Monday, June 4, 2007

Kimchi(or Gimchi) basics

This is staple food in Korea. I have no better way to describe its importance in Korean cuisine. Koreans have pickled vegetables for a long long time. There are various records left by ancient Korean dishes called ‘Gee’ which means vegetable pickled with salt. If the vegetable can take salt, it can be made into Kimchi ; pumpkin, cucumber, white radish and many other greens, roots, and vegetables. Many Korean homes even have special refrigerator for Kimchi.
I can not even list how many stories I have about Kimchi.
When I was young, Kimchi should be made at home. It was big family gathering. Every year in late autumn day, aunts gathered in our house and spent a day making huge quantity of Kimchi . Court yard and entire house smelled like fresh Napa cabbage and spicy mixture of ginger and garlic. I hang around them and begged for seasonings wrapped in the tender inner leaf of Napa cabbage or bits of radish. It was spicy but also sweet because of chestnut and Korean pear in it. There were big pots in the kitchen steaming Dubu and boiling pork belly for the dinner and snacking. Father came home for rustic feast of freshly made Kimchi, oyster seasoned in left over Kimchi seasoning, warm Dubu and pork.
The next day, he dug big holes in the back yard to bury special clay pots to ferment Kimchi. Many things have changed since. We don’t make such a huge quantity of Kimchi for the winter or bury the pots. It has replaced with grocery stores and Kimchi refrigerators. But I find Kimchi making with my friend here special. It brings out my childhood memories. Besides, mine tastes way better!

The most important ingredient-other than vegetables itself- in Kimchi is salt. The bacteria which ferment Kimchi and give its characteristic flavor are resistant to high salt and low temperature. Many of them produce lactose during the process. The optimal temperature of fermentation is around 4 degree Celsius (about 40 degree).

Here are lists of facts about Kimchi.
1. It doesn’t require vinegar. The sour taste comes from natural fermentation. DO NOT add vinegar!!!
2. No iodized salt, please. I learned this in very hard way. Somehow when I made Kimchi with iodized salt, it ruined fermentation.
3. It may not be vegetarian. Please check the label when you buy Kimchi . Small amount of fish sauce or oyster may be used to flavor of it.

You can make Kimchi at home as it has been done for a long time. Here is my simplest recipe for Beachu Kimchi, the most popular kind.


Napa cabbage 5 lb, 1 cup Kosher salt, 1 big Korean pear (also known as Asian pear, optional), 2 lb White radish (AKA Daikang radish), 12 Green onions, One head of Garlic and equal amount of Ginger, 1 cup water, 1 1/2 T Rice flour, 3 T or more Korean chillie powder (up to the taste)

Big mixing bowl
Surgical gloves; we are dealing with very very hot pepper powder hear. So, be careful and use gloves when you massaging it in between layers of leaves!
Tight-sealing glass Jar or stainless steel container; we are talking about a ton of garlic here, and as you know it DOES smell! To avoid making your entire refrigerator smell like Kim-Chi, pleas use containers made out of glass or stainless steel with tight-seal. If you use plastic containers please use them only for Kim-Chi since the smell of garlic will not leave the container.

1. Wash and quarter in length the Napa cabbage
2. Pickle Napa cabbage by sprinkling 3/4 cup of salt; make it sure that the salt is sprinkled in between layers of leaves. Let it sit for at least 6 hours.
3. Wash off excess salt and squeeze the cabbage well
4. Pour 1 cup of water in sauce pan with rice flour and mix well. Put it on medium heat and keep stirring until it thickens and slightly transparent. Remove from heat and let it cool down
5. Skin garlic and ginger; chop them by pulse it in food processor
6. Add garlic and ginger in rice porridge (from 3) along with chilli powder and 1 Table spoon of Salt; set it aside
7. Cut Korean pear and white radish in thin strips (about 2mm thick and 5mm wide); cut green onion in same length (halve the white part if it is thicker than quarter inch)
8. Wear surgical gloves and mix chilli/garlic/ginger paste (from 6), green onion, Korean pear and white radish in big mixing bowl
9. Take one quarter of Napa cabbage and rub the seasonings around it. Take small amount of mixture, rub and put in between every 4-5 leaves. At the end, gently band the cabbage into half. Repeat till all the cabbages are seasoned
10. Put little bit of seasoning on the bottom, tightly fit the cabbage quarters and seal the container tight.
11. Let it sit on counter top for a day and put it in the refrigerator.
12. Give it at least week to develop the flavor.

** Do NOT use Iodized salt!
** Do NOT substitute Korean pear with ordinary pear.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this recipe and the little details - like not using iodized salt or the wrong pear, etc.

Last month I spent a week in Seoul on business. I was there with a colleage who's settled in teh US but was born and grew up in Seoul. He introduced me to Kimchi and many many wonderful foods including bibimpap and bulgogi among others.

Weeks later, I find myself dreaming of the wonderful Kimchi's I ate on that trip. I've been looking at recipes for the last two days and was just about to get started making some but don't have sea salt on hand and was going to substitute iodized table salt. I'm very glad I found your recipe and your comments.

I want to make some authentic Kimchi and am going to wait to go shop for the right stuff tomorrow.

Thanks much for sharing !!!

Anonymous said...

nice opinion.. thanks for sharing....