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Everything You Need To Know About Making Your Own Lockdown Kimchi

Techniques
Feb 1
/
4.5 Mins

Turned sour on Sourdough? Banana bread driving you bananas? Well sweep aside last years Covid culinary projects - Lockdown 2021 is all about Kimchi, and this is how you make it!

As millions around the world prepare for months of isolation at home, we know plenty of you will be looking for a new lockdown food project to get your teeth into… and what better lockdown experiment than homemade Kimchi!

The global popularity of Korea’s national dish has skyrocketed in recent years, but many of us are still put off fermenting at home.

But with the prospect of another month of shuttered bars, homeschooled kids and *sigh* family Zoom calls - homemade kimchi is the perfect step up from sourdough and banana bread!

So get ready to wow your loved ones when the lockdown is lifted, because when life gives us Covid - make Kimchi!

What is Kimchi?

In essence, Kimchi is simply fermented cabbage. It first appeared in Korean kitchens around a thousand years ago, but didn’t take on its signature bright red colour until the 19th century with the introduction of Chillies to the region from South America.

As a way of preserving the harvest just before winter, Koreans would first salt then tightly pack their cabbages into large clay urns, burying them underground to avoid the frost.

The resulting fermented product took on a delicious flavour, and Kimchi began bubbling up across the whole country.

Just like Indian families making yoghurt, and German families making Sauerkraut, almost every Korean family has their own slightly different Kimchi recipe, but most versions contain a range of similar ingredients:

Cabbage, Gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes), garlic, ginger and spring onions are all standard additions, but there are plenty of ways to amp up the flavour, for vegetarians and non vegetarians alike.

How to make kimchi

Making Kimchi consists of 4 main stages. Brining your cabbage, making the paste, smothering the cabbage then packing and fermenting! Be warned this is a labour of love and will take a bit of time - but once you’ve made it, Kimchi is truly the gift that keeps on giving!

These are the ingredients you will need (but they’re really more of a guideline than anything, don’t be afraid to get creative and add your own twist!)

Cabbage Brine:

3 large heads of Napa Cabbage

Pinch of kosher salt per cabbage leaf

Marinade:

¾ cup of water

Heaped tablespoon of Mochiko (or flat tablespoon of rice flour and a heaped teaspoon of sugar)

12 garlic cloves

Thumb sized knob of ginger, grated

½ medium onion, grated

1 ½ tablespoons of fish sauce

¾ cup of Gochugaru Korean red pepper flake (or Aleppo pepper/standard red pepper flakes)

Vegetables:

1 cup of Daikon cut into matchsticks (or large sturdy radish)

½ cup of carrot cut into matchsticks

6 spring onions shredded

1 pear cut into matchsticks

Large Sterelised mason jar/fermentation jar

Step 1: Brining your cabbage
  • Wash your cabbage thoroughly then trim the dirty part of the root off.
  • Slice the cabbage heads lengthwise into quarters, removing the inner section of the core BUT make sure to keep all the leaves intact, and attached to the root section.
  • Brining the cabbage can be done through submerging the leaves in a salt solution (if so, make it 1 part salt to 14 parts water), but the traditional method is to peel through the leaves of the cabbage like pages in a book, sprinkling a pinch of salt in between each layer.
  • Once salted, leave for anywhere between an hour and over night, occasionally rotating the cabbage sections in the water that is extracted, so that salt is evenly distributed throughout.
Step 2: Making the paste
  • Start by heating up your water and Mochiko (or rice flour and sugar) until you create a slurry the consistency of gravy.
  • While this is heating, use this time to slice all your vegetables ready for the assembly.
  • Remove from the heat and add in your fish sauce, ginger, garlic, onion, red pepper flakes and mix to combine (it should be a nice paste consistency that can be easily spread across the cabbage)
Step 3: Smothering the cabbage
  • Add your vegetables to the paste and put on some food prep gloves if you have them.
  • Remove any excess water that may have accumulated from the brining process and begin massaging your paste and vegetables into all the nooks and crannies of the cabbage leaves.
  • The name of the game is complete coverage, so don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty (or not, if you have gloves...)
Step 4: Packing and Fermentation
  • Begin layering the cabbage leaves in your sterilised mason jar, pressing them down as you go.
  • Once the vessel is 3/4 full, tap the bottom gently on a surface to knock out any air bubbles, making sure to leave some room for the gasses of the fermentation process.
  • Leave out at room temperature for 2 days, covered with a cheesecloth or a clean tea towel, then seal and move to the fridge for 2 weeks.
  • Make sure to remove the lid to ‘burp’ the Kimchi every now and then to release the pressure.

What can you do with kimchi?

Kimchi can be enjoyed at any stage of its preparation, and many Koreans enjoy eating it raw before the fermentation process has even begun.

But if you are patient and decide to wait until after the two week mark, you will definitely start to taste that signature sour tanginess, which will only become a more complex flavour as time goes by.

After this stage there are any number of beautiful uses for Kimchi, ranging from main dishes to condiments.

Kimchi fried rice and savoury Kimchi pancakes are a brilliant way to make the fermented cabbage the star of the show, but it is also a lovely compliment to a dish like bibimbap or as part of any rice bowl dish.

Kimchi juice is also a wonderful funky base for a salad dressing, but thats only the tip of the iceberg. People have got seriously creative, making aiolis, butters, and dipping sauces with the stuff!

What to avoid when making kimchi?

  • Wash your cabbage thoroughly, left over dirt in the cabbage stem or leaves can lead to bacteria that we don’t want spoiling the ferment
  • Sterilise your jar properly for the same reason you want clean cabbage. Think of fermentation as a rocket launch, and rotting as an explosion - you don’t want to invite unwanted bacteria to your big launch!
  • Speaking of explosions, many magnificent batches of Kimchi have been lost to exploding mason jars. Because a lot of the fermentation process produces gasses, you want to be sure to regularly burp your Kimchi to release the pressure - you’ve been warned!
  • If you want to try multiple levels of fermentation on your Kimchi, it’s a good idea to have a jar for each stage (i.e. 2 weeks, 1 month, 3 months), as you really want to be eating a jar within one or two weeks of opening it.
  • You can leave Kimchi out at room temperature for around 2 weeks for a faster ferment, but beyond that it may begin to rot.
  • If refrigerated at 4 degrees C, Kimchi can last for months - however after 6 months you are entering uncharted territories - see you on the other side...
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