Kimchi is a ferment from Korea. Long used to preserve summer produce through the cold winters, it is a staple food in Korea and a popular side dish on tables all over the world. We love Kimchi and keep a big jar in the fridge year-round. I like to serve more than one vegetable with dinner when ever I can manage it. Having that Kimchi at the ready is a great option. You can also make Kimchi rice whenever you want, and we especially like Kimchi any time we serve fish with rice.
Kimchi is easy to prepare. You should be aware that there are at least as many Kimchi recipes as there are Korean families. Some people like Kimchi fermented for only three days, and fizzy with active fermentation. I suppose I would like this had I grown up with it, but my mouth sends constant spoiled warnings to my brain — so I don't like it like that.
The only tricky part of Kimchi is getting the packing right. I ferment in 1/2 gallon jars. For the first three or four days of fermentation a lot of brine is produced. If you don´t leave at least three inches of headspace in the jar you are going to have overflow. After 7-10 days the solids will reduce, and your jar will seem unsatisfyingly short. I deal with this by packing the excess in a second smaller Jar and adding it back to the larger jar when I tamp it down with the veggie packer. If I need to remove a bit of brine then OK.
I have had Kimchi with and without daikon radish. My family prefers napa cabbage alone. I have had it made entirely from daikon, with bok-choy, &etc. There are many kinds and many preferences and since I have never been to Korea I am confident that I have but a superficial appreciation of the subject.
Some Kimchi varieties include fish, shellfish and cephalopods. I am too apprehensive about fermenting flesh to try this. One important component of a Kimchi is umami. I use fish sauce and/or shrimp paste — and more than a typical recipe calls for. I am not afraid of these flavors.
I do know what we like. You can figure out what you and your S.O. prefer through experimentation. If it smells and tastes good, it is good Kimchi.
I started making Kimchi many years before I learned what Lacto-fermentation is. My approach is formulaic and is based on the number of heads of napa cabbage you are processing. I routinely do two large heads.
Ground Gochugaru Chile is the essential ingredient in Kimchi. We can drive 59 miles to the nearest Asian food market or order it on Amazon. Years ago I used pepper flakes but the difference is like night and day. Gochugaru chile is smoky and earthy and ever so piquant. I also use it in Quick Kimchi Pickles, Korean BBQ, and soups and noodle dishes.
Fresh ingredients: Napa Cabbage, Ginger, Green Onions, Garlic.
Prepared ingredients: Fish Sauce, Shrimp Paste, Gochugaru, Natural Salt.
Per each head of Napa Cabbage:
Two cloves of Garlic, crushed and chopped
½ inch of ginger, skin removed and grated
Three green onions, including the green, cut to one inch pieces
½ tsp of fish sauce and/or ¼ tsp shrimp paste (I like to use both)
2 or 3 tbsp of Gochugaru
½ tsp of white sugar
Rinse the cabbage an discard four outermost leaves. Chop off the base and slice into 1 inch segments. As you layer the cabbage into a large bowl, sprinkle liberally with salt. Discard hard core parts but keep the rest. Keep all of the leaves of cabbage, from the thick stem parts to the flower-like internal tops (see the picture above). Let the salted cabbage rest and reduce for 1 hour or more.
In a small mixing bowl combine garlic, ginger, onions, fish sauce, shrimp paste, gochugaru and sugar.
When Cabbage is settled a bit, fill the bowl with distilled water to cover the cabbage. Weigh the cabbage under water by placing a dinner plate on top. Rest at least an hour, then drain the water.
Put on some nitrile gloves because this next step requires some blending and kneading of the spicy Gochugaru mixture you just created. Add the Gochugaru mixture to the cabbage and mix it thoroughly, squeezing it into the cabbage as you blend.
Once combined, gently pack the mixture into your fermentation jar(s). Use the veggie packer to tamp down the mixture as you go. Doing so will squeeze out natural brine to cover your ferment. Leave 2 to 3 inches of head space in the jar, as the ferment will expand for the first few days and spill out. If you have excess, pack it into a second, smaller jar using the same method.
After a week or so you will notice that the volume of the big jar will appear to shrink. At that time you can tamp it down some more and add the contents of the second jar to the first. You may remove excess brine, but make sure you leave enough to completely cover your ferment.
I like to ferment kimchi for 14 days, but you can taste it and decide to let it go longer. Or if you like it fizzy, you may ferment for a little as 5 days.