Making Kim Chee: Mystery no more…

In Recipies on January 25, 2012 at 10:21 am

I love kim chee.

For Korean families, this is serious. (Internet)

Kim chee is a staple of the Korean table and no self-respecting Korean would be seen buying a jar of the stuff at a grocery store. But, sometimes, needs must. When I lived in Texas (genuflecting wildly), I found some of the finest store-bought kim chee at a small market just off the Gulf in Corpus Christi.

I had no idea what was in it, but I stopped buying it when I learned that it contained shrimp paste…my Invisible Friend has an edict about eating shellfish.

For a while, I could find shellfish-free kim chee at my mass food retailer. Suddenly, it disappeared. Then it came back…costing $3 more per jar!

Like nobody will notice a $3/jar hike?

I began to scour the Internet for kim chee recipes. At first, I was daunted by recipes calling for dozens of heads of Napa cabbage. I only wanted to make a batch to nibble at and had no commercial interests in mass kim chee production.

With a bit of poking around, I found several small batch recipes and blended them into one that suited me.

High-tech kim chee cooler (Internet)

I wanted to share a recipe with Phyne Dyners who may not have access to a Korean grocer carrying gochugaru powder. I have been a fan of Srirachi chili-garlic paste for years and decided, after a bit of experimentation, that the paste was an excellent substitute for the Korean chili powder.

It took a bit more work to find “fish” sauce that did not contain oysters or shrimp. Most good-quality fish sauce uses “finfin” fish instead of shrimp or other “forbidden” stuff. Read the label if your Invisible Friend has a prohibitive edict on shellfish and oysters.

I dunno…”OY-ster” should be Jewish. Who knew?

Okay…safety first!

Gochugaru powder or Srirachi chili paste should be regulated substances. DO NOT use either without wearing rubber or latex gloves! One online recipe database warns this in an anecdote about a man making kim chee who suddenly got a “call to nature”. Everyone washes hands after performing the “necessaries”, but seldom wash up before. The poor man in the story spent an evening in the ER with a blistered…you know. So, don’t be rubbing your eyes or “other parts” with chili-covered fingers. And, yes, the stuff is hot enough to raise blisters on exposed skin. So, glove up, people!

I included ground ginger as a substitute for folks who cannot find fresh ginger. It at all possible, use the fresh stuf

Okay…let’s make kim chee!

1 head Napa cabbage

1/2 C rice vinegar

1 C kosher salt

1/3 C fish sauce

3 green onions, chopped (include green parts)

3 cloves garlic, pressed

2 TBS sugar

1 tsp ground ginger (or 2” knob, grated)

2 TBS Srirachi chili paste

OR use 1 C gochugaru chili powder

Remove any damaged or dirty outer leaves from the cabbage. Cut the cabbage in to quarters and carefully trim away the tough stem at the base. Place the cabbage in a large, clean dishpan (cut sides up) and sprinkle it with the kosher salt. Add cold water until the cabbage can be completely covered with salt water. Use a large, heavy plate to keep the cabbage submerged during this step. Allow the cabbage to stand, at room temperature for 2-3 hours.

Check to see if the cabbage is ready for pickling by breaking a thick leaf. The leaf should easily bend (almost like it had been blanched), but should “snap” crisply yet. Carefully rinse the salt water from the cabbage at least twice, allowing it to drain a bit in a colander. Then, squeeze out as much water as possible. Yes, “wringing” is acceptable.

Cut the cabbage into 1-2” pieces and place in a large bowl. Add the green onion and mix well with your hands. Add in the chili paste and mix well. Wear gloves for this step or toss well with salad tongs. You want to evenly coat the cabbage with chili paste. Allow to stand at room temperature while you mix the other ingredients.

In a small bowl, mix the rice vinegar, fish sauce, garlic, sugar, and ginger. If you are using fresh ginger, a Microplane works great (grate!) here. Taste the cabbage coated with chili paste. If you like, you can (gently) add a bit more chili paste to the liquid ingredients. REMEMBER! This will get more fiery and pungent during fermentation. So, go easy with the hot stuff on your first batch.

Traditional kim chee pots (Internet)

Carefully pack half of the cabbage into a sealable container. Pour in half of the liquid. Then pack the rest of the cabbage into the container and cover with the remaining liquid. Seal the container. Some people ask about using sterilized containers. I would ask those people if they think Korean farmers sterilize their reusable kim chee pots (that they bury) each time they make kim chee.

[FUN SCIENCE FACT: Kim chee ferments best at a temperature of 55F. Due to “thermal inertia”, the underground temperature at a depth of about four feet is an almost constant…55F.]

Place the sealed container in a cool, dark place for 3-4 days. Bubbles should form in the liquid…this is normal. After the kim chee has fermented, place the container in the refrigerator for storage. Kim chee will keep for 1-3 months, but don’t despair if your kim chee gets a little “long in the tooth”. Use it to make kim chee soup!

I eat kim chee every morning with a small bowl of rice and a cup of tea. Think of kim chee as “Korean pickles” and serve it on hot dogs, hamburgers, or next to almost anything!

My basement...55-degrees!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: