Fermentation - Kimchi

Introduction

Kimchi originated in Korea centuries ago and is popular today in many Asian countries.  In Western cuisine, it is frequently compared to sauerkraut because both are products of lacto-fermentation (so-called because the microbes involved produce lactic acid, not because of any association with dairy products).  Fermentation has been used for centuries by cultures around the globe to preserve fresh foods: fermenting microbes create an acidic environment that prevents contamination.  While the process for making sauerkraut and kimchi are similar, their flavors differ drastically.  Kimchi is heavily seasoned, incorporating hot peppers and fish sauce (another fermented food!).  One of the benefits of making your own kimchi is that you can play around with the flavors and tone down the spice level to your taste.

The Basics:  To make kimchi, napa cabbage is first soaked in a strong brine, rinsed, drained, and then combined with a red pepper spice paste.  After fermenting for several days, the mixture softens and takes on a complex and tangy flavor.

Quick Reference

 Ingredient

1-qt. Batch 1-gal. Batch 5-gal. Batch

Napa Cabbage

2 lbs. 8 lbs. 40 lbs.

Sea Salt

1/4 cup 1 cup 5 cups

Daikon Radish

1/2 cup 2 cups 10 cups

Green Onions

1/2 cup 2 cups 10 cups

Garlic, minced

1 tbsp. 1/4 cup 1 1/4 cup

Ginger, grated

1 tbsp. 1/4 cup 1 1/4 cup
Sugar 1 1/2 tsp. 2 tbsp. 1/2 c. + 2 tbsp.

Fish Sauce

2-3 tbsp. 1/2 - 3/4 cup 2 1/2 - 3 3/4 c.

Hot Pepper Powder

(Gochugaru)

1-3 tbsp. 1/4 - 3/4 cup 1 1/4 - 3 3/4 c.
Materials
  • Napa Cabbage
  • Sea Salt (non-iodized)
  • Cutting board and knife
  • Large bowl
  • Colander
  • Plate
  • Weight
  • Gloves (optional)
  • Fermentation vessel (ceramic crock or glass jar)
  • Cheesecloth and rubber band (optional)
  • reCap mason jar lid and airlock (optional)
Instructions
  1. Quarter and core cabbage(s).  Rough-chop into 1" - 2" pieces.
  2. Alternate layers of cabbage and salt in large bowl so salt is evenly distributed throughout cabbage.  With hands, massage salt into cabbage until cabbage starts to soften.  
  3. Add water to bowl until cabbage is submerged.  Cover with plate and use weight to keep cabbage from floating.  Leave for several hours.
  4. Strain cabbage and reserve some of the brine to use later.  
  5. Rinse the cabbage three times in cold water and drain in colander while you make the seasoning paste and prep the veggies.  Rinse and dry bowl to use again later.
  6. Mix garlic, ginger, sugar, fish sauce, and hot pepper powder into a paste and set aside.
  7. Cut daikon radish into matchstick-sized pieces and green onions into 1" segments.
  8. Combine cabbage, green onion, and radish pieces with spice paste in large bowl.  Mix well with hands.  Wear gloves if you're using a lot of hot pepper.
  9.   Pack tightly into jar or fermentation vessel.  If you have a crock with weights, insert them now; if you're using a jar or other food-grade container, use a smaller jar or a saucer to weigh down your kimchi and pour some of the reserved brine over it so it's fully submerged.  Another technique for weighing down the kimchi while it ferments is to use a clean plastic bag filled with brine (rather than plain water, which would dilute the salinity of the kimchi if it leaked).
  10. If you have a crock with an airlock rim, remember to fill it with water. If you're using a mason jar, we recommend a reCap lid and airlock combo that works great for keeping out contaminants.  It's also perfectly acceptable to ferment without any kind of airlock, as long as you check regularly that the kimchi solids aren't floating up to the surface of the brine.  As long as the veggies stay submerged, they won't be in contact with air or air-borne contaminants.  Cover the fermentation vessel with clean cheesecloth held in place with a rubber band.  
  11. Allow to ferment for 3 days to a week (or more depending on the temperature and how sour you like your kimchi).  The microorganisms involved in fermentation are more active at higher temperatures, so fermentation proceeds quicker in warmer weather, and vice versa.  Taste your kimchi (with a clean fork and don't double-dip!) after a few days and every other day after.  When it's to your liking, move it to the refrigerator where fermentation will slow waaaaay down.  Kimchi will store in the refrigerator for several months.  
Frequently Asked Questions
Additional Resources

Kimchi Supplies