making kim chi

making kim chi

happy Cinco De Mayo! someone once told me that kim chi was their idea of the ultimate salsa, so… honestly, that’s the only excuse i could come up with for posting this today. usually kim chi is made in the fall, by koreans, and it’s neither fall, nor am i korean. i trust i didn’t surprise anyone with that statement. i’m a redhead, people.

kim chi has been on my to-try list for ages, but i only finally bought korean pepper last fall, and found napa cabbage at the farm stand i always go to a week ago. i joyously grabbed a head, and when the clerk expressed concern that some of the leaves were getting bruised, i excitedly informed her i was making kim chi and they were just going to get smashed anyway. things are always a little more exciting if someone else shares your excitement, you know?

kim chi recipe copy

once i got home, out came my copy of Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, which is a great read not only for the info but also from narrative-perspective, and i’ve been wanting to make something from it for ages. Mr. Katz credits fermented foods with helping cure his HIV while living in a fascinating commune of like-minded folks. also, you gotta love someone with an x *and* a z in their name. the book is well researched and i highly recommend it.

so, ok. you guys, i strayed a little from the recipe because i’m just not the greatest recipe follower. also, i’ve done the fermentation thing a few times, had my successes and failures, and feel like i’m getting to know the process and trusted myself to fudge things a little. for example, the recipe doesn’t say to use filtered water, but i know that lactobacilli aren’t into chlorine. i no longer filter water, so to start i filled up a stock pan with tap water and let it sit out in the sun for about four hours. this lets the chlorine evaporate and also helps sterilize the water a little.

while the water was sunning itself, i chopped up the head of cabbage and weighed it. it was about three times the amount called for in the recipe, so i made a triple batch because i love it, and my boss happens to love it as well. also, kim chi keeps forever in the fridge. i chopped the radishes and used a vegi peeler to make long thin strips of carrot. green onion from the garden rounded out the main batch of vegis, which i cut into big chunks. then, i measured out the amount of water i needed for brine and added canning salt and stirred well to incorporate. or maybe it was sea salt? i don’t recall, i just don’t use iodized salt for fermenting as i didn’t want the iodine to affect the process.


the vegis went into the broth in my big huge glass jug, then were weighed down with three small plates to keep them below the surface. this keeps rot from happening when they come into contact with air. here’s where i really veered from directions: the recipe says to let them sit a few-to-12 hours until soft, then drain them and rinse well, add the spices, pack down, and add brine back to cover but… yeah. i missed that part as i’d somehow stopped reading directions at this point. it also says to grind the garlic, ginger, and pepper into a paste but you know i didn’t do that, either, i just chopped the garlic and ginger finely, and i had powdered korean pepper instead of “three or four red hot chiles”, so i added what i’d call a crap-ton and hoped for the best. i used clean hands to mix the batch well and also get some extra love in there, which is why i’d chopped everything by hand instead of using the food processor. love is an important ingredient 😉 the vegis in the red pepper saturated brine appeared to be floating in blood, which was kind of eerie, but by the next day the pepper had settled a bit and it didn’t look quite so much like Lizzy Borden had been by to help with the cooking.

on friday, it started to get really warm in Portland. by saturday, the plates covering the mix had been pushed out of the way by the fermentation happening underneath. i took to lid off and the most delicious smell hit my nostrils. a smell that instantly made me hungry. i knew it was working.

today, a week later, i bothered looking at the directions again, which said to test the kim chi every day, and after a week transfer to the fridge. after a sample i decided it’s by no means as sour as i want, so i’m leaving it on the counter a few more days before refrigerating. i plan to use a slotted spoon to scoop the kim chi into jars and then top with brine before putting them in the fridge. it’s not too salty, which is lucky since i never rinsed the vegis like i should have. oops. next time. for now, i’d still call this a success, it’s completely delicious. thank you, Mr. Katz.

(ps- i figured out why it’s making some of my photos small. now to figure out how to fix it.)


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