Kimchi

Kimchi is good. Although — like many things in the wide world of food that are good — it smells like shit.

When we lived overseas, for a while we had a Korean neighbor who taught my mom how to make kimchi (I was in the third grade). My mom at that point had made pickled vegetables (the most ubiquitous being pickled mustard greens), but these were mild concoctions. My mom I imagine was intoxicated by the heat and toxicity of our neighbors kimchi, which spent a few days taking a dirt nap, buried in her backyard.

My mom didn’t go that far, instead allowing a huge jar of kimchi to ferment on our kitchen counter. We lived at the time in a closed residential compound that had been designed by Dutch architects for (initially) expatriated Dutch workers and their families. As a result, our house was quite diminutive in an efficient, scaled down way — the Netherlands appearing to be a country that was built to 3/5th scale. It was quite possibly the smallest 5 bedroom house in the entire world – maybe 1000 square feet. Everything was scaled down to size — the bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, utility room. One load in our washer and dryer meant probably two pairs of jeans and five shirts. The icebox could barely hold a chicken. Our Atari 2600 game room was so small a third Missile Command spectator had a hard time waiting his turn without discomforting the others.

As a result of living in such cramped quarters, my Mom’s huge jar of rotting crap smelled like fucking shit. Oh man, my dad would bellyache like a whiny ass titty baby. He had a hard time with fish sauce, but this kimchi was another smelly beast altogether. The fact that it sat out for days, stinking up the whole joint, imparted a more criminal ignominy. Like most solipsistic white honkies, he had an aversion to anything that smelled stronger than ketchup that wasn’t his own fart. I kid the white people. I love them — they are good at starting wars.

My kimchi technique is slightly modified from a more traditional approach (as described on Zenkimchi’s excellent post), though I do use this technique as a template.

As with most of my recipes, everything is approximate. In fact, I’m not going to give measurements for most of the ingredients here. Just figure it out yourself, you’re a big girl. Take some responsibility for your life for once.

Kimchi

Vegetable components

  • Cabbage
  • Daikon radish
  • Carrots
  • Sliced red onion
  • Chopped green onion
  • Garlic
  • Italian parsley
  • Ginger

In this case, I picked up a couple long napa cabbages from Uwajimaya (around 2 feet long, but much narrower than conventional napa). I sliced the daikon into coins, and the carrots into matchsticks, and brined all these for around 8 hours in cold, salty water (1 cup kosher salt for every quart water). I used around 25 minced garlic cloves — no kidding — and a nice, shredded knob of ginger. The parsley may sound like an odd addition, but I like the freshness it adds to the mix.

Seasoning components

  • Fish sauce (I used Three Lions brand – my usual)
  • Gochugaru
  • Crushed red pepper
  • Paprika
  • 1 teaspoon fermented shrimp sauce (your call)
  • 1 teaspoon or so of sugar

Start with a large mixing bowl, and add all the spices.

Pepper

Gochugaru is Korean dried red pepper. It’s intensely red. Paprika, again, may seem odd , but I like the “red” it adds. Also, the crushed pepper could probably be omitted, but I like the additional flavor layer it adds. It is important to note the gochugaru is the primary pepper component and you are using a lot. How much? That’s your call, but you’re looking to create a consistent paste when you add the fish sauce (and the shrimp sauce, if you’re using it). It should be a nice sludge that should should be ample enough to coat all your vegetables. If you’re feeling timid, you can create the sludge separately and mix it in stages with the vegetables to obtain your optimum level of intensity.

Once everything is mixed to your liking, transfer to a large jar or container and commence with the rotting. You can leave it out at room temperature overnight or transfer immediately to your fridge – I usually let it sit out for around 12 hours and then refridgerate. The opening photo shows kimchi in its infancy. I will sample the kimchi at this point, as there’s joy to be obtained from a fresh, bright batch of kimchi.

Pepper

But as you can see, once it mucks around in its own rotting filth for a while, that’s when something special starts to occur.

6 thoughts on “Kimchi

  1. Yum! Yum! I get jars of this from my auntie and can devour it in days. She adds chopped collard greens from the garden to her batch. Sometimes, I just sit there with my chopsticks and a jar of kimchee and nothing else.

  2. Ahhh, I love torturing my husband by leaving kimchee out to “mature” on the counter. I haven’t had great success making my own so I buy mine at the local Korean market.

    My problem is that I like it really rotten. Really sour. Which means I have to leave it out for a couple days, during which time the house smells like we’ve ritually killed a small menagerie in a completely sealed room in the middle of the desert during September. I once forgot to leave the jar in another container and it bubbled over, to which my husband stated that it was wrong for food to boil and bubble at room temp.

    The cilantro is an interesting idea…

  3. Pingback: Guilty Carnivore · Kimchi bánh mì

  4. I have a question about your Kimchi, when you let it out to ferment at room temperature, do you leave the jar open or close.

    I have made kimchi but never sure if I just allow the jar to be left open.

    Caly

  5. Hi Caly – I’m inclined to do both…let it sit for a few hours uncovered, then cover it up once it starts to emit a discernible funk.