My First Kimchi-Making Experience

I love Korean food, and I love kimchi. I've never attempted to make it on my own, I always thought it was this huge, complicated thing and that it's probably best to just buy premade kimchi at the store. Plus, since I didn't understand fermentation, it scared me. Some kimchi recipes call for raw oysters and raw squid. How would these stay fresh for weeks and months, I wondered? Would I get sick? So, making kimchi was just one of those things I avoided. It intimidated me.When Faith linked to an easy kimchi recipe written by a Korean food blogger named Maangchi, I knew I had to get over my fears and give it a try. My roommate happily volunteered to help me.

Maangchi's recipe is really very well-written and explains each step in detail. Her inclusion of colorful photographs is also very helpful - when my roommate and I made the pepper paste, we knew we were on the right track because it looked like the photograph.

In my haste, I did not read the recipe carefully enough. The squid needs to be salted and set aside the week before making the kimchi, and by the time I caught on this part, I'd already bought all the supplies I needed. (See: How To Clean Whole Fresh Squid) I emailed Maangchi and asked her what I should do, and she said, "No problem, just make it without the squid."

I did my shopping at the Kukje Supermarket in Daly City, CA, and I bought a really super Lock N Lock 12-L storage container at Kamei Restaurant Supply on Clement Street in San Francisco. Maangchi's recipe calls for 10 pounds of napa cabbage, but the kimchi batch only filled about 3/4 of the 12-L container. I liked this container a lot because it held all the smells inside and our refrigerator didn't end up stinking of kimchi. Plus, the brown plastic didn't show stains from the red pepper paste like a clear one would have, and it had a handy day/month timer on the top.

This project took me and my roommate a few hours to complete. I really recommend doing this with a helper if you can. Aimee and I split the vegetable chopping job amongst ourselves; we both chopped equal amounts of napa cabbage and that helped the work go faster. For the other ingredients, rather than julienning them all by hand, I opted to use the shredder disc in my Cuisinart - much faster. Aimee pressed all the garlic, which took a long time and made her hands sore since there was so much of it; we decided next time we'll just throw it in the Cuisinart and chop it up.

Then we triple washed and salted the cabbage and left it in the kitchen for the specified time and watched a movie together. I didn't have a bowl big enough to hold all the cabbage and had to divide it among 4 big bowls. The next time I make kimchi, I'm going to need a bigger ... bowl. Cue Jaws theme

I made the rice flour porridge and we mixed in the Korean red pepper and the other vegetables and the fish sauce. The consistency was very paste-like and I could see why she suggested the rice flour porridge. It's optional, but I really recommend it. It holds all the seasonings together in a way that you can transfer them evenly on the napa cabbage leaves. We ended up with about 2 cups of the pepper paste left over, and used some of it to pickle some leftover daikon radish that we cut in cubes and froze the rest for the next kimchi batch.

We both slathered the pepper paste on the napa cabbage leaves. With the amount of cabbage we had, having four hands made this go much faster.

Last, we packed it in the large container and put it in the fridge. You might not think that amount of vegetables will fit in that container, but it did. It smelled TERRIFIC and absolutely authentic. It was so fresh and crisp and crunchy. Now, the wait started; we had to be patient and let the fermentation work its magic.

Day Two: we checked the kimchi but didn't see any change in it.

Day Five: Still not much change, but we saw a bit of liquid and some bubbles - the first signs of fermentation, but the flavor and texture had not changed.

Day Fourteen: It was at this point that the flavor started to get more tangy and the texture of the cabbage finally broke down and softened. Absolutely delicious.

It's been a month since we made the kimchi and we still have a little bit left over. The flavor and texture just keeps improving. Aimee and I went out for Korean food a few weeks ago and both of us agreed that the restaurant's kimchi was nowhere near as good as ours.

This recipe is terrific. It really wasn't a lot of work, it just takes some time and patience. If it tastes this good without the squid, I can't wait to see what it tastes like with the squid when we make it again.

Equipment You'll Need:
• Gloves - trust me on this. You don't want hot pepper on your skin or in your fingernails. Plus, you'll have stinky hands for a while if you don't wear gloves.
• A really big bowl
• A big and well-sealed storage container - mine is 12-L

Shopping Resources:
KOA Mart: an online Korean grocer
Lock N Lock - my 12-liter storage container was made by this company.

Get Maangchi's easy kimchi recipe here!

Related:
Cooking Korean: Soondubu jjigae
Recipe: Vegetarian Naengmyun (Korean Cold Noodles)
How To Make Sauerkraut
Recipe: Korean Seafood Pancake (Haemul Pajeon)
Recipe: Vegetarian Dduk Gook (Korean Rice Cake Soup)
Cooking Korean: Ojingo Bokum

(Images: Kathryn Hill)

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