Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Kimchi on the Mild Side

Storebought kimchi tends to be unrepentantly hot and funkily fishy. Blame it on my Pennsylvania address, but I prefer a tamer, landlocked version. Because I like to keep a steady supply in the refrigerator, I splurged on a five-gallon Harsch kraut crock made in Germany, shown here with Weck canning jars of kimchi (left) and pickled Asian mustard greens. This vessel has a couple of advantages over a simple crock: two ceramic inserts sit atop the vegetables, keeping them below the brine so that they are less vulnerable to spoilage; and a water seal around the lid further excludes unwanted bacteria, while allowing the contents to bubble away merrily.

It seems there is little agreement on how salty the brine should be, other than it is saltier than customarily used to make sauerkraut. (Also, I've skipped the usual step of pre-soaking the napa cabbage in brine-- it means more bother and more salt in the septic field, without a significant effect. ) This recipe has worked dependably for me.

1 head Napa cabbage, chopped roughly
1 large daikon radish, cut into thin rounds, then quartered
3 carrots, peeled and julienned
2 red bell peppers, julienned (for color and crunch, not heat)
4 spring onions, cut into rounds
4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
2 pieces of ginger the size of wine corks, peeled and grated
2 teaspoons hot sauce, or to taste
6 cups water
6 tablespoons salt

Choose a fermenting container. A standard straight-sided crock will do. To keep the vegetables submerged, use a plate of just less than the crock's interior diameter and plan on weighing it with a clean stone or brick.

Prepare the vegetables. Place the water in a pot over medium heat, and stir in the salt until dissolved. Arrange the vegetables in the container and pour the cooled brine over them. If you are using a standard crock, place the dish and weight over the ingredients and snuggly cover the crock with plastic wrap. The next day, check to see if the brine has brought liquid out of the vegetables, raising the level of liquid so that it covers the ingredients. If not, prepare more brine as needed, as above, using 1 tablespoon of salt per cup of water, and top off the crock.

The fermentation ideally should take place at between 41 and 57 degrees F., according to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. In hot weather, that will mean carrying out the process in the refrigerator-- in spite of any protestations from the household. To help contain the sulfurous scent, you can wrap the container in a plastic bag and seal it well. And in cooler weather, if the process is too stinky for your living quarters, consider moving the container to the garage, an outbuilding, or an unheated basement. Within a couple of weeks, the fermentation should have slowed. Pack the kimchi in smaller, sealable containers and refrigerate.

1 comment:

Alice said...

What a gorgeous blog! Love the prose, pix, and recipes. Keep them coming, R. Yepsen.