Sunday, October 5, 2008

Making kimchi

This book is one of the best resources I can think of for the adventurous cook. But you have to like strong flavors. Devoted entirely to the art of fermentation, Wild Fermentation is a compendium of all things bubbly and smelly. Sandor Katz thoroughly explains the benefits of raw fermented foods and then goes on to give recipe after recipe of traditional ferments and more innovative ones. The methods are simple, and he gives good resources for the harder-to-find cultures such as the ones used in miso and tempeh. I used his kimchi recipe, but I added lots of my own innovations, which I will explain (with pictures, yay!) in this post.

Kimchi is perfect for the veggies that grow any time of the year, but I find that a good kimchi is a well-balanced, colorful, flavorful kimchi. I don't like to use just cabbage, preferring instead to create a more interesting texture with many different veggies. To start this kimchi I used a bunch of curly kale (I didn't exactly use measurements, but I would estimate the kale I used to be about 1/4lb).

I then added some yellow carrots (1/4lb) cut into 1/2" chunks and assorted radishes (1/2-3/4lb) sliced thinly.

Then I added 3 cloves of garlic. You can adjust the flavorings as you like--more, less, or no garlic.

Next I added some wild Atlantic nori (a sea vegetable that you can find at health food stores, co-ops, or ethnic grocery stores). The important thing to remember about sea veggies is that they're pretty salty, so keep this in mind when making up the brine later. Don't worry too much about it, though--you can always rinse off the veggies if they're too salty.

Then came the hot peppers. I used three, allowing a few seeds to get in there, but discarding most of them. Kimchi can absorb a lot of spice, so don't be afraid of adding too much. I also added several shakes of fish sauce to this. Again, if you're a vegetarian or don't like flavors as strong as fish sauce, feel free to leave this out.

Next I added pickled ginger (an entire 2.1oz package). I had intended to use regular ginger root, but it was sold out at the grocery store, so I improvised.

Then, for good measure, I sliced a few pattypan squash into the bowl. Kimchi is a great way to use extra veggies that you need to move out of the crisper.

The next step is to make up a brine. I used about 6 cups water and 4 T. Celtic sea salt. You can adjust the proportions as you see fit. You do not want to use iodized table salt, though, as it will inhibit the growth of the bateria that help in fermentation. I recommend sea salt or kosher salt, although canning and pickling salt works fine as well. After mixing the brine, you just pour it over the veggies and make sure they are submerged. I sat a cereal bowl on top of the veggies and then a plate on top of that to press them down.

You can let this sit just a few hours or overnight. I let mine sit overnight, and I stirred it once to make sure that any veggies on top spent some time on the bottom and vice versa.

Drain off the brine, reserving it in case you need it when filling the jar. I tasted my kimchi and found it a little too salty, so I rinsed it a couple times.

This is the reserved brine. Even if you don't need this for the kimchi, you can save it to use in cooking as it is very flavorful and rich in nutrients (think stocks for soup, liquid to brine meat in, etc.).

Cram all the veggies into a jar, pressing hard on them to mash them. This will cause them to expel brine that they have soaked in and if you press hard enough you might not even have to use any of the brine you reserved to cover them. I did not have to use my brine. You can press them down with your fist (I was able to fit my fist into this wide-mouth jar) or you can use a spoon or spatula or other cooking implement.

I then placed a small jam jar inside the bigger jar to keep the veggies submerged under the brine. You can also use a ziplock bag filled with water. Another option is to check on the kimchi a couple times a day and manually press it down under the brine. You might prefer this method if you want to check the flavor development by licking your fingers.

This is the final product. It's really amazing to see how so many veggies can shrink so much. Now all you have to do is keep this at room temperature for four days or so(if your room temperature is warm, three days might do the trick; if your room temp is cooler you might consider leaving it out for a week or so--just go by taste. You want the flavors to meld together, and you also want to make sure that the fermentation process is established before you put it in the fridge.). Then, you can refrigerate it or keep it in a cooler place, like a root cellar. A more traditional way to make this would be in a stoneware crock where it can ferment indefinetely, but a jar works fine. I made this in a dorm room where a crock isn't really an option. The crock method is also smellier (I think it's a good smell, but it is pungent). If you do want to purchase a crock, I know that many small-town hardware stores sell them, and they are widely available at auction sales and yard sales. Or you can find them online. The Wisemen Trading and Supply Co. (a random vendor I just found on the spur of the moment) sells crocks designed for fermenting, but they are more expensive than the all-purpose crocks I've seen at hardware stores. Just look around before you buy. Remember: you're more likely to get a better deal if you buy local.


Theresa said...

I recently tried to make kimchi and wished I had read your post before doing so - mine is too salty and I didn't realize I could rinse the veggies before re-brining them. Well, now I will know for next time. Your kimchi looks delicious!

brandi said...

Ooh! I just stumbled upon this and MUST try it! I've only had the kimchi from jars at Ingles and I'm sure this is much better! Thanks for sharing.