi Kimchi and Baechu Kimchi. I also make homemade spiced saurkraut, a Vietnamese pickled mustard greens, fermented beets, Makdous (Lebanese stuffed baby eggplants), pickled garlic cloves and many other preserved foods. So much fun and so much deliciousness!
    The only real differences I noticed with SooZee’s family recipe and my Baechu Kimchi recipe, (a part from the amount!) Are the absence of ginger and the use of stock as the liquid in the paste. I may have to try my recipe with a stock added!

    5 years ago
  12. Every time I see all this work being done on the floor I’m a little in aw of how clean the floor has to be to prepare food on it, even with mats. I take it you don’t hold the kimchi making in the homes of people with dogs? If I tried that my kimchi would be flavored with Labrador hair!

    5 years ago
  13. DD

    My grandma’s version has small pieces of fish flesh, sometimes a head of cob fish if it be fermented longer more than two months, and grind anchovy head (without gut). They will be almost melt at the end of fermentation that you can’t even recognize whether it existed or not. I heard that somewhere in Korea uses the porkloin as a special ingredient for making rich flavor with other herbs as well. In general, I felt certain kind of obsession/passion for making GOOD kimchi in Korea.

    My aunt always ran her project about buying pure sea salt from salt pond directly, which is sweeter than usual, for its delivery. It started March(!) and she made a team of 5 families include my parents at June and got the sea salt at then. The plan sometimes grew up, which include buying fresh fish sauces from the coastal seller where selling those by litter size: it is lot cheaper and fresher. I really like this part because many other kinds of grinned seafood are available as side order, such as grinned shellfish, abalone etc. It is Soooo yummy~~~. We bought the buckets of sauce and grinned shrimp at autumn and made kimchi! It is kinda mindset that “we will use THE BEST INGREDIENT FOR HAPPINESS of COMING YEAR -_-+”
    I really miss this kimchi raid and people.

    5 years ago
  14. Hmmm now that I know there are a ton of Kimchi versions I am tempted to look for a vegetarian friendly kimchi recipe

    5 years ago
  15. I found a delicious recipe online from Maangchi (look her up on YouTube) She has a ton of Korean food recipes. I made kimchi last week for the third time using this recipe and it’s amazing…I got the seal of approval from several of my Korean friends! :)

    5 years ago
  16. 헐ㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠ 부럽다ㅠㅠ 저희집은 올해 김장못해서 할머니가 그냥보내주셨어요ㅠㅠ 버무리는거 꿀잼ㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠ
    새김치나 양념 생굴이랑 같이먹으면ㅠㅠㅠ 으헝헝헝헝

    5 years ago
  17. How often does SooZee’s mom/family make kimchi?

    5 years ago
  18. hi you guys! i was wondering, when making the kim chi how did you clean the cabbage? i know some cabbages still have residual dirt and sand in the crevices. and y’all made the kim chi with the cabbage somewhat intact so i was really curious as to how y’all did it. thank you so much

    5 years ago
  19. This video reminds me when we make Tamales during the holidays. Its a big task and it takes all day. All the girls sit at the table and roll tamales and gossip. We try so hard not to eat the the pork. I’ve never had Kimchi before but it looks really good! I bet it smelled so good in that house with the spices. Hmmm maybe someday.

    5 years ago
  20. woah! such a huge task!! i think i’ll carry on buying my kimchi from the grocery store. lol. still, i bet you are happy that you could experience this at least once. and it was interesting to watch too!!

    5 years ago
  21. Thanks for the video! Brought back childhood memory of kimchi making at grandma’s house. All the aunts gathered together and made different kinds of kimchi: traditional cabbage, cucumber, and wrap kimchi. As usual, I got hungry watching the video! :D

    5 years ago