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This recipe is listed in the "Asian" (Korean) and "Vegetarian" (salads: relish) sections of the YaleCooks recipe collection.

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Kimchi Fermentation: Basic Concepts (version #1)

First added: 2012-10-31; Last edited: 2012-11-19

Author: Michael A (GSA&S: E&AS)


Napa cabbage kimchi made using this approach was used to prepare "dak galbi" (a spicy Korean chicken stir fry) shared during a YaleCooks potluck dinner (2012-10-11).  In November, Michael shared some of this homemade daikon kimchi at a YaleCooks potluck dinner (2012-11-15).

Common Supplies & Ingredients:

• an earthenware crock or large glass bottles (including the wide-mouth bottles plus used "lids" from home canning projects).

• daikon
• Napa cabbage (or Nappa)
• fresh garlic
• ginger root
• onion
• scallion-green onion

shrimp paste
fish sauce

salt (kosher or sea salt are best)
red pepper flakes

Advice-Concepts-Instructions: (focusing on daikon kimchi)

Daikon kimchi is not too hard to make since it is fast.

1) Salt concentration is important for fermenting daikon successfully.

Too little and the kimchi will have an off taste.  Too much and it will not ferment.

The initial amount of salt actually is not too important.  Be pretty generous with the salt.  However, do not salt the vegetables for too long.  30 - 45 minutes should be enough depending on how much salt you put on the daikon.  You want it to remain very crunchy, not mushy.  Taste as you go.  After you finishing salting, keep the juice (set aside).  Soak the daikon in some regular water to make it less salty until it tastes salty but edible.  This is the best way to adjust the final salt concentration in the daikon.

Editor's notes: Salt extracts water from the vegetables ("osmosis").  If you keep a record of how much salt you use and the amount of vegetables fermented you will soon be a master kimchi chef!

2) Air (oxygen to be specific) is your enemy when fermenting kimchi.

Some tips to keep air out:  After you mix it with the spices (red pepper, garlic, ginger, some onion or shallots, scallion, and fish sauce and/or shrimp paste), transfer it to a container that can be kept airtight.

After transfering it, press down on the daikon semi-aggressively to get all the air pockets out of the crevices in the container. You want the vegetables to be fully saturated by liquid without putting too much water in (if that makes any sense).  If most of the daikon is not covered by liquid at this point, pour some of the reserved salty daikon juice in (you may need to dilute the juice if it is too salty).

An important characteristic of good kimchi is the CO2 concentration (think of soda, you want a nice carbonated taste).  To get this effect, the container needs to be closed tightly.

If your container still has a lot of empty space, it might be a good idea to take some clean Saran wrap and cover the top layer of the kimchi to avoid air exposure even more.  Finally, do not fill the container up completely, maybe about 80 - 90% full.  As it ferments and CO2 concentration increases, the volume of the kimchi will noticeably increase.  If you fill it up too much, it will start to leak, and your fridge will stink of high heavens.

Editor's notes: During a fermentation-pickling workshop held at the Yale Farm (2012-09-06) it was recommended that the vegetables (cabbage and carrots were used during the workshop) be pressed down every day to purge as much as possible the gas produced by the bacteria.  This procedure may prevent overflow problems.  When Michael reviewed this page (including the first version of these editor's notes) he said his family never presses down to purge the gases produced during the fermentation.  If you are concerned about overflow, place the fermentation container in a second container to catch any overflow and minimize any required cleanup.

3) Need to jump start fermentation by keeping it outside.

It's actually the perfect time [editor: New Haven in late October] to make kimchi now since its not hot outside.  Around 50 degrees is ideal.  Keep the kimchi container outside for around two days (depends on the ambient temperature, so this is only rough).  You know when this stage is done when you start seeing bubbles form in the kimchi juice.  If it bubbles constantly, you've gone too far; its still edible, but may taste slightly off and too sour.

You can actually taste the kimchi at this point.  It should be slightly tangy, but not to the point of being vinegary, a bit fishy, and still taste "fresh".  Do not worry if it does not taste quite like something you would want to eat, as it is not ready yet.   Next, you put it in the fridge.  You have to wait around another week, and then it should be nice and ripe.

Editor's notes: Some bakers tell stories about buying new containers when they travel to teach bread workshops.  To their surprise, the dough prepared in these new containers is less active than dough which rise in the containers they use every day in their bakiers.  One possible explanation is that containers are not "sterilized" by regular cleaning, and therefore the trace amounts of yeast and bacteria which remain in the containers after cleaning (or which originate from the bakery air-environment) are important.  Michael mentions the advantages of "jump starting" the fermentation by leaving the kimchi outside.  It is possible this increases the amount of "good" bacteria needed for fermentation.  There are stories about cooks in Korea burying crocks of kimchi in the ground.  This low-tech method may be effective because the temperature may vary less and a small amount of soil bacteria may be helpful.

Other Options:

Korean red pepper flakes.  There is quite a difference in quality between different sources of red pepper flakes, so if its fresh (homegrown and homemade) that will make great kimchi.  For one medium to large size daikon, you will need about 3 tablespoons of the pepper flakes.  Maybe around the same amount for a medium sized Napa cabbage.  However, it varies quite a lot depending on the regional variety of kimchi.

Recipes for Using Kimchi:

1) bokumbap (a spicy Korean fried rice)
2) dak galbi (a spicy Korean chicken stir fry)
3) bindaetteok (a Korean mung bean fritter)

Assessment and Possible Improvements:


Annotated Internet Links:

1) Heres one from Maangchi.Com.  I don't love the recipe as she tends to be a bit heavy handed with spices, but its a good start.

Recommended Cookbooks:



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