Good Eats: Kimchi

This month’s Good Eats is all about kimchi.  Find out what makes this fantastic fermented Korean comfort food and get a crash course on how to make it.

Seoul Delicious Kimchi

I’m no stranger to Korea’s spicy national dish.  I’ve written about it and ate it at teeny cafes in Seoul when I stayed there waiting for a work visa.  My Korean ESL students are pretty excited when they hear that I’m brave enough to eat it.  They tell me about the awesomeness of kimchi jjigae (stew) kimchi bokkeumbap (fried rice) and kimchi jeon (pancakes).

Earlier this month at the Eat Write Retreat, I learned about canning from Marissa McClellan of Food in Jars and met Amanda from Phickle.com.  Amanda is a fermenting pro, writes a great blog and teaches fermenting classes.   I told her how I really wanted to try making my own kimchi but was scared to tackle a recipe.  She gave me some encouragement at the conference before sending me on my way with a PDF and some pointers.  There’s a great recipe for kimchi and another post about the hot hot heat ingredients on her blog.

So what happened, you ask?  My first kimchi try was unsuccessful.  I didn’t submerge the veggies and they got moldy.  My second attempt faired much better but there were still a few surprises:

  1. The mix fermented quickly because of the temperature in my house. It’s 72 in here so the mix didn’t need to sit for very long.  I opened it on day five.  You can check it at day three and be finished by day seven.
  2. I packed the jar so tightly that the tin lid puffed up.  I noticed this before I opened it and brought it right to the sink.  It was like opening a soda bottle that was shaken up.  When I finally unscrewed the jar top with the help of a rubber opener, everything exploded out.  It was like a kimchi volcano!!!
  3. Also, when the recipe calls for gochugaru, use it.  I used sriracha, which is a totally different flavor from a totally different country plus it’s punch-you-in-the-face hot.  ::wimper::

Kimchi Collage Words

Kimchi is a very nutritious dish that is high in fiber and low in calories because the main ingredients are vegetables.  Napa cabbage, radish and scallion are staples in the recipe but there are over a hundred varieties and they’re all catalogued the Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul.  (Yes, Virginia, there really is a kimchi museum and I’ve been there…they have many strange dioramas.)

What gives kimchi its kick is the seasoning.  Ginger, chopped radish, garlic, the list goes on.  Gochugaru, or hot chili pepper flakes, is added to the mix.  It’s pretty spicy to us Westerners but also has a bit of a sweetness if you’re daring enough to try it solo.  The northern prefectures of Korea prefer less salt and spice while southern prefectures go big or go home.  They add anchovy or shrimp brine to give you an extra kick, as if you really even needed it.

Kimchi is fermented.  You can learn all about that here but basically it means that it has to sit a while before it becomes delicious.  Not the most technical definition but you get the idea.  Old school kimchi was buried in jars underground and fermented for months.  Before refrigeration, kimchi production was heavily dependent on the seasons because temperature plays such a big role.  Nowadays, there are kimchi refrigerators specifically designed to keep kimchi at the best temperature during fermentation.  Watch these cuties tell you all about it.

Five Fun Facts About Kimchi:

  1. Koreans eat 40 pounds of it per person every year.
  2. It’s chock full of vitamin C and carotene.
  3. Koreans say “kimchi” instead of “cheese” when posing for photographs.
  4. White kimchi (baek kimchi) isn’t spicy and is a little like sauerkraut.
  5. Kimchi is responsible for the development of spoons in Korea.

Go forth and try a batch!  Tell me how it went below or tweet me @anselblue.  Need some pointers?  Ask @phicklefoods.

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