My apologies for the recent spate of kimchi posts. But the truth is, I’m addicted to it; obsessed with it. And as it is such a seminal dish, I wanted to get my kimchi right. I felt my first attempt fell a little short; now that I’m a little more comfortable and confident with my kimchi-making skills, I wanted to revisit the process.
The first change I made was buying my kimchi ingredients from a Korean market instead of a chain grocery store; I now get my kimchi supplies from Lotte Oriental Foods, located on High Street across from Graceland. Lotte not only carries the requisite vegetables (napa cabbage, green onions, garlic, and ginger), they sell two important components not available at most chain grocery stores: red pepper powder and mu. Ranging in size from small bags to huge sacks, red pepper powder is available from a number of Korean and Chinese manufacturers. Although I’ve found the Chinese-made powder to be a little less expensive, there are those who decry the Chinese product as inferior. While I can’t vouch for the validity of this opinion, I did end up with a Korean-produced brand; after all, kimchi is a Korean dish. Likewise, I decided to use the Korean radish, mu, instead of the Japanese daikon. Whereas daikon is cylindrical and carrot-shaped, mu is more bulbous and eggplant-shaped. And because of the inventory turnaround at Lotte, mu is always fresh, which wasn’t always the case with the daikon at the chain store.
Following the basic recipe from my first post: I brine the vegetables for about 2 hours and drain. The primary difference comes in the paste. Instead of using fresh peppers (which I’ve found are hard to come by in the winter months), I use the more cost-effective Korean red pepper powder—about ½ cup of pepper powder per head of napa cabbage. I also now include the onion with the pepper powder, garlic, and ginger and blend to make a paste. (In the past, I’ve added sliced onions with the cabbage and radish, but have found them to become fairly soggy after the fermentation process; blending them with the powder, garlic, and ginger not only avoids this issue, but adds extra moisture and flavor to the paste.) For additional liquid, I add water set aside from brining, as needed, to bring the paste to a viscous consistency. Once blended (I end up with about ½ a standard blender pitcher full of paste), I pour the paste over the cabbage, mu, and diced green onion, then mix by hand until the vegetables are well-coated.
As I’ve started to make larger batches, attempting to separate the kimchi into several smaller containers has proved to be a bit messy, as well as time-consuming. A pleasant, accidental discovery has been that the stoneware from a slow cooker makes the perfect kimchi pot. I pack the kimchi tightly into the stoneware, pressing down to drive out any air pockets. Since there is a lot more surface area exposed in the stoneware than in a jar, I place a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the kimchi to both limit exposure to the air and prevent excess moisture escape. I place the slow cooker lid on top of the stoneware, leave at room temperature for about two days, then place in the refrigerator.
The resulting kimchi is much thicker than my previous batches. Packed in the excess brine water, my first batch resembled a jar of pickled vegetables (which it was); whereas this latest method produces a more traditional-looking, full-flavored kimchi, with a deep red hue.