Kimchi is the national dish of Korea. Just like any family in Korea, my mom and my grandma made lots of kimchi at home when I was growing up. Since I was little, I was put in charge of cleaning vegetables and peeling/grinding garlic to make kimchi. I wasn't crazy about it back then because it was a tedious task. However, as I have gotten older, it has become such a precious memory. I truly cherish the time I spent with my grandmother in the kitchen.
My mother is a wonderful cook, but my grandma was a true master.
BEVERAGE TIP: Mak-geol-li (Korean rice wine) OR an Abbey ale, specifically Leffe Blond (I love this beer, and it talks to Kimchi!)
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1. Discard the loose outer leaves and quarter the cabbage lengthwise. Trim the root if it is dirty.
2. Lift each leaf and sprinkle salt on each layer. Use a pinch, about 1/8 teaspoon salt for each large leaf. Salt a little more on the thick, stalky parts and a little less on thin leafy parts. It will take about 2-3 teaspoons of salt for each quarter of cabbage.
*Use the salt sparingly. A slow brining process will help the cabbage to stay crunchy. Too much salt will make the cabbage tough and too salty. Too little salt will leave the cabbage with too much water in it.
3. Set aside the cabbage quarters, cut side up, at room temperature to brine. Turn them every 30 minutes so they will brine evenly. Periodically, check to make sure they are not getting over-brined.
~ At 70F/21C the brining process will take about 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Once they are brined, submerge the cabbage quarters in cold water. Then, rinse them thoroughly and rest them, cut side down, to drain the excess water. Set aside.
*Brining time varies depending on the temperature, kind/amount of salt, and the size of the cabbage.
*To check the optimal brining level of the cabbage, you should use the "Bend Test":
Select 3-4 thicker leaves from across the cabbage to test. Bend them into a 'U' shape one at a time. When they are easily bendable, but there is a small amount of resistance left (so they'll snap if you fold it all the way into a 'V'), this is what you are looking for. You should also be able to fold a full quarter cabbage almost in half without snapping any leaves.
The majority of the cabbage leaves should remain fairly opaque and only exhibit some translucency at the edges and in the thinnest areas.
4. In the meantime, make the starch mixture.
Combine the flour and water in a small pot, mixing it together well. Once it starts bubbling around the edges of the pot, begin stirring regularly. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook it for another 2-3 minutes until its consistency resembles that of pudding. Set aside to cool.
*If sweet rice flour is used, cook it for just one minute once it comes to a boil.
5. Next, prepare the seasoning mixture by combining the minced onion, garlic, ginger, sugar, fish sauce, sea salt, gochugaru, starch mixture, radish, and green onion in a large mixing bowl. Mix all ingredients well. Season to taste.
*It should be extra salty and semi sweet since it's going to season the whole cabbage.
*Guchugaru will stain, use a non-stainable bowl.
6. Lift each leaf and distribute the seasoning mixture between each leaf (about 1/2 to 1 tablespoons) until all leaves are well coated with the mixture. Then, coat the outer leaves with a bit more of the mixture. Finally, fold the quarter cabbage in half taking care to wrap its outer leaves around itself and place it in a jar.
*Wear cooking gloves ~ Otherwise, the guchugaru will burn your hands for hours.
7. Repeat step 6 with the remaining cabbage quarters. Then, collect any remaining loose leaves and use them to mop up the last of the seasoning mixture. Add them to the jar as well, and push all the cabbage down firmly. Finally, close the lid tightly.
*Make sure to leave some head-space in the jar. It should not be filled more than 80% full. If the jar does not have ample headspace the kimchi may overflow the vessel as it ferments.
8. Leave the kimchi to ferment at room temperature for 1-4 days OR to your liking. Then, refrigerate once it has reached the desired amount of fermentation. If your prefer fresh kimchi then skip this counter aging period and refrigerate immediately.
*I usually leave it at room temperature for 1-2 days in the summer or 3-4 days in the winter because I like my kimchi a little tangy. If you leave it at room temperature, taste a little everyday to check on its fermentation progress. Be sure to push it down firmly after tasting so that your kimchi stays submerged as possible in its own juices.
*When I make a large amount of kimchi (5-6 heads of cabbage) I refrigerate half of it immediately. The other half, I leave at room temperature for quicker fermentation. By the time I have consumed the kimchi I left on the counter, the other half in the fridge will have reached a prime level of fermentation.
9. To Serve: Take a quarter head of cabbage out of the jar allowing the bulk of its juices to drip back into to the jar. Cut it into 1-2 inch wide slices, cross wise, and serve.
DO AHEAD: The brined cabbage and seasoning mixture can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two days if you prefer not to do everything within one day's time.
Seasoning with fish sauce will definitely add more depth of flavor. Sea salt will add a bright quality to the kimchi. Adjust the ratio between the two 'salts' to suit your taste.