How to Make Kimchi / Kim Chee

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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.

Intro: How to Make Kimchi / Kim Chee

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

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179 Discussions

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gweedoh!

8 years ago on Step 5

Thanks for the instructable! I just started my first batch tonite, I was sick of the msg laden jars I found in stores. I'm adding a bit of honey to my spice paste to try and re-create a sweet/spicy kimchee I just had recently, I hope it works! I usually make quick shoyu pickles, so this will be a nice change up, and kimchee soup is one of my favorites....

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hiroko.woodsgweedoh!

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

Hi, I too starting my first kimchi and made salty squid today(Hopefully it works)

You put honey in your paste but I warn you that honey is antiviral and anti bacterial, so it will prevent fermentation. Sounds like you put tiny amount and it won't be too much of a problem. I recommend you that next time not to use honey and instead use organic sugar. I make water kefir and heard someone killed the kefir gains by using honey. Good luck! Have an awesome day!

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lioness1955LeslieW18

Reply 2 years ago

Mead is from yeast eating the sugar and producing alcohol.

Other kinds of fermentation use bacteria (and sometimes molds) - altogether different beasties.

Kimchi and sauerkraut ferment primarily form lactic-acid bacteria.

Yeasts and molds are in the kingdom of Fungi, they are eukayotes (have organelles even if only single-celled).
Bacteria are smaller and are a different branch of the biological family - prokaryotes, no internal organelles.

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Bentley_Maniachiroko.woods

Reply 3 years ago

I hate to disagree, but when honey is diluted, it can be used in a fermented process. yes, if it is too concentrated, it will kill the bacteria, but I've never had any problems with it in other recipes. (honey mead is merely fermented honey water)

one thing to remember, though, is that if you are replacing honey with sugar, you will need more sugar than the amount of honey asked for.

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Grayhawk1982gweedoh!

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

Any sugars you add will increase the acidity dramatically and speed up fermentation since there will be more food for the lactobacteria.You may end up with a more sour flavor. Also on the author's response, sardines work great!

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megmainegweedoh!

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

My pleasure! I hope you'll share a picture when it's ready!
I also love kimchee soup, as do my kids.

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simonides

6 years ago on Introduction

I really enjoyed making my first Kimchi from this recipe! Very tasty but a bit too salty for me. Could I halve the salt content without any problem?

thanks!!!

3 replies
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megmainesimonides

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

You can make it to taste, but be aware that too much salt, and it will not really ferment much, and too little, and it could just go straight to spoiling.

A Korean lady told me that refrigerators are actually too warm to keep kimchi in for very long, and that I shouldn't make so much at a time that we can't use it up in a couple of weeks, because trying to keep it for months in a standard refrigerator won't work. 33-34 degrees F is much better than 39 or 40 degrees F. On the other hand, making just enough for a few days, you can leave it on the counter. You just can't expect to keep it for too long. Souring can be quite good especially for adding to soups, but once it goes beyond sour, into sweet and alcohol-smell, that is spoiled. So if it sours, hurry and make soup!

You should be able to add a little less or more salt to taste. Just know that less salt will mean you need to use it up quicker.

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SachetTmegmaine

Reply 2 years ago

It doesn't spoil, really it just goes beyond something that tastes good.

I ferment mine for 3-5 days and have kept it in my fridge for months before I finished it. No 'alcohol/sweet smell'.

You can keep and eat it as long as you enjoy the flavor. Even if it grows mold, you could actually eat the mold if you wanted, however I never would...you can still remove moldy leaves and still eat the moldy leaves.

Koreans, a lot of times store kimchi in an open pot using cabbage leaves as a 'cover'. These regularly grow mold, and doesn't keep them from eating it.

I'm wondering how old this Korean lady is, The Koreans my father and I learned from were old timers on an Army base in the 70s....modern koreans have probably adapted western food safety habits.

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simonidesmegmaine

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

Thanks for the extra information. My latest batch was 4 cups of water to 3 tablespoons of salt and it seems just as tasty except I forgot the radishes so it wasn't as crunchy!

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Bentley_Maniac

3 years ago

I haven't yet made kimchi, but experience in other recipes suggests that oyster sauce would also work quite well in the place of bonito broth.

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QjuanaC

3 years ago on Introduction

hi, where did you get the glass jars with plastic tops?

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QjuanaC

3 years ago on Introduction

hi, where did you get the jars with the plastic tops?

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dstone-1

7 years ago on Step 5

I think I might try anchovies in a batch. they shouldn't have any mercury.

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fenikkusudstone-1

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

I'm wondering here why anchovies shouldn't have mercury. What do you know that I haven't heard... can you expand on this...

Cause I'm thinking about it and okay so mercury since its a heavy metal is more likely to have a higher concentration in bottom dwelling fish...? ... I'm not sure ... Just trying to think this through logically.... and tuna also don't dwell at the bottom. My son just recently told me that the proportional amount of mercury in tuna is different in different species according to size...

Face palm... going to have to get that lecture from him again... didn't pay enough attention the first time.

Can you give me the anchovy lecture..I'm interested in your thoughts...

thanks

Apex predators have higher concentrations of mercury; thus the closer to the top of the food chain, the more mercury. Anchovies and sardines are far from the top. They also have shorter lifespans, meaning they have less time to accumulate mercury.

As a side note, the shorter lifespan means the small fishes replenish more quickly. Sardine and anchovy fisheries are much more sustainable than tuna or other large fish fisheries. I do love tuna, but I eat a lot more sardines. I know a lot of people are grossed out by sardines, but you can get boneless and skinless and mash it up with a condiment as a tuna fish sandwich replacement.

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Rawismyreligion

4 years ago

Kimchi can be made easier and with fewer ingredients that you already
have at home, its gonna taste even better! my recipe is here
on my rawismyreligion.com blog

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VrncHls

5 years ago on Introduction

To avoid MSG and methyl mercury, get short grain rice (and/or sweet rice) and cook them and blend it to the soup consistency. Mix this with Kombu juice (Kombu is seaweed like kelp, but thicker. You can get it really cheap at H-Mart, listed as Daa-Si-Maa(다시마) in Korean. If you don't have H-mart near you, you can also order online and they will deliver to you). To get kombu juice, soak 4-6 pieces of kombu in water and use that water. This mix can be used for any fish sauce while making any kimchi. Also use sea salt instead of regular salt both for soaking napa and for the sauce.