Sunday, February 20, 2011


Kimchi is a Korean fermented pickle. Pickling is an ancient way of preserving food, but it also creates new flavours in the process. Modern pickling relies on vinegar to produce an acidic solution that preserves food. In the old days before you could just head to the store and buy buckets of vinegar, you had to find a way to create an acidic solution from scratch. Kimchi belongs to the latter class of pickling. Essentially, you douse your vegetable with salt to keep most of the food-spoiling nasties at bay, and then let lactic acid bacteria kick into gear (they can take the salt, it seems) so they can produce the food preserving acids for you. The brine that swirls around in this pickling soup adds all kinds of nice flavours to the finished dish.

This recipe is for paechu (nappa cabbage) kimchi, and comes from the Momofuku cookbook by David Chang and Peter Meehan. Momofuku is a Japanese word that I don't think they ever translate for us (hopefully it means something much different from what it sounds like in English), and is the name of a group of restaurants in New York City. There's a lot of funky stuff in this cookbook, but this is the first dish I've gotten around to trying. (I love the wood grain cover, no matter what's inside!) I'm supposed to be in the Big Apple in April, so I'll be sure to pop in and report back (if I can get a seat!).

Phase one of the dish is salting the cabbage. You'll need 2 tablespoons of kosher or sea salt, a cabbage (surprise!), and 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Cut the cabbage in half lengthwise, then cut each half crosswise into slices about an inch wide. (Chuck any nasty outer leaves first.)

Mix the chopped cabbage with the salt and sugar.

Then cover the cabbage and pop it in the fridge for a day (you may have to move some beers around). If you use a lid that's a little loose like I did here (pot lid on an unrelated bowl), your fridge will get really smelly (which explains why those Korean farmers in that M*A*S*H* episode were burying their kimchi pots out in a field -- ok, probably they wanted to keep it cool, but I'm sure the stinky factor was part of the whole decision tree).

The next day, you need to prepare your pickling brine. You need 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of Korean chile powder (they only seem to sell 10 pound bags of the stuff around here -- impressive, but impractical -- so I went for chile flakes), 1/4 cup of fish sauce, 1/4 cup of light soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons of jarred salted shrimp (I didn't have any of these and couldn't find them either, so I went for a handful of dried fish flakes that I had kicking around from some failed attempt to get into Japanese cooking). You'll also need to add to this 20 minced garlic cloves (!), 20 slices of fresh ginger, 1/2 cup of one-inch scallion pieces, and 1/2 cup of grated carrot.

Mix all that gunk in a bowl -- is should be quite soupy, so add a bit of water if it seems too thick to mix easily (I didn't need to add any water to my batch).

Take the cabbage out of the fridge and drain it. Then mix it with your brine and put it in a container (I recommend one with a good lid). Pop it in the fridge and ... wait. You can dig in after 24 hours, but according to Chang and Co. it is better after a week, best at two weeks, good for another two weeks, but then gets "incrementally stronger and funkier" after that -- you've been warned.

Here's what my batch looked like after 3 days. (Didn't I tell you that I love recipes that start: "On day one..."?)

Serve on the side with (or in!) a sandwich, put it on scrambled eggs, use it in the classic Korean dish beef bulgogi (marinated fried flank steak that you eat like a burrito only you use lettuce instead of tortillas and coconut rice instead of cheese -- yum! -- and nothing like a burrito, in retrospect), or eat it straight up. It's brilliant. You get mowed down by the garlic in the first second, then the saltiness hits before you get the one-two punch of the chiles and the fish flavour, then the heat reaches a crecendo and you settle into a garlic afterburn that will last for the next 24 hours at least. God knows what happens next. Just don't plan any long road trips with people with whom you want to remain friends. (Paula, I think you have an inside joke running with some buddies along this line -- I'll leave it to you to decide how much fun you want to have here!)

Kimchi rocks! Peace. Out.


  1. After years of being trapped in the car numerous times with my gaseous son-in-law, I have find the ultimate method of retaliation. I will make this and store it in his refrigerator. I will then remove it and eat it at an opportune time.

    Seriously, back in my Lufthansa days, I got turned on to kimchi from my trips to Seoul. This is really good stuff. But it really does stink.

  2. I have FOUND, not I have find. I need more sleep.

  3. Kimchi does rock! I'm thinking of trying to make some here in Mexico... Mexican kimchi. Tacos with kimchi on top would rock. :)

  4. Hey Pattycake! I hope all is well down there in the sunny South! Good luck with the kimchi and the baking. A kimchi taco would be so brilliant!