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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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  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. its funny because i just tried making kimchi for the first time ever just moments ago:b

    5 years ago
  7. 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. :)

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

    5 years ago
  9. 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. :(

    5 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

      5 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! ]

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

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

    5 years ago
  12. 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

    5 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…

      5 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

      5 years ago
  13. 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

    5 years ago
  14. 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…

    5 years ago
  15. 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!

    5 years ago
  16. 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*

    5 years ago
  17. 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*

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

    5 years ago
  19. 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. ^^

    5 years ago
  20. 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.

    5 years ago
  21. 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*

    5 years ago