Introduction: How to Make Kimchi / Kim Chee

About: Raising and educating several children over a wide range of ages with my husband and learning along with them as a way of life.

My father was stationed in Korea once upon a time and brought home a taste for Kimchi / Kim Chee.
My mother did make it a few times but from her description it sounded very complicated, and something no one should try without first getting a certification in Kim Chee Preparedness.
So when I no longer lived close to an Asian Market with gallon jars of it for a decent price, I learned either to do without, or pay $5 for a tiny little jar that would last me a week if I resisted the urge to eat it daily.

Then I got the book "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Ellix Katz, and have been making delicious Kimchi easily, ever since.

Step 1: Assemble Tools and Ingredients

At its most basic, kimchee is chinese cabbage (can use napa, pac choi, or any chinese cabbage) fermented with garlic, pepper, salt, and ginger. Other ingredients such as daikon (or other radish), carrot, scallion / green onion or other onion, fish (in the form of dried crumbled fish, fish broth or fish sauce, or Hondashi fish broth powder), and even seaweed, are commonly used depending on preference.

Here I show Kosher Salt, scallions, daikon, fresh ginger, hondashi powder, dried pepper flakes specifically for making kimchee, fresh garlic, carrot, and a very large head of pac choi /bok choy.

You will also need a sharp knife, a large nonreactive mixing bowl, a smaller nonreactive mixing bowl, and glass or stoneware jars or crocks to hold the finished product.

You will need anywhere from several hours, to overnight, to soak the fresh chopped veggies in salt solution, and then anywhere from 5 days to 2 weeks to ferment your kimchee depending on how warm the room is, how much salt to vegetables, and whether you had leftover kimchee "juice" to jump-start the fermentation with.

For those who want measured quantities either to follow, or to get a ballpark idea of what the proportions are:

For roughly two quart jars:

2 lbs chinese cabbage
1 whole daikon radish or several red radishes
1 to 2 carrots
onions and/or leeks, bunch of scallions, or shallots... as many or few as you like.
6-8 cloves of garlic, or as many as you like... your love of garlic is the only limiting factor
5-6 tablespoons of grated ginger, or grate up a 4 inch piece... again, more to taste if you like it especially
Seaweed if you like, but I didn't use it in this recipe
3 tsp. hondashi japanese fish broth powder ( or a handful of dried bonito, crumbled)

Brine will be 4 cups of water to 4 tablespoons of salt. If this isn't enough to cover the fresh veggies, then double the brine recipe.

Step 2: Chop the Vegetables

Chop the cabbage into roughly 1-inch slices across.
The daikon will wind up in rectangular slices about 1/4 inch thick by 1 to 1 1/2 inch long by 1/2 to 1 inch wide, as shown below (although there are other ways to do it also and the main point is getting it into bite sized pieces that are thin enough to ferment well but not so thin as to disappear into the dish).
Carrots can be julienned, but I prefer to shave them into very thin slices on the bias, using a Benri-na Japanese mandoline. Again, the point is to end up with bite-sized carrots thin enough to ferment and soften well.

I show the cutting of scallions on the bias in the same frame with the shaven carrots, but the scallions will be in the spice paste mix, although kimchee is, contrary to what everyone always told me, very forgiving, and if you decide to add scallions to the main vegetable brine instead of the spice paste, it doesn't seem to hurt anything in my experience.

Step 3: Mix the Brine and Brine the Vegetables

Put 4 Tablespoons of salt into 4 cups of water in a nonreactive mixing bowl, glass jar, or stoneware crock. Add all your chopped vegetables. If there isn't enough brine to cover and soak everything, add 4 more cups of water mixed with 4 more TBSP salt. Let it sit several hours or overnight.

Step 4: Prepare Spices

In this step, you will grate ginger, press or pulverize garlic, slice scallions or onions, chop or crush chilis if using whole ones, and add dish broth, sauce, or crumbled dried fish.

I recommend a Microplane grater for the ginger, though traditional ginger graters work well with the hairy root also. Many recipes say to peel the ginger, but I never bother; I just wash the root first, and the skin has never harmed a recipe.

If you use Hondashi, you may want to add a little of the vegetable soaking brine to moisten the resulting mixture into a paste. This will happen without any additions if you use fish sauce. You may also omit fish for a vegan kimchee.

Step 5: Mix and Stuff

Drain the brine from the vegetables (reserving in case you need it later), and taste. They should taste nice and salty, but not so salty that you wouldn't want to eat it. If it is so salty that it is very unpleasant rinse a little. If it doesn't taste good and salty, add a little salt. I know this is very subjective, but usually the brine proportion works and doesn't require tweaking. But in case, you should know that tweaking is ok.

Mix the vegetables with the ginger-chili-onion-garlic paste. Mix thoroughly, then stuff into jars. I find two quart-sized mason jars are just about right, but you can also use more pint jars, or a single larger crock or jar. Pack it tightly, and put something on top to weight it down. This can be a slender glass tumbler, a ziplock bag filled with water or brine, a nice clean smooth rock that fits inside the jar, etc. And actually, I have made perfectly edible kimchee without weighting it down, just by packing very tightly in the jars and pushing the contents down firmly each day while fermenting. It's better if it is weighted though, which is why traditional pickling crocks were so handy. A small bowl-shaped Chinese or Japanese teacup pressed down on the mixture in the jar is something I have used from time to time.

Cover to keep out dust and flies (I like the plastic screw-on Mason jar caps because they are nonreactive and easy). Set on a tray to catch any juice that may come up and over the top of the jar while fermenting. You can ferment this on your kitchen counter, smelling and tasting it daily until it tastes like Kimchee and then refrigerate, or you can put it in a cool basement to ferment more slowly and develop more complex flavors.

Generally it is ready when the cabbage and daikon are somewhat translucent and softened, but you can start eating it any time, dependent on your taste. Usually when it smells right, it tastes right. If it is left in the refrigerator long enough to smell sweet or alcoholic, it has gone bad. We never have that problem though, because it is too delicious