Thursday, 6 March 2014


As well a brewing beer, I also enjoy making various fermented foods.  I'll do a post about sourdough bread soon, but I also like ferment and pickle vegetables, and make jams and other preserves.

Recently J and I have made a few batches of kimchi: a
Korean staple of sour, spicy, fermented cabbage and other vegetables.  For our most recent batch we made a special trip up to a Korean supermarket on the other side of Chicago: Joong Boo near the Belmont Blue Line stop.  (We also stopped in at The Beer Temple and the Half Acre tap room.)  This was our first visit, and it was exciting to find such a wide array of Korean ingredients, all much cheaper than the things we'd been purchasing online.  Specific to kimchi, we got some hot pepper flakes, anchovy sauce, and fermented salted shrimp.  This last is very pungent and can easily stink out your whole fridge if your not careful.  Ours is safely stashed in a sealed plastic bag, which seems to have done the trick.

In the past we've used David Chang's recipe, which turned out rather well.  The sauce maintained its thickness, whereas our more recent attempts have ended up with a lot more juice at the end of fermentation.  I wonder if this isn't in part because he adds more sugar, which absorbs the water that continues to be drawn out of the cabbage over the course of fermentation.  Regardless, we wanted to try a more traditional recipe, so the last few times we amalgamated this recipe with things we picked up from Maangchi's excellent videos.

Salted Cabbage
The process is fairly simple (again, see this for proper step-by-step instructions) and doesn't take too long if you have two people.  First you have to separate the cabbage leaves out slightly,  salt them for a few hours to draw out some water.  Last time we did this in brine, but this week I just added salt to the cabbage directly and let it sit for a few hours.

Ingredients for paste
While the salt drew out moisture from the cabbage, we chopped up the onion, garlic, ginger, chillies, and asian pear, and blended them all together to make a rough,spicy paste.  The pear was fairly firm with a slightly mealy texture and a sweet but almost savoury taste.  I assume its mainly there to add a bit of sweetness in the final product, as this recipe uses no sugar at all (we added a little later on though, following Maangchi's technique).

Sweet rice porridge
After this, J made a porridge out of water, sweet rice flour, and sugar, heating it until we saw occasional bubbles break the surface, and then stirring it gently until it turned slightly translucent.  She cooled this in the sink while I chopped up the rest of the vegetables and gathered them all together in one bowl.  Last time we just used daikon, carrot, mustard greens, and spring onion, but this time we had proper Korean radish and Asian chives from the store.

Vegetables, fish, and porridge
At this point, we added a generous cup of the deep-red hot-pepper flakes to the porridge, along with a quarter cup of anchovy sauce and a scant two teaspoons of fermented shrimp.  This is far less than the recipe called for (although in line with Chang's version).  I was cautious because I've been a vegetarian all my life, and while I'm OK with trying to use these products in a recipe like this, the flavours are often too much for me; and this shrimp smelt very fishy.

Stuffing the cabbage
Finally, we stirred the cool porridge mixture in with the vegetables, mixed it all together, and donned rubber gloves to stuff the washed cabbage.  When each piece was done, I wrapped it over itself and pushed it down into a mason jar (making an enormous mess in the process).  With the jars a little over 3/4 full, we closed them up and wiped down the sides.  One jar was left out for 24 hours to encourage a quicker fermentation, but the others will sit in the fridge for a few weeks before we touch them to build their sour, fizzy, flavour.  Luckily we still have some of our last batch left in the fridge to eat while we wait.

All in all, a very easy fermentation, and well worth the effort.  I think one large jar of kimchi cost about $10 at the store, so this is certainly more than we could ever afford if we were buying it.  Besides, it makes for a really quick and easy week night (or post-pub) meal, along with a bowl of short grain rice and some
tofu.  Yum.

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