Kimchi is so quintessential Korean that many can not imagine Korea with out the fermented dish. However, when one says kimchi, most of us will think of one particular kimchi: baechu kimchi (배추 김치). Two ago I made it myself for the first time using an adapted recipe given to me.
The Kimchi Culture
Kimchi is important to Korea. It is considered a national dish and perhaps you could even consider kimchi a national treasure. Unlike what many might think, kimchi is not the name of one dish, but it is rather the name of a group of countless types of dishes. There are innumerable types of kimchi in Korea for anyone to discover and every so often a creative spirit comes up with a new type of kimchi.
Koreans turn every imaginable thing into kimchi: radish (kkakdugi/깍두기), cucumber (oi sobagi/오이 소바기), scallions (pa kimchi/파 김치), … If you can name a vegetable you are safe to assume there is someone out there that turned it into a kimchi. However, the most quintessential kimchi is baechu kimchi, a kimchi made using napa cabbage.
Kimchi is so ingrained in Korean food culture that many Koreans eat kimchi every single day for every meal. It is just an essential part of the meal like potatoes and bread are in the West. Because it is so essential, no family kimchi recipe is alike and all families will vow that their kimchi tastes best.
My Own Baechu Kimchi
When I first tasted baechu kimchi I really disliked it. It was sour and spicy. It just tasted so odd and awful. Yuck! However since I lived with my Korean roommate it is hard to avoid eating dishes without kimchi in it. The dish that got me to appreciate it was budae jjigae (army stew). From there I slowly started to enjoy the Korean fermented cabbage and now I am kind of addicted to it. So it will come to no surprise that I really wanted to make my own since buying it in Belgium is quite expensive.
Luckily a few months ago my roommate’s cousin, who is a brilliant cook, showed me how she makes baechu kimchi. The amount of ingredients she uses to make kimchi boggled me, but the resulting kimchi was heavenly. We enjoyed the kimchi she had made for us for weeks. We were quite sad when all that delicious kimchi was gone.
Two weeks ago I decided to man up and make my own kimchi. Unfortunately I actually forgot some of the ingredients she had used. This, however, could not stop me from making my own baechu kimchi. I searched online for baechu kimchi recipes and started making notes. In the end I came up with my very own recipe and I even think it is a pretty close approximation of the way how my Korean roommate’s cousin made baechu kimchi.
PS: Next month I am wasting no time to use my baechu kimchi to make kimchi jjigae. It is going to be delicious!
Two weeks ago I made baechu kimchi, one of the most quintessential kimchi Korea has to offer. It takes a bit of work, but the result is heavenly.
- 500 ml Water
- 3 Dried anchovy
- 1 Large Onion
- 2 Shiitake mushrooms
- 4-8 tbsp Korean red chili flakes (gochugaru)
- 2-3 tbsp Rice Flour, glutinous
- 2-3 tbsp Fish sauce
- 2 tbsp Ginger, grated
- 2 tbsp Pear, grated
- 2 tbsp Radish, grated
- 1 tsp Salted shrimps (saeujeot - optional)
- 2 Napa cabbage, whole
- 4 Spring onions, cut into small chunks
- 2 Large Carrots, sliced into sticks
- 1 Large Pear, sweet variety and sliced into sticks
- 1 Radish, daikon, sliced into sticks and small squares
- Sea salt
- Clean the cabbages thoroughly with water.
- Cut the cabbages in half from the stem.
- Sprinkle ample amounts of sea salt between each cabbage leaf, especially near the root of the cabbage.
- Place the salted cabbage in cold water for at least 6 hours to soften the leafs. Turn the cabbages around from time to time.
- When the cabbages are ready drain the water and rinse the cabbages with cold water.
- Pour the water in a pot and add the dried anchovy, onion and shiitake mushrooms and put it on medium heat.
- Let the broth boil for 30 minutes and remove any foam that might form.
- Remove the pot from the fire and remove the onion, mushrooms and anchovy from the broth.
- Add the rice flour to the warm broth and keep stirring until it becomes a thick paste.
- Add the fish sauce, grated ginger, grated pear, grated radish and minced salted shrimp to the paste and stir well.
- Add the gochugaru slowly while stirring. Taste between spoons to check if it matches your desired level of spiciness.
- Let the kimchi paste cool.
- Slice the spring onion in one inch pieces and add it in a large mixing bowl.
- Slice the carrot into thin sticks and add it to the same mixing bowl.
- Peel the pear and slice it into thin sticks and add it to the mixing bowl.
- Slice the daikon radish and slice it into thin sticks and squares and add it to the mixing bowl.
- Add the cool kimchi paste to the mixing bowl.
- Using plastic gloves, use your hands to thoroughly mix the paste and cut vegetables together.
- Now smear each leave of the napa cabbage with the prepared kimchi paste, using it as a filling.
- When all leaves are thoroughly covered with the paste, use one leaf to ties the cabbage tightly so it does not loose its filling and place it in a container.
- Leave your kimchi container at room temperature until it starts fermenting after which you keep it in the refrigerator.
As the kimchi ages, the taste turns more sour.
You can immediately use the kimchi as a side dish, but you should wait at least 2 weeks before you start cooking dishes such as kimchi jjigae with them. Month old kimchi is even better.
Do not feel constrained by the recipes you find on the web. Alter them and make your own. The kimchi paste should be made for you and your loved ones!
Not everyone enjoys the salted shrimps in the kimchi paste, even Koreans. So don't feel you have to add it to make it "Korean".
You can skip making the broth, but my Korean roommate's family swears it yields a deeper taste. If you do not want to make the broth add another tablespoon of fish sauce.
Make sure to open a window when using the fish sauce. It has a strong smell.
While adding gochugaru keep tasting the paste. Do not make the paste too spicy for yourself.
If you made too much kimchi paste, just freeze it. You can use if next time.