04 November 2010

Crabby Kimchi (pretty easy!)

There are a TON of kimchi recipes on-line, but this is how I make mine.  I tried a few variations, and this is the most straightforward and easy.  An awesome friend of mine mailed me authentic kimchi and this tastes about the same.

Sampling the Kimchi!

This is what you need:

Gochugaru -- Korean chili flakes -- clumpier and larger than chili powder, more flaky than powdery, and the bits are a bit smaller than chili flakes.  [My friend Eddie used to teach in Korea and brought me some (spices are great presents for people who love cooking) when he came to visit last year.  I'm almost out, though, so I need to find where to buy some on-line or something.]  I have yet to find an 'official' substitution, but I'm sure replacing it with a hot chili powder or tasty chili flakes would be fine.

Sea salt (or pickling salt -- I think even kosher salt and plain NaCl salt will do, just do NOT use iodised salt or a salt with an anti-caking agent or a low-sodium salt).

Napa Cabbage -- I have tried other cabbages and it is much trickier to salt-wilt them down.  The only substitution I would suggest would be sweetheart cabbage -- this is the cabbage that kind of looks like a cone -- and the kimchi I've made with it is always good.

Fresh garlic and ginger -- DO NOT USE POWDERS AS A SUBSTITUTE!!  If you do, I shall wave the finger of shame in your direction and your kimchi will be cursed and taste like poo! 

Old glass jars & lids -- old pickle jars and old sauerkraut jars are great.  I normally recommend using new lids when preserving food, but you don't need (or want -- because it will explode!) a tight seal for kimchi, so you can use old lids.  But please clean them first!

Please note:  Many kimchi recipes add a bit of sugar (at the same time that the chili, garlic, and ginger are added) to kick-start the fermentation process, but I don't.  My stuff still ferments.  The sugar is pretty much eaten up during the fermentation process, but I don't use it anyway.
Most recipes also add chopped green onion.  I don't.  I tried it once and didn't like the texture.  I love green onions, just not fermented in kimchi.

Here is an overview of the entire process:  Salt-wilt your cabbage, rinse it, add spices, pack it in jars, add brine, refrigerate.  Then it ferments and gets tasty and you eat it.

Step 1.  Salt-wilting:  

Basically, you coat your cabbage in salt, let it get all wilty, and rinse it.

Chop up your cabbage, including the stem.  [I like to chop it into 1-2" squares, but you chop it however you like.  You don't even have to chop it -- some recipes just quarter the head of cabbage and salt the quarters down and other recipes salt the leaves one-by-one and then roll them up before jarring them.]  Remove any gnarly bits.  Give it a rinse (not necessary, but the leftover drips of water on the cabbage help kick-start the salt-wilting), and put it in a glass or otherwise non-metallic bowl.  You need to get your salt and just shake a big fat layer all over the top.  (Some people say 2 tbsp for a whole head of cabbage, but I don't really measure it.)  Then toss the cabbage to make sure the salt gets evenly distributed. 

Now you need to wait for it to wilt.  A lot of recipes say to wait 3 hours, but wait overnight.  If you wait a couple days, that's still cool (I can only think it might be a problem if your kitchen is super hot).  Every time you pass the bowl of cabbage or go in the kitchen, give it a toss.  You will notice a little water pooling in the bottom.  This is leached out of the cabbage by our friend, salt.  The cabbage will reduce in size by about half and start to look wilty and translucent.

Salt-wilting the cabbage

Rinse the cabbage.  I read a recipe that says you need to rinse it 3 times, but I just rinse it once.

Taste your cabbage.  It should be salty, but not painfully salty.  If you have reached the scary painfully salty stage, soak the cabbage in water overnight and taste it again.  It should be okay now! 

Step 2.  Spicing: 

Basically, you add chopped garlic, ginger, and chili flakes to the cabbage.

Chop up garlic and ginger.  Toss garlic, ginger, and chili into the cabbage.  To make this easier, I like to make a quick "tea" out of them (I add the garlic, ginger, chili, and a pinch of salt to about 4 oz of hot water and let soak for about a minute so the chili flakes puff up a bit) and then pour the tea on the cabbage and toss until it is evenly distributed.

How much should you use?  Well, that's up to you.  I usually use 1-2 cloves of garlic and a walnut-sized piece of ginger per head of cabbage.  I use enough chili powder (1-2 tbsp or more) to make the cabbage look nice and red once everything is tossed together. 

Step 3.  Jarring: 

Pack the stuff into jars.  Add brine (a tsp or so of salt per cup of water -- again, you want it to be salty, but not painfully so).  You want the cabbage to pretty much be covered in the brine and you want at least 1/2" gap of air at the top.  Remember to poke and prod everything with a clean utensil to get out any air bubbles. 

Pop on the lid and let it just chill out in your refrigerator.

Making Kimchi

Step 4.  Patience:

Okay, you don't totally need to be patient.  You can eat some straight away (heck, I even eat some while it's still salt-wilting!), but it gets better as it ferments.  I recommend you taste a little every day to see how it changes.

I usually eat it raw, but once it starts getting really 'ripe' and fizzy-tasting, it's great for stir-fries, fried rice, and my favourite, kimchi jjigae -- a vegetable soup with kimchi in it.

Why won't kimchi kill you?  After all, it's fermenting and getting all weird and stuff!  It's pretty amazing, but there are a few reasons.  One is the high salt content, which inhibits the growth of those gnarly critters that make you ill and another is the fermentation -- the nice stomach-friendly fermenting bacteria (sometimes known as pro-biotics) don't let the evil meanie-bacteria live.
I read somewhere that for people who are new to preserving food, fermenting foods is actually safer than traditional canning because it is so much harder to "mess up" and meanie-bacteria are much less likely to invade your fermenting foods.

They say Kimchi has loads of health benefits (you look them up yourself -- isn't this blog entry long enough?).  I swear it temporarily cured my preggo-acid-reflux and I always have some if I'm suffering from intestinal woes. 

Let me know if you want me to make a post on kimchi jjigae!!  I've made two different kinds of kimchi soup and they are just about the most delicious thing ever.

Questions, puzzles, problems, typos?  Leave a comment!

Next time on The Crabby Crafter:  Graaavy!!

Making Sauerkraut

(I'm trying to make sauerkraut by this same method, minus the spices, shredding instead of squaring, and using 'regular' white cabbage.  I'll let you know how it turns out.)


  1. This is one of the best MoFo posts I have read. I was always scared to make kimchi and now I'm not. I even have napa cabbage in the fridge! I'm going to make kimchi! Thank you!

  2. Celyn, I'm flattered! Let me know if any questions arise while you make it.

    The first time I tried making kimchi and sauerkraut was this spring -- I was pregnant and it (the food) did not go so well. I was too scared to try it again until after I'd popped.

    After a lot of post-partum trial-and-error, I've got it nailed, but I was a bit paranoid I was going to secretly give myself food poisoning until I read a lot about preserving and fermenting. (From what I've read, when kimchi goes bad, there will be NO doubt in your mind that it is bad.)


  3. I've been meaning to try making my own kimchi for awhile, so thanks for the inspiration! And yes, please do a post on kimchi jjigae :)

  4. I love kimchi so much! My favorite recipe is by Maangchi, a Korean food blogger. She has a video on her site that is super adorable. Her recipe is pretty involved though.
    I've got some kraut going right now from a mix of red and green cabbage and it's just starting to get ripe. Good luck on the fermenting!

  5. This is the how to make kimchi yourself post of my dreams--thanks crabby crafter! I appreciate all the tiny parenthetical phrases a lot. When I was 12 or 13 I was having lunch at a (Korean) friend's house and I was unfamiliar with the red, wilty vegetables my friend had put on my bowl of steamed rice. I loved the kimchi at first salty, vinegary, bite and am not afraid of spice, but her strict aunt who didn't speak much English got very upset with my friend because she thought it would be like way too spicy for me. Americans have a bland reputation I suppose, for good reason I guess. Anyway, I will be making kimchi this week and I will def use fresh garlic and ginger--thanks!!!

  6. Katy, when I first met my husband's gran, she insisted my tea be watered down (since I drink it black) because it would be far too strong. (It wasn't -- not nearly!)

    The north of England has the reputation for liking bland food (my MIL is a cardboard culprit -- every entree is flavourless).
    One time we were at Whetherspoon's in Blackpool and the server told us to be careful because the spicy pepper pasta would probably be way too spicy for my toddler. It totally wasn't!! I swear, the spicy peppers were red bell peppers!!!

  7. I'll definitely try this!
    I've always been afraid of the fermenting cabbage's smell but you don't mention it at all so I guess it is no problem worth mentioning when doing this in a jar in the fridge?

  8. I haven't really had a stink problem -- I think the refrigeration helps.
    (I've heard complaints from people making it -- traditionally Koreans would bury the kimchi in pots and now they use separate kimchi refrigerators -- and one time I made it, you could really smell it in the fridge, but I like the smell of kimchi, so it never bothers me -- and my husband hasn't complained about any smells, so it can't be that bad -- if it was stinky, my husband would totally let me know!)