Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Making Kimchee

Elsewhere, Fall brings an irresistible urge to stock up, to pack away summer's bounty in jars, jugs, and bottles to last through the long cold winter. Here in San Francisco, where I swear it is warmer now than it was in July, that instinct for preservation is an afterthought. There are plenty of fresh vegetables locally available. But it still feels good to have something packed away.

So the Momofuku cookbook, with its extensive section on pickles and Asian-inflected recipes for American ingredients, has been tremendous fun. We put some basic rice vinegar cucumber pickles and some pickled ginger as well, and are now moving on to that fiery Korean classic, kimchee! The traditional housewife recipes we found on the internet deal with washing, salting, and brining the whole head of cabbage, which seemed like a lot of work. And one recipe we tried from non-Korean sources called for leaving the cabbage out for three days to "kick-start the fermentation process". It turned into rotten mush that we threw out. So we were excited to see Momofuku's streamlined but authentic take. Read on for the recipe.

Napa Cabbage Kimchee (paechu kimchee) - From the Momofuku Cookbook
What's Guerrilla: Napa cabbage is cheap, and this is a cheap way to turn it into something amazing. Plus, anything that is traditionally buried in the ground automatically qualifies as "guerrilla" to me.
What's Gourmet: Anything that is traditionally buried in the ground is disqualified from being "gourmet", but David Chang's book has gushing praise from Ferran Adria, Anthony Bourdain, AND Martha Stewart. So I guess all bets are off in that department.

1 Medium head Napa Cabbage
2 tb kosher salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tb sugar
20 cloves garlic, minced
and equivalent amount minced ginger
1/2 cup kochukaru (Korean chile powder)
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup light soy sauce
2 tsp salted shrimp (these are supposed to help the flavor, but they are expensive and aren't necessary. If we really like kimchee, we'll go ahead and buy a big jar, but until then...)
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/2 cup thin sliced carrots

1) Cut the cabbage lengthwise in half and crosswise into inch-wide strips. Toss it with 2 tb salt and 2 tb sugar then leave overnight in the refrigerator to drain.
2) Combine ginger, garlic, kochukaru, fish sauce, soy sauce, and 1/2 cup sugar. Mix, then add water a tb at a time to loosen the brine to the consistency of creamy salad dressing. Add the the scallions and carrots and stir to coat, then drain the cabbage, and toss it until fully coated.
3) Pack away in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator and wait. After 24 hours it should be sweet, spicy, savory,  and tasty. According to Chang, the peak age for kimchee is two weeks, when the lactic acid producing bacteria start to fully ferment the cabbage and it gets a "prickly mouthfeel." "Prickly" is not something I usually strive for in food, but we'll keep an open mind, and keep tasting until we find our favorite "vintage".

Check back next week for the results!


dp said...

Making kimchee is a process, for sure. But I'm the only one in the house who eats it with any regularity and I always make a double batch so it lasts at least 3 or 4 months.

I do let it ferment on the counter for 2 to 3 days before sticking it in the fridge. The trick is to make sure all the water is squeezed out of the cabbage first, otherwise you dilute the acid and the bad bacteria flourish.

Schaefer said...

Thanks for the tip. We heavily salted and then drained the cabbage overnight before tossing it with the brine. I'll try thoroughly squeezing it out next time, to make sure we're set up for the long haul.