Friday 4 May 2012

Kimchi/Kim Chi/Kimchee/Gimchi

Good Kimchi, is like a good chutney, or a fine cheese, or even a perfectly baked loaf of bread: after much experimenting, and after making many mistakes, the perfect ratio and combination of ingredients is found, and stuck to for all future batches. So for my first ever batch of home-made kimchi, I expect there to be a few flaws, and for a few changes to be made in the future. Although to avoid it tasting totally rank, I did a fair bit of research…. Internal and external…. What makes good Kimchi for me? 

Findings? Well, texture of good Kimchi is as important as the level of spice. The use of crunchy Chinese (nappa) cabbage is absolutely essential. Other cabbages like savoy just don't have enough crunchy stem that retains some bite during the pickling process. The nappa cabbage also has more of an equal leaf to stem ratio, which means you don't end up with a total mush when the cabbage starts to ferment. To add extra crunch, some recipes call for radish, spring onion, or even cucumber. But that is when personal taste comes in, I prefer not to have too many extra bits in my Kimchi as it doesn't really suit me when making kimchi-based soups and stir-fries. I added roughly sliced leeks though, as I like the taste, and I feel it gives the mixture an extra dimension. The way the cabbage is cut also depends on the individual. Some prefer to keep the cabbage whole, and this is the traditionally method, peeling back each layer and stuffing it with the spicy paste, then finally placing it in large clay pots which are buried under ground for up to a year. I don't have large clay pots… so I chose to chop my cabbage up as it makes it easier to pack into medium sized jars. Once chopped, I left the cabbage to soaked in a water and salt solution for about 3 hours before being used.

I have tried a fair few batches of kimchi, and I have never been too keen on excessive, complicated flavours in the paste. I like my kimchi paste to be a little bit acidic, very garlicky and spicy, and very very smelly… the good kinda fermented kimchi smelly. Kimchi has a reputation for attracting flies, and this is defiantly down to the fermented/fishy smell. I know it doesn't sound all to attractive, but this is what gives the pickle its distinctive aroma. So to keep things simple, I blitzed up one onion, six gloves of garlic, one inch of ginger, two small skinned apples, 8 generous tbsp of fish sauce, 1 tbsp of sugar and a pinch of salt, 6 heaped tbsp of red pepper powder and 8 heaped tbsp of Gouchujang or red pepper paste. Kimchi recipes normally calls for just red pepper powder, but I also used a ready made paste, which is a mixture of fermented soya, rice and red pepper powder. My reasoning for this is simply to speed up the fermentation process. I’m not sure how it will effect the kimchi in the long run, but I don't think it’ll make too much of a difference. I like the taste of Gouchujang as well, so I doubt it will ruin the flavour too much. A final tasting before jarring is crucial. Be warned, you ay be left with a raw/hot taste in your mouth for the rest of the day. The Koreans have a saying, that after a meal, your guests should be sweating and burping… so I made sure to make my kimchi really hot!

So my spicy pickled cabbage, jarred and stored in the fridge, is left to ferment till it smells bad enough to eat. How to tell if your kimchi is fermenting successfully? Open the jar a few days into the fermenting process and you should notice bubbles in the red sauce. I could eat the it straight away, but I think I’ll test my patients and wait for a week at least. Kimchi can last up to a year in the fridge. The older the kimchi is, the more sour it tastes. Old kimchi is ideal for soups, stir-frying with rice or noodles, simply eaten as an accompliment to a main meal, or even on a toasted, buttered slice. Stir frying kimchi before using it in cooking brings out more flavour, just like when making a stock. I’ll will update on how it turns out and if its good to use will use it to make Kimchi Jigae… fingers and toes crossed. 

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