Love it or hate it - it's a Korean dietary staple. It doesn't matter what type of Korean restaurant you go to. You will get kimchi in some way or form.
So, you're either here because you want to learn how to make kimchi, because there's a lack of step-by-step guides online or because you're a food nerd/afficionado wanting to learn how this traditional, Korean banchan is made. Whatever your reason (and really, any reason is okay!), I hope you find this post interesting and if you're planning to make your own at home - prepare to devote an entire day or two of TLC and overcoming failures before mastering the art of kimchi.
Perhaps the reason why there's a lack of kimchi guides online is because there's so many varieties of kimchi (it's not just the hot, red, napa cabbage stuff) or because we've gotten so used to buying it in the jars at the grocery store. To be completely honest, I can see why people would rather buy stuff out of the jar. With our busy, modern lifestyles, making kimchi at home can seem absolutely ludicrous. Not only does it take quite some time and hard work, you also need space to prep, room in your fridge to store and ingredients that (unless you're Korean or make Korean food frequently) you won't normally have on hand. However, as a Korean living in North America, I believe it's important to know and pass onto future generations about how to make my nation's iconic dish.
The following is by no means the be all end all on how to make baechu kimchi. This is my family recipe and I'm sharing it with all of you to try it out should you decide to make it at home. Like
almost all of my family recipes - there is no recipe. Or...an exact one anyways. You go off memory and adjust the ingredients until it tastes just right. I'll do my best to describe what it should taste like before it's fermented but know that the taste of kimchi is difficult to describe - it's something you have to experience for yourself. So here's my advice: use my following approximations and adjust to your taste preference. If possible, make a Korean friend and score some homemade kimchi from them or go taste fresh kimchi made daily at your local Korean grocery like H-Mart.
Remember - don't falter if it doesn't come out right on your first few attempts. Like Gene-hyung says, "People who say they got it down after the first couple of attempts are either a) lying, b) geniuses, c) don't really know what good kimchi tastes like or d) have low standards and expectations".
Ready to do this? Lets go...
Keys to Success
Quote Thomas Keller:
"Great Product + Great Execution = Great Cooking"
Great execution will come through trial and error but to help us get to great kimchi - we're gonna use the best, quality ingredients we can get our hands on. So what does that mean for us?
1) We will only use the best, freshest napa cabbage we can find. If you're buying in bulk by the box, make sure you open it up and look at the cabbages underneath the top layer. Is it decayed and smelling funky like your old high school locker room? Time to check another grocery store.
2) You will use the best gochugaru you can get your hands on. There is no substitution for this dried Korean chili pepper and if you still don't listen to me and use something like cayenne, you'll be throwing time and money down the drain. We get ours homemade by my grandma in Korea but I know not all of you have Korean grandparents. So what should you look for? Vibrant, bright red, almost ruby colored gochugaru flakes that smell like it's going to be spicy as hell when you eat it. If it's dull, dead, lifeless and scentless - bin it.
3) Use Asian products (you know, the ones with package writing that make you go wtf) if you can. Like before, get the best stuff you can get your hands on. Don't get the daikon that's cracked, bruised and dead for obvious reasons. Use fresh, not frozen, shrimp and so on..
Kimchi requires space...a lot of space and the following eqipments will make you life a lot easier:
1) a big tub/container (pictures to come) - why? Where else are you going to wash, salt and paste all of those huge napa cabbages? This is an essential - you need at least 1 of these. Buy it at your Asian groceries or I'm sure Lowes or hardware stores like that have something similar
(photo credit: Eat, Drink, Man...)
2) rubber kitchen or plastic gloves - why? To prevent your hands from wrinkling and being stained. Purely aesthetic but one I'd recommend unless you want to smell like powerful gochugaru for a few days
3) food processor - this is going to cut down on prep time, make sure all of the ingredients that you need to grind down are equal in size and make your life a whole lot easier. A food processor is key.
4) large glass jars or big plastic containers - why? To store your kimchi after you finish making it.
5) a juicer - we use a juicer to just get the liquid, or essence if you will, from the daikons. You don't need a juicer - it's more of a textural thing. The juicer ensures that the daikons give the kimchi a refreshing, slightly sweet taste without the grittiness it'll give from blitzing it in a food processor.
- 8 large, napa cabbage
- lots of coarse salt
- +2 lbs. of gochugaru, more if you want a spicier kimchi
- 2.5 daikons, roughly chopped
- 2.5 inch knob of ginger, peeled
- 3 medium onions or 2 large onions, quartered
- 1 head of garlic, broken into individual cloves and peeled
- 10 large, raw shrimp, peeled
- 1 cup salted shrimp
- 1/2 cup fish sauce
- 1 cup of chapsal (sticky rice, can substitute with mochiko), cooked
Note: Keep in mind that we used 2 boxes of napa cabbage to make kimchi. Therefore, the ingredients pictured below won't be the quantity described above.
Path to Success
A) The Cabbage
In a large tub, fill it with water and salt it lightly. This will help us ensure that every nook and cranny of the cabbage gets salted. Leave aside until needed.
Quarter the napa cabbage. To do this, use a big knife and slice the core/bottom of the cabbage.
Pull the cabbage apart with your hands until you get 2 halves. Now, cut the core/base of each half again and pull apart until you have quarters. The leaves should still be intact with the core so they don't just fall apart.
Place the quartered cabbage into the salted water and leave it there until you've finished prepping the rest of the cabbage.
Drain and remove the washed cabbage into another big tub. Salt the leaves. Not just the outside - inside, every nook and cranny and anywhere in between. You do have your rubber gloves on right?
After you've finished salting all of the cabbage leaves. Set it inside another big tub or the one that had the salted water in it. Weigh down with a big plate or the tub you used to salt the leaves (see? I told you these tubs were essential) and cover for 6 - 8 hours rotating the bottom cabbage with the top ones halfway through.
B. The "Sauce"
After the 6 - 8 hours, drain the cabbage leaves well. While it's draining, let's make the paste or "sauce" shall we?
Place chapsal (sticky rice) in a pot with water. About a 2.5:1 water to rice ratio. Cook until the rice is finished and set aside until needed. Likewise, you can use mochiko and make a paste out of that by adding water.
Chop up all the veggies. In a food processor, blitz together the onions, garlic, ginger, large raw shrimp and fish sauce. It'll be a somewhat liquid, pasty substance after it's done.
(work in batches if you need to)
In your large tub (or pot in my case), pour in your gochugaru.
Add salted shrimp to the gochugaru. Here's what the salted shrimp looks like:
Juice the daikons. You'll get between 2 - 3 cups of juice depending on how big the daikons are. You can process it in the food processor also or just skip this step all together and just add water instead. Combine the daikon juice, processed vegetables/raw shrimp, salted shrimp, gochugaru and cooked rice together. Form a paste with all of the ingredients, using rubber/plastic gloves to mix.
Now, taste the mixture. It should be on the saltier side (it's gonna be pickled so it's okay), spicy, somewhat refreshing and sweet because of the juiced daikons (omit this description if you used water instead) with backnotes of onions/garlic. If the paste is too dry, add more water to loosen it up a little bit. Remember this Gordon Ramsay saying: "You can always add but never take away". Adjust in little steps and don't add too much water all at once.
Rub the paste all over the cabbage - just like when we salted the leaves earlier. Make sure you get that delicious, spicy concoction everywhere and in between every leaf - be generous. After you're done, store in glass jar or big plastic containers
Now, you could dig up a hole in your backyard and store this underground if it's winter or just leave it out at room temperature overnight or 24 hours -maximum- to start the fermentation process then refrigerate. After kick starting the fermentation process, cut the kimchi into bite sized pieces to eat. You can mix in julienned daikons and/or sliced green onions with the kimchi at this point for additional flavor.
The Delicious Finish
How's your back at this point? Still hanging in there? Good! Now, you might be wondering if this was worth it in the end. My obvious answer to that question is - yes.
Not only have you developed a skill that most people (even Koreans) don't have, you've just saved a whole lot of money by making your own kimchi. For 2 boxes (that's 16 napa cabbages) of kimchi, it cost us about $50-60 in just ingredients. Trying to buy that at the grocery store will easily cost you over $200.
I want to reemphasize again that this is my family "recipe". How kimchi is made varies all across the peninsula and depending on which region it's made, both the ingredients and preparations may differ. Once you've mastered the basics to making kimchi, feel free to play with the recipe and make your own.
Now, go show off to all of your friends about how you can make kimchi and make 2010 the year of Korean food.
Reference:Eat, Drink, Man... - I used a similar layout/flow as well as a picture by Gene for my kimchi post. Check out Gene-hyung's kimchi page for his take on this Korean staple.