Friday, September 04, 2009

Kimchilicious

This might sound either gross or very trendy, but... I had a horrible chest cold this week possibly from the weather going from a steamy 98° to a very cool 68° overnight. I drank an old Asian lady health tonic — kimchi juice. It pushed all the bad stuff right out of me and I actually do feel better. In this age of verbena kombucha, dill pickle shots, and bacon-tinis this might yet catch on as a novelty cocktail... the Episcopalian Bloody Mary.



"So where does one get kimchi juice?" one might ask. I made my own kimchi. At $4 per half-pint container at the Korean food market I found I could conceivably go broke buying my favorite condiment. Kimchi is a spicy pickled banchan (side dish) that is quintessential to every Korean table.



I thought about to how my Korean neighbors from Guam (the Kim family) used to make it. It went something like this. On Sunday mornings after church Mrs. Kim would...

cut Napa cabbage into quarters, salt heavily, throw it on the tin roof; remove when the juice stop flowing, hose the salted cabbage out, allow to air dry on the grass; yell at the neighbor for letting his rooster run freely, smoke a cigarette while hanging laundry, watch "The Secret Storm."; next, a mysterious mixing process involving garlic, dried chili, fish sauce, a large clay jar... place a flat rock into jar to weigh cabbage down, tap out air bubbles, store jar in a cool place, allow at least two weeks to ferment; yell at boonie dog for dragging garbage can into the street... repeat.

Not very practical in an urban setting — I researched a few recipes, and with a little experimenting I came up with a solution for my tiny Brooklyn kitchen.



Salt is an essential ingredient in this Asian pickling and fermenting process. It conditions the cabbage, allowing it to absorb the pickling spices. Instead of the traditional salt process, I found that brining is more practical and less smelly. The spices on the other hand are very pungent. Korean chili is not as spicy as the South American variety. It's mildly sweet and fragrant much like Hungarian paprika. Nuk mon is a fermented fish sauce used to flavor and act as a catalyst to fermentation. It's very potent, you can buy smaller bottles in most Asian food markets.

You'll need:
- a large non-reactive pot (enough to hold 2 1/2 gallons of stuff)
- a very large mixing bowl
- a deep non-reactive storage containers with an air-tight lids (Glad 48 oz containers, Tupperware, mason jars... etc.)

- brine (1 1/2 cups sea salt to 2 gallons of water)
- 1 large head of Napa cabbage
- 1/2 medium size white onion cut into thin strips
- 8 small scallion greens cut into 1 1/2" long strips

Picking Spices:
- 2 packed cups Korean chili (dried and powdered)
- 2 tbs sea salt
- 1 1/2 tbs brown sugar
- 1/4 cup minced garlic
- 1/4 cup pulverized ginger
- 1 cup water
- 2 tbs nuk mon (fish sauce)

Step 1: Mix brine in a large non-reactive pot. Cut cabbage into 2" x 2" squares, and place in brine. It should brine for about 6 to 8 hours in a cool place (the fridge). The brine should cover the cabbage completely — weigh it down with a heavy plate.

Step 2: In a large bowl, mix spices and add water to make a thick chili paste, adjust sugar or salt to taste. Drain the cabbage — be sure to reserve the brine. Mix cabbage, onions, and scallions into the chili paste. Use your hands and be sure to coat everything evenly. Warning: If you must use the bathroom, do so before this step.

Step 3: Transfer everything into deep air-tight containers, seal cover well, and let rest for 2 days at room temperature — this activates fermentation. Day three, add enough of the reserved brine to cover cabbage, mix well, tamp the bottom of the container to remove air bubbles, replace cover, and store in the refrigerator. It should be ready in 1 to 2 weeks. Note: When kimichi is served at the table most of the liquid should be drained.



"Young" kimchi has a spicy, mildly sweet flavor, and a crisp texture. As it ages it become more spicy and sour, which makes it more suitable for tenderizing tough meat or making soup stocks. Aside from baechu, (Napa Cabbage), I also pickled turnip, daikon radish, string beans and Brussel sprouts. The last two need to be blanched for 5 minutes, salted for an hour, and pressed in a towel, otherwise they will be too leathery.

You don't have to be Korean to make a decent batch of kimchi... but could it hurt?
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