It turns out that when you're not making enough kimchi to feed a family of four to last through the winter, it's actually quite manageable with two large bowls and a little patience. I made mine from one large napa cabbage just over four pounds, which resulted in about three quarts of kimchi. Start to finish, it took me about two and a half hours. Of course, there's still fermentation time, but that just happens magically on its own.
A lot of the work can be done concurrently, which is a circumstance I always welcome. I wish more dishes were the same way. Essentially, once you get your cabbage brining, you have a lot of wait time, which you can use to prepare everything else. No mise en place necessary when it comes to kimchi making!
I halved Maangchi's recipe for mak kimchi, in which the cabbage is pre-chopped rather than whole. All the other ingredients are the same. Maangchi says the flavor is the same. That being the case, it's a whole lot easier to stuff pre-chopped kimchi into jars than figure out how I'm going to store whole cabbages. She also uses fresh, salted raw squid in her recipe, which I was going to do also, except H-Mart was out of them today. Just as well, as the salting process would have delayed the kimchi making for another week. (Clean the squid, mix it with 1 1/2 tbsp salt per 1/3 pound of squid, then keep it in a clean jar for about a week. When ready to use, rinse well, then chop up and add to kimchi paste.)
And now, onward to the kimchi-at-home pictorial!
Start with fresh napa cabbage. This one was a little more yellow than I would have preferred, but there wasn't a whole lot of choice at the store today. Also it makes no difference whatsoever in the final product. Chop the cabbage into bite-sized pieces, soaking them in a bowl or sink full of water as you go. Soaking helps with the brining process. When all the cabbage has been chopped, start layering it in a large bowl, salting each layer as you go. (Use about 1/2 cup of salt per 5 pounds of cabbage.) Every 30 minutes, turn the cabbage so that the mixture gets salted evenly. Do this twice; the cabbage will brine for a total of 1 1/2 hours.
While the cabbage is brining, make the sweet rice flour paste, which basically serves as an adhesive for the seasoning to stick to the cabbage. In a small pot, combine water with sweet rice flour and mix well from the start. Learn from my mistake... I didn't mix it well from the beginning and let it get too hot too quickly, which resulted in lumps in my paste that I had to pick out. >< When the mixture has thickened, add sugar. Stir to combine, then cook a little while longer, until the mixture has the consistency of a very thick syrup. Cool the paste by either placing the pot in ice water, or sticking it in the fridge.
Next up, blend together some garlic, onion, ginger, and fish sauce. Blend for at least a minute, to ensure that there are no big lumps left.
When the sweet rice flour paste has cooled, stir it together with the fish sauce mixture.
While waiting for the cabbage to brine and/or waiting for the sweet rice flour paste to cool, chop your vegetables. The carrot and Korean radish should be julienned, while the scallions and leek should be finely chopped.
Now, take a cup or two of gochugaru -- Korean red pepper flakes (also labeled as coarse red pepper powder). One cup for mild, two cups for spicy. I used 1 1/2 cups, cuz that's how I roll.
Add the gochugaru to the fish sauce/sweet rice flour mixture. Blend well, and you'll end up with a lovely bright red paste.
Now add the vegetables you chopped to the kimchi paste and mix well.
All that's left to do is combine the kimchi paste with the cabbage! But wait! There's one last thing you need to do. You have to drain the cabbage of all the salty water it's now accumulated, then wash it three times. No, that's not some kimchi superstition. You just want to clean the cabbage well of any extra salt so that it's not too overwhelming, which would ruin the kimchi.
Okay, NOW you can start combining. Maangchi and the people I saw in the K-drama I mentioned earlier use thick dishwashing gloves to do this; since I don't plan to make kimchi often enough to set aside a pair of gloves just for this purpose, I used a spatula. It's probably more satisfying to get your hands all in it, though. :D
Once it's well mixed, it'll look something like this. Look, real kimchi!
Now, pack tightly into jars. I prefer to use glass -- one's an old pickle jar while the other is a glass cannister. If you have one really big container, feel free to use that. It'll ferment more slowly due to volume, while smaller containers will ferment faster. I actually prefer less-sour kimchi, but I alas, don't have any giant containers. Keep your kimchi in the refrigerator. After a day or two, you may see bubbles and liquid appearing, and the kimchi may start to smell sour. The longer it's kept, the more it will continue to ferment. Kimchi should last for months in your fridge!
Some people love strongly fermented kimchi and find fresh kimchi uninteresting. I, on the other hand, love fresh kimchi, so I ate some as part of my dinner right away. And by the way? My kitchen smells awesome now.
Mak Kimchi (recipe adapted from Maangchi)
- 4-5lbs napa cabbage
- 1/2 cup salt
- 2 cups water
- 1/4 cup sweet rice flour (chapssal garu)
- 1/8 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup fish sauce
- 1/2 cup whole garlic cloves
- 1/2 cup onion, chopped
- 2-inch piece ginger, chopped
- 1-2 cups red pepper flakes, aka coarse powder (gochugaru)
- 1 cup Korean radish, julienned
- 1 cup leek, chopped
- 5-8 scallions, chopped
- 1/4 cup carrot, julienned
- 1/3 fresh, raw salted squid (optional)
- Clean and trim the cabbage. Slice it in half, then in quarters, then in eighths if necessary. Slice into bite-sized pieces, placing them into water to soak while you're slicing the rest of the cabbage. When all the cabbage has been sliced, drain the water. Layer the cabbage into a large bowl, salting each layer. Let it sit for 30 minutes, then turn/mix the cabbage. Repeat. Let the cabbage brine for 1 1/2 hours, with two turns.
- Meanwhile, heat the sweet rice flour with the water, mixing well and stirring constantly. When the mixture has thickened, add the sugar. Stir and cook for a few minutes longer, until the mixture has the consistency of a very thick syrup. Remove from heat and cool with an ice bath or in the fridge.
- In a blender, combine the fish sauce, garlic, onion, and ginger. Blend for at least a minute, until all the pieces have been pureed to a smooth consistency.
- When the sweet rice flour mixture has cooled, combine with the fish sauce mixture in a large bowl.
- Add the red pepper flakes (amount is to your preference) and stir until the mixture is well blended.
- Stir in the Korean radish, leek, scallions, and carrot. If you are using the squid, add it at this stage as well.
- Drain the salty water from the cabbage. Wash the cabbage with fresh water, three times. Drain again.
- Add the cabbage to the kimchi paste and mix until all the ingredients are well combined.
- Pack the kimchi into jars and seal. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.