in partnership withwjla.com
2V7A4339.jpg
Pour the spice mixture onto the salted cabbage leaves. (Image: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/ DC Refined)

The beginner’s guide to making your own kimchi

First things first: kimchi is a verb, not a noun, Sasha Felikson told me. As in, “I kimchi-ed this cabbage,” not “I made kimchi.” The chef at Southeast Asian restaurant Doi Moi on 14th Street said because it’s a method of transformation, the word should be used the same as “pickling.” Got it? Good.

Ever curious about how to, um, kimchi your own kimchi? I was too, so I asked chef for a little demonstration. I had been picturing tons of ingredients, lots of prep time and a shovel to bury filled clay pots of bubbling, fermenting seasoned cabbage. But what I learned during my lesson is that it’s actually quite an easy, do-able process at home. Read on for tips, tricks and steps, and then tackle the recipes for Felikson’s traditional Korean and Thai versions.

(Oh, and one other thing I learned: its heat, tang and fermented state that make kimchi an amazing hangover remedy, so put a few leaves of it in your morning-after hair-of-the-dog Bloody Mary. You’re welcome.)

Step one:

Cut a head of washed Napa cabbage in half lengthwise. Then, decide whether to keep the leaves whole or cut them crosswise into thick strips. The former will require you to spread the leaves, rinse them, rub them with salt and then rub the seasoning in-between the leaves before jamming them into a jar or other container. (If it sounds labor intensive, it kind of is.) The latter gives a higher and more even seasoning-to-surface-area ratio (always a good thing in my opinion), and makes the kimchi easier to mix and store. Felikson prefers to cut his cabbage, removing and discarding a small amount of the wilted leaves at the top. You can remove, or retain, the core--it’ll take on a different texture but be completely edible.

Step two:

Salt the cabbage to remove the moisture. Traditionally, kimchi is over-salted to remove as much of the water as possible, which requires a lot of salt--as well as a lot of water for rinsing it off. Instead, Felikson uses salt in the amount of 2-percent of the weight of the cabbage (This is where your handy electronic food scale comes in). This creates a lacto-fermentation, where the salt reacts with the natural sugars and water in the cabbage, breaking it down. The process works best when the temperature is between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step three:

Macerate the cabbage by mixing it in a bowl with your hands, which will warm up the cabbage to that sweet spot temperature. (Do it sans gloves, he says, as the bacteria from your hands will also help kick off fermentation.) You’ll notice the salt dissolving around the cabbage, and the cabbage transforming from raw to glistening as it breaks down.

Step four:

Make the seasoning mix by mashing salted shrimp, ginger, garlic and shallots in either a mortar and pestle (which lends a unique pasty texture), or in a food processor, adding a pinch of salt if you are using the former. And feel free to riff on the recipe--adding galangal, lemongrass, herbs, daikon radish and/or carrots. Add fish sauce (its shelf life is forever, by the way), lime juice and gochujang and/or Korean chilies, and cook the mixture over medium heat with a little flour for around twenty minutes. (You can skip the cooking step like the recipe below does; it doesn’t affect the flavor or fermentation, just creates a homogeneous texture.)

Step five:

If cooking the mixture, let it cool, add it to the prepared cabbage leaves, and mix with your hands until all the leaves are covered.

Step six:

Transfer your kimchi mixture to a glass or thick plastic Tupperware container. (You can eat the unfermented fresh version right away. I really liked the fact that the leaves were a little crunchy and you could still really taste the other individual ingredients. Felikson said it’s great as the lettuce on a sandwich or served over steamed rice.)

Step seven:

To ferment the kimchi, store in a place that’s 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit. for around three days. Too cool and fermentation either won’t start or will stall; too warm and bad bacteria will take over your batch.

Step eight:

After three days, put the kimchi in the refrigerator to stop the fermentation process, where it can be stored for months.

Recipes: (These make large batches, so feel free to scale down.)

Korean Kimchi (for 20# case Napa Cabbage)
Recipe courtesy of Sasha Felikson, Chef, Doi Moi

  • 1 case Napa Cabbage
  • 2 cups salted Shrimp
  • 1 lime
  • 1 cup garlic cloves, peeled
  • ½ cup ginger
  • ½ cup fish sauce
  • 1.1 kg Gochujang
  • 1 cup Korean Gochu Ground Chili
  • 2 tablespoons Sugar

Cut cabbage in large dice and salt (2% by weight) for one to two hours. Blend all ingredients (juicing the lime) to a paste texture using a mortar and pestle, and rub evenly into salted cabbage. Allow to ferment at 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit for 24-48 hours. Place in refrigerator and stir before use.

Thai Kimchi Recipe(for 20# case Napa Cabbage)
Recipe courtesy of Sasha Felikson, Chef, Doi Moi

  • 1 case Napa Cabbage
  • 2 pineapples
  • 1 lime
  • 1 cup garlic cloves, peeled
  • ½ cup ginger
  • 8 Thai chillies
  • ½ cup fish sauce
  • 1.1 kg Gochujang
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Cut cabbage in large dice and salt (2% by weight) for one to two hours. Blend all ingredients (juicing the lime) to a paste texture using a mortar and pestle, and rub evenly into salted cabbage. Allow to ferment at 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit for 24-48 hours. Place in refrigerator and stir before use.

col1_vertical_list_trending