Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kimchi Day 1 - We have Kimchi!

Truth be told, I'm not entirely sure it's technically kimchi before it has fully undergone the pickling process... we might just have "salted cabbage with red pepper and other seasonings sitting in a jar for the next few days"... but that's not a very snappy post title, so I'll just consider it kimchi, and leave the pickling semantics to others.

As planned, I worked off of the Saveur recipe, but also kept an eye on David Lebovitz's adaptation since I was trying for a smaller quantity than the 6 quarts delivered by Saveur, but didn't want to screw up any ratios with the brine and what-have-you.

Unfortunately, I guess I purchased some sort of freak of nature Napa cabbage, since I ended needing both of the 2 quart jars I purchased (I was going to use the second jar for some other, yet to be determined, pickling project) ... but they seem to have packed themselves down a bit overnight, so it seems with a more forceful hand I might have only had a few cups extra. Certainly it doesn't seem under seasoned, but what do I know about making kimchi really? The proof will be in the tasting, I suppose... since I do have a fair bit more experience eating than making. Though we've got 4 days on the counter and 4 days in the fridge ("flavor melding") before I'll have any idea how it went... since I don't even know what to expect of the pickling process in general. Ah, the suspense! Kind of like a science project! If only science was normally as delicious as spicy Korean pickles. Though I think I remember them being pretty adamant about not eating your experiments, hmmm....


So with the caveats that I had never made kimchi before this attempt, haven't even tasted this batch yet, and was basically winging it on measurements to compensate for my well endowed cabbage, here are the rough proportions that I used:
  • 1 gallon of water
  • 1/2 + 1/4 cup sea salt
  • 1 SUPER large Napa cabbage, halved and each half cut into thirds
  • 3/4 lb Daikon radish, peeled and julienned
  • 1/2 cup Korean red pepper powder
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 15 Korean Chives, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 medium head of garlic, cloves garlic pressed
  • 4 scallions, white and light green parts sliced thiny
  • 4 sprigs of Korean watercress, trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 1 2" piece of ginger, finely diced and then smashed with a mortar and pestle
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned
  • 1/2 Asian pear, peeled, cored, and julienned
I tried to look at all that julienning as a good opportunity to work on my knife skills! The Daikon radish was the easiest in that regard because of its extraordinarily regular shape... carrots are tough for me, as you can see in the picture, but it's only one of the bastards. Finely mincing garlic is the absolute worst... my dexterity is just not up to dealing with such tiny, tiny matchsticks... I need to switch to a paring knife for that I think, but I am strangely reluctant - seems like giving up, I guess. So instead I completely cheated and used the garlic press, presumably because of some sort of garlic slippery slope. All in all, it was pretty fun since there wasn't any time pressure... honestly, even the person with the worst knife skills in the world can julienne a carrot over the course of 4 hours (as Julia Child said: If I can do it, so can you).

The fundamental choice in preparation between Saveur and Lebovitz was: a brief spell in the brine for the cabbage before dry salting them for 4 hours or sitting in the brine itself for 2 hours? I don't know if there are scientific merits for either approach, but I wasn't in a hurry (Dragon Age rocks), so I followed the Saveur instructions but only used a gallon of water + 1/2 cup salt in a very large bowl. Put the cabbage in that for a few minutes, then drained them and put them on a cookie sheet to work that 1/4 cup of sea salt onto all the leaves... then it was back into the (cleaned) giant bowl for four hours. I turned them whenever I thought of it, which was at least every 30 minutes... but sometimes it was probably more like 10 or 15 minutes because I can be OCD like that.

While that was going on, I julienned and chopped everything for the seasoning paste and then stirred it all together (see above)... though I now notice that Saveur says to "stir vigorously", which is somewhat ambiguous... was I supposed to be mashing everything together? Well, I didn't... so, uhm, hopefully that's fine.

Now, my 2 quart jars are way too small to take a whole Napa cabbage quarter on end, so I couldn't really follow the Saveur instructions at this point. After some false starts, I finally figured to drain the cabbages pieces from the big bowl, rinse, and then squeeze out excess water before putting them on a cookie sheet. Then washed and dried my big bowl (we only have one of a size for all that cabbage), before moving to cut my cabbage into more manageable pieces... I just cut off the root end and then cut each length in half. After that, I put the cabbage and seasoning paste into the big bowl and mixed it all together with my hands. WARNING: The paste will stain hands and counters, so you might want to wear gloves and have some Comet/Bon Ami handy to scrub down any spills. Finally, after it was all mixed up, I put layers of cabbage into the jars, pressing down, and adding a little extra salt as I went.

And there you have it... Chimpanzee Tea Party's first attempt at kimchi. I'm pretty excited about this little project, so you might prepare yourself for daily pictures as I breathlessly analyze the pickling process. Whatever... you'll live... at least I'm not going all Sully on Sarah Palin.

UPDATE: I did finally get around to tasting it and... it was good! You can read more here. Short summary: flavors hadn't completely melded yet, and in retrospect I would have grated the ginger, but otherwise plenty spicy and I really enjoy the subtle sweet notes brought by the pear and carrot.