Worldwide, kimchi is synonymous with the Napa cabbage , Korea’s most popular and traditional fermented pickle.
Historical records speak of Kimchi and other fermented products, such as soy sauce and wine, as far back as the era of the three kingdoms (37BCE – 7CE).
A paste of garlic, ginger and chilli is a constant in most kimchis. Curiously, references to garlic are conspicuously absent from early texts. Chilli, unknown outside of the Americas before the European conquests was brought to Korea by Portuguese traders in the 1600s. And most surprising is the suggestion that Napa cabbage was introduced into Korea from China as recently as the late 19th century, a “fact” which flies in the face of Korean oral tradition.
Whichever historical version you accept, Napa (Baechu) is the queen of kimchis and surely deserving of our attention and respect.
The “traditional” method tears the whole cabbage into two to four pieces, directly applies salt, then massages kimchi paste onto individual leaves.
So called “easy” kimchi soaks sliced cabbage in strong brine, then tosses the rinsed leaves in kimchi paste. The quantity of salt depends on the volume of water, bringing us face-to-face with proportion as opposed to quantity. Don’t despair: the solution is as foolproof as it is suprising
An Egg In the Brine
Fill a bowl large enough for your Napa cabbage(es) with water. Now add a generous amount of salt and float an egg in the bowl. The brine is at the right concentration when the amount of egg floating above the water is the size of a Euro, a Pound coin or even Dollar.
A note on frementation: click for info
And now the recipe
- medium coarse sea salt
- 1-2 Chinese napa cabbages
- 2cm piece fresh ginger root
- 3-6 cloves garlic
- 1-2 tbsp Korean chilli flakes or Mexican Guajillo or Kashmiri chilli
- 2 carrots, peeled, topped, tailed and finely julienned into matchsticks
- 1 daikon or mooli (Asian radish) peeled, topped, tailed and finely julienned into matchsticks
- OR 1 large white turnip peeled, topped, tailed and finely julienned into matchsticks
- 2-3 scallions or Asian chives, sliced
Rice Gruel (optional)
- 1 heaped tablespoon of rice flour millet and corn also work well
- 1/2 teacup water
Seasoning And Other Condiments
- light soy sauce to taste
- 2 tbsp brown sugar, honey or other sweeteners such as rice or agave syrup (optional)
- 1 tbsp sweet white miso or the left over juice from your previous kimchi (optional)
Salt the Napa cabbage
- Prepare a strong brine so an egg will float exposing an area the size of a Euro above the water line
- Wash and slice the nappa cabbage(es) and immerse in the brine for at least 3 hours
- Rinse away most off the salt from the cabbage and shake dry
Meanwhile make the rice porrridge
- Mix the flour and water until smooth, put in a small saucepan and cook until thickened. The gruel should be fairly thin. Allow to cool
Make the kimchi paste
- In a blender, chopper or mortar and pestle work the garlic and ginger into a paste. Add the chilli, soy sauce, sweetener and optional miso or juice from the previous kimchi, then mix in the rice gruel.
Mix, bottle and ferment your kimchi
- Toss the vegetable matchsticks and scallions / chives into the kimchi paste , coating well
- Add the cabbage and mix well with your hands until well coated with kimchi paste
- Put the kimchi into sterilized glass or food-safe plastic containers, packing it in so there are no air pockets
- Leave overnight at 12-16 degrees C or until fermentation has just started, then remove to the fridge. The kimchi is ready to eat right away. It's flavour it will improve after a week. It will keep for up to 3 months