Long-term testing/tasting notes: Everyone in my life who has tried my kimchi is in love. We eat some every day (as an addition to dishes, not straight) and I make a new batch every few weeks. Our friends are now planning on adding napa cabbage to their backyard garden next year. It's that good.
👩🔬 Testing in process: I am not always in a place or season where organic napa cabbage is readily available. I just tried my first batch of “emergency kimchi” with organic green cabbage and I’m excited to see how the experiment turns out (both with flavor/texture and for the low-fodmap gut in the household).
Seems like it certainly works, but is…skunkier? Like, further down the road of a maturing brie. Maybe more like you’d think cabbage would be? Where maybe the napa cabbage has a fresher, cleaner, sweeter flavor (and smell). “Emergency” seems like a good qualifier 😅
The process was pretty similar, even though the cabbage is pretty different. The resulting kimchi is crunchier than usual and maybe seems a bit more skunky? No solid results yet on how gut-friendly it is compared to napa cabbage (which is fodmap friendly even without being fermented).
I attempted a batch of fermented kimchi (modified from a couple versions published by America's Test Kitchen) as a first foray into fermentation for the digestive benefits of probiotics. Turns out it’s super-easy to make and super-delicious to eat — even on the very first try!
Note: I made just one napa cabbage worth initially and it only lasted us a week. It also only filled half of my ~gallon-sized fermentation container (which was really surprising at the time) so I’m definitely going to 1.5x my next batch (and lower the spice level, as indicated below, so that we can eat it even faster 😅).
Update: I think 4lbs of cabbage (+ radish and carrot and scallions and sauce) is perfect for the container I use & recommend, so I 1.6x the original recipe listed below (which assumes 2.5lbs).
Basic things you need:
- An airtight container for the anaerobic process (best if it keeps oxygen out and kimchi smells in)
- A dark cool place that can stay roughly 65F for a week
- Measuring temperature:
- If you don't already have a thermometer, it might be worth picking one up. I've actually gotten a lot of value out of one that also measures humidity — this one has a second sensor and gives you two sets of readings: where the display is and also where you've placed the external sensor. In this case, you'd want to leave the sensor with the kimchi, wherever it ends up.
- Maintaining temperature:
- If you don't have a root cellar, get creative! I made my first batch during the summer, so I found the smallest room with an AC vent, removed the register to maximize airflow, put my kimchi on the floor nearby, and shut the door. The combination of the cool air flowing in and that cool air not actually reaching the rest of the house with the thermostat, kept the kimchi in the good zone. (I also considered dropping it into the crawl-space under my house.)
- If you have an unused mini-fridge or chest freezer, you can also order a device with a temperature probe and a display that allows you to set your preferred temperature range. You put the probe in the fridge along with the kimchi and you plug the fridge into the device which then turns the fridge on and off to keep it in the range you've set it to. In the winter I add my favorite because otherwise the nighttime temps are too low in the mini fridge. Just make sure you include enough of a buffer in the range so that you’re not running the heater in a way that directly causes the fridge to kick on and vice versa.Tiny personal heater
This "E-Jen" is the perfect container — it comes in many sizes: the 0.9 gallon is perfect for 4lbs of cabbage (with some room to spare).
It has a plunger that presses down within the container to remove space for the air and then a second lid that snaps on to trap any gasses that may build up. There will also likely be some kimchi liquid in that middle space that seeps up and the secondary lid helps to keep those smells in.
note: I have had one batch of sauerkraut start to brown (oxidize?) on the upper layers (probably from neglecting it for too long and not pressing the plunger down periodically), which I think I would’ve been much slower to notice if it hadn’t been clear so that I could easily see the color difference. So +1 for the clear version of these containers.
(For basic fermenting, America's Test Kitchen recommends using a half-gallon wide-mouth mason jar, cutting a circle out of parchment paper to press onto the surface of the vegetables and then making a ziplock bag of saltwater to weight the parchment paper in order to keep the vegetables out of the air (saltwater so that any leaks don't cause dilution or other issues), and then covering the whole thing with 3 layers of cheesecloth secured with a rubber band. But then they also want you skimming off mold & residue daily and I can only imagine that the place where you're storing your kimchi will smell quite strongly of kimchi. I think this is a case where the purpose-made container is worth it + the homemade kimchi is delicious enough that you're going to want to store it in your fridge for the foreseeable future and this container does great at fermentation as well as storage.)
Update: I now have the 0.45 gallon one as well so that I can transfer from the big one to the little one and free the big one up for starting the next round of kimchi before we actually run out.
(the acceptable range is 50-70F)
- Sourcing napa cabbage: Whole Foods usually has organic napa cabbage for $1.99/lb. It’s $3.99/lb at Safeway (or $2.99/lb for conventional, though because washing introduces a bunch of extra liquid, I personally only use organic). They also have organic cabbage at my local coop for $2.99/lb.
- Recommendation: holding the cabbage upside down, slice through the core just far enough to be able to grip the two halves and pull the cabbage apart (this is supposed to reduce damage to the leaves but is also very satisfying!) Repeat this with each half, resulting in quarters. Then remove the core and chop the remaining cabbage crosswise into 1” or 2" pieces.
- (if using kosher salt: 3.75tsp Morton's or 5tsp Diamond Crystal—don't use table salt or iodized salt)
- This is probably clear, but: 1tsp canning and pickling salt per lb of cabbage
- Toss chopped cabbage with salt in a large bowl, cover, and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour (based on recommendations from others, I tossed the cabbage every 30min and left it for 2 hours. I didn't cover it, but instead 'nested' a large bowl on top of the cabbage and weighted it with a pot to apply a bit of pressure to the cabbage). Transfer cabbage to colander, squeeze to drain excess liquid (and maybe affect the integrity of the cabbage a bit? I’m definitely crushing it in my hands), and return to now-empty bowl.
- Process gochugaru (chili powder/flakes), sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, ginger, and garlic olive oil in food processor until no large pieces of ginger remain, about 20 seconds.
- Add chili mixture, scallions, and carrot to cabbage and toss to combine (I actually add the chili mixture to the carrots and scallions first and then integrate that with the cabbage by adding the cabbage a fistful at a time as I finish squeezing the water out of it).
- Tightly pack vegetable mixture into container (or mason jar—see note above), pressing down firmly with your fist to eliminate air pockets as you pack (I do all the mixing and scooping and squishing with a firm spatula and that has worked fine—I’d seen people wearing gloves and so I’ve been avoiding direct contact with the chili mixture). Press down inner lid, flush against surface of vegetables, plug the little air hole once it threatens to bubble up under the pressure, and snap on outer lid.
- Place container in 50-70 degree location away from direct sunlight and let ferment for 7-20 days; check daily, pressing the inner lid back down. After 7 days, taste kimchi daily until it has reached desired flavor (this may take up to 11 days longer; cabbage should be soft and translucent with a pleasant cheesy, fishy flavor). I like it with a bit of a crunch, so I popped it into the fridge when it was still on the younger end of the range.
- (Update: we tried 14days instead of 7 and while I think we got more signature kimchi “fizz”, it was not nearly as well-received by the people who had fallen for my kimchi after assuming they just weren’t the sort who would ever like kimchi. So a longer ferment is maybe more traditional but potentially less of a crowd-pleaser.)
- When kimchi has reached desired flavor, serve! The kimchi can be refrigerated for up to 3 months; in the fridge, it will continue to soften and develop flavor.
- I think 9" tongs are the right utensil to use. They make it easy to mix the kimchi up and easy to put it in a serving dish and easy to move it from serving dish to individual plates.
- Put some out in a bowl and let people add it to their breakfast
- We often have fried eggs and rice and the kimchi is a great condiment, but I bet it would also be good with scrambled eggs. The first time we did this I was apprehensive, but by the end, I was careful to make sure that every remaining bite I had would include a bit of kimchi 😋
- Update: we’ve been adding ketchup and mayo to it to make a sort of salsa and then we mix it all together in a bowl of rice with a couple eggs.
- Make kimchi-fried rice (basically chop it up — we use kitchen scissors — and add it to a hot pan with rice and some oil and maybe some bacon or hot dog—see full recipe below)
- Add to miso soup
- Add it where you might use pickles or other pickled things: burgers, hot dogs, tacos
- Add it to mac & cheese (we switch between Amy’s and TJ’s frozen gluten free mac & cheese and the kimchi takes it from boring processed in-a-rush-between-meetings calories to a legit meal worthy of bringing to a potluck)
- If it's too hot for you, tame it with some sour cream or plain yogurt (or in a pinch: accompany it with a glass of milk)
- Try sprinkling some of TJ's Nori Komi Furikake on it
Kimchi Fried Rice (great for leftovers)
In a nonstick sauté pan or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, melt 3 Tbs unsalted butter over medium-low heat.
[if you don't have gut issues, add 1/2 chopped small onion and cook, stirring, until the onions start to sizzle, about 2 minutes]
Add 6oz chopped kimchi and 2 Tbs kimchi juice, and stir until it comes to a boil, about 3 minutes.
Add meat and cook until sauce is nearly dried out, about 5 minutes.
Break up the rice in the pan with a spatula, and stir it to incorporate.
Turn heat to medium.
Cook, stirring, until rice has absorbed the sauce and is very hot, about 5 minutes.
Stir in soy sauce and sesame oil.
Taste and adjust with more soy sauce, sesame oil, or kimchi juice.
Turn heat down slightly, but let the rice continue to cook, untouched, to lightly brown while you cook the eggs.
Place a small nonstick sauté pan over medium heat and add the 2tsp fat/oil. When it is hot, add eggs, season with salt and fry to your desired doneness.
Serve rice topped with fried eggs, nori, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.