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Kimchi 101

with 4 comments

Is there really anyone who wants to make their own kimchi, especially among non-Koreans? Even Koreans don’t make their kimchi that much; older generations still make their own, but to the younger ones like me, making kimchi is not something ordinary and routine. Thus I may be the rarest from the rare breed who tries to make their own. For me, it has been a little more than three years since trying after some miserable years of depending on bad kimchi from grocery stores. They had always been suffered by the lack of seasonings which no doubt lead the lack of flavor, after I found myself no longer giving any shit to those bad kimchies, I dediced to make it my own, even if that tasted so bad. After that, it has not been all that easy road, but somehow I am feeling to get better in making more edible ones, by the little help from few cookbooks.

Before talking more about the basics of making kimchi, let me clarify this: what really is kimchi? If I ask this question to non-Koreans who ever have or heard about kimchi will answer that ‘pickled vegetable, mostly cabbage and radish.’ Well, this might not be wrong answer, but I don’ t think it might be the right one, either. To get myself clearer distinction, I checked the glossary from ‘The Elements of Cooking’, from Michael Ruhlman, and it defines: To pickle means to cure in a brine and can refer to the vegetables, meat, or fish, Often a pickle denotes some sort of acidity in the ingredient being pickled, most commonly with cucumbers. A natural pickle is one in which acid is developed through fermentation, bacteria feeding on the sugars of the vegetable and generating lactic acid, a preservative in addition to the salt. A good brine for pickling vegetables combines 50 grams of salt per liter of water for a 5 percent salt solution. The term can also mean cooked or marinated in vinegar preservative techniques.

Considering the keywords in this defination are brine and fermentation, kimchi doesn’t meet both of them together; there are several kinds of kimchi which calls for kind of brine, but it is to eat that brine after the fermentation, with the vegetables. However, to make the most of kimchi, most of the water should be removed from the vegetable by curing with the salt. I think I should find some references with scientific reseach background to clarify this better, but there is decent English article about kimchi in wikipedia, so check it out until I find something.

Anyway, let’s get back to the main topic. It is not very important to know the scientific knowledge about kimchi even before trying to make it… To make kimchi could be really complicated process, if you want to do nail it down from the first attempt,  but you will more likely to fail if you try to put too much finesse to it, so let’s get it simple, and here is the breakdown of making kimchi:

1. Preperation of Ingredients: like to prepare vegetables for wester cooking, it needs some preperation, mostly chopping down vegetables.

2. Curing: in my opinion, this is the trikiest part of making kimchi, as the amount of salt and the duration of curing can vary the saltiness of kimchi significantly, and this ends up varing the fermentation period. One of the most important idea to keep in mind is that the saltiness of kimchi should come from the curing. Yes, you can adjust it by adding more salt and fish sauce later in tossing and mixing all the ingredients, but that should not be main mean to bring the saltiness of kimchi, and that is why the curing is important. I have always referred cookbooks depend on the amount of vegetables with which I make kimchi, so I will come up with details when I post really recipe of it.

3. Tossing and Mixing: cured vegetables, seasonings including fish sauce and some spices like ground red pepper, garlic and ginger will be mixed together.

4. Aging/Fermentation: once being made, kimchi should be stored in room temperature for few days to be fermenated properly. The duration of aging in room temperature varies according to the temperature(season), saltiness of the kimchi, etc., and you should not leave it until it gets fully fermentated as it will get sour very quickly once the fermentation is fully developed. Yes, it is tricky but there are some ways to know when it is ready to be put to the refrigerator.

5. Storing: if kimchi is put in refrigerator in timely manner, it can be well fermentated in few days after refrigeration, and will keep the flovor for a while. Koreans are serious enough to develope specialized refrigerator for kimchi, so it can be kept about an year without complely and inedibly going sour.

I do not know how many kinds of kimchi as there are a lot of variety based on region and season, but I will focus on for some simple and most well-known ones in my blog. Except the main vegetables, here is the list of standard ingredients should be put in making kimchi:

1. Fish Sauce: fermentation agent. Anchovy and shrimp are the most common ones. They are the salted and fermentated fish, aged for a while to develop the flavor. Anchovy brings deep flavor, while shrimp does rather lighter and more refreshing one. For anchovy, only salty juice is used, the opposite for the shrimp. Different kimchies call for different fish sauce, or the mix of more than one kind. For some kimchi, even rice flour paste is used for fermentation agent.

2. Salt: very coarse seasalt is used for curing, as the less course salt will make vegetable mushy, the attention should be paid. Less coarse ones for later adjustment of saltiness. I think kosher salt can be used, but I have not tried yet.

3. Ground red pepper flake: the coarseness is somehow important, as kimchi calls for medium coarness for some reason.

4. Garlic: finely minced

5. Leek or scallion: usually chopped about 1 1/2″, lenghtwise.

6. Ginger: flavor and aroma: minced for seasoning, or finely jullienned.

 I think this is it, as far as keeping the list simple. Based on this page, I will come up with real kimchi recipe next time.


Written by bluexmas

November 26, 2007 at 6:49 am

4 Responses

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  1. I frequent a small Korean restaurant in my hometown, and have come to absolutely love just about everything I’ve tried (including kimchi, which I hated as a kid); however, I always wonder if I am doing anything that would be considered rude or inappropriate in Korean culture. I was hoping you might have some suggestions on specific things to do and to avoid, and possibly some small key phrases (i.e. “hello,” “goodbye,” “thank you,” etc.). Thanks, I really enjoy your blog and comments on The Dish (that’s where I found you).


    March 15, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    • Sorry for the late reply; I have been crazy busy… For not being rude, I think using your common sense for the visit or your non-Korean or American friends or family will work out just fine; I cannot think something from westerners that makes Koreans so mad at this moment. If I want to dig deep, I can dig by tomorrow morning, but neither you nor I have to know that I think…

      If you need to use Korean phrases mentioned:
      hello & goodbye: An-Nyoung (use same word/phrase, but accent is a bit different: down at the end for the former, up for the latter)
      thank you: gam-sa-hab-ni-da

      In fact, Korean has two forms, regular and more polite. It is too much for both of you and me to explain and be pushed to know, so let’s promise next time after you get that words going well.


      March 22, 2009 at 11:02 am

  2. Thanks very much, I appreciate your help.


    March 29, 2009 at 3:20 pm

  3. Thanks for the great post. When is the recipe coming? I can’t wait to try it out!


    January 23, 2012 at 9:16 am

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