Elwood 5566

It’s Kimchi Time – Killing the Kimchi

Posted in Food and Drink, it's kimchi time, seasons by 노강호 on November 9, 2011

Over the years I’ve had several temper tantrums which have resulted in my wrecking some valuable possessions. I’m not ashamed as I usually only ever lose my temper with objects, this being preferable to losing it with people, and the tantrum is never public. That I will talk to inanimate objects during a tantrum certainly curtails where they occur. The catalogue of damages is extensive: I’ve axe kicked a television, stabbed a pair of Japanese sai into a DVD player, wrapped a Gemeinhardt flute around the leg of a table, kicked to death a hard-drive that was being lazy and a thumped a laptop which used the Vista system. Let’s face it! Microsoft’s Vista deserved a more humiliating and public demise and after being forced to spend around £120 to purchase the latest Word package (it wouldn’t work with earlier ones), I am totally in favour of pirating anything Microsoft.  I remember the days before Gates got totally greedy, when Word was a standard part of the Windows operating system. But I’m digressing…

Sun-hee. My kimchi guru

Recently however, I’ve taken my tantrums out on kimchi that hasn’t wilted properly when doused with salt. A few weeks ago a cabbage that refused to wilt was given a stern talking to before being savagely torn to shreds. This weekend I got so annoyed with a badly behaved Napa that I ripped it apart and then cursing, dumped half a sack of salt on the remains. I realised, as about 4 kilograms of salt was burying the cabbage, that this was overkill and such a quantity was likely create a meltdown rather than encourage some wilting but in the heat of the monent all rationality evaporates. Later in the day, I met some friends who taking pity on my endeavours, came to my one room armed with two large cabbages and a new bag of salt.

preparing cabbages for salting

There is no doubt that salting cabbage is the most problematic part of the kimchi making and yet in so many recipes the process is treated with such abandon you’d think a cabbage liable to wilt the moment the salt is brought into the same room. For the last few months I’ve made kimchi every weekend making small amendments to the previous week’s recipe or trying entirely different ones. This weekend I’d tried a recipe from a very well-known western chef who soaked his cabbages in water in which two cups of salt had been dissolved. Unfortunately, despite using the correct type of salt, the cabbages were fresher after twenty-four hours soaking than they were when I’d immersed them. The problems of salting are well documented on sites such as Maangchi where there are numerous comments on both inadequate wilting and excessively salty kimchi.

The most effective wilting method I’ve used is rubbing coarse salt into each leaf  and while this produces the quickest response, the process is tedious. Coarse salt, such as Kosher or sea salt are  imperative as a Napa cabbage (Chinese cabbage), is impervious to even the largest quantities of table salt. I usually make kimchi with quartered cabbages whereas Sun-hee’s chopped one large cabbage, around 1 kilogram, before folding  3/4 of a cup of coarse salt through it. Rather than grate mooli (무)  as I usually do, she then added about 2 cups cubed. After tossing the mixture, it was firmly pressed down and left to stand over night. I was then instructed to ‘stir’ it in the morning and leave it for a further hour after-which it was to be washed three times.  Not only was this salting process superior to other methods I’ve used, but it used less salt. Consequently, the taste of the prepared cabbage wasn’t salty which meant the actual saltness could be easily controlled by how much ‘fish sauce’ was added in the final part of the paste making process.

Chun-hee and Sun-hee. Spot the makeolli!

I’ve also discovered that using dried chillies to make you own pepper powder (고추 가루) can be problematic. The dried chillies I bought are slightly smaller than the ones I usually see and are thus hotter. Consequently much less is required to make kimchi paste. I recently used only half a cup powder for one large cabbage (1kg). While my latest kimchi is tasty it has lost the vigorous, rich red colour and I intend to return shop bought chili powder in the future.

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