Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Salvage" Kimchi

When the weather turns on you, as it did on us this past week, the best thing you can do is plunge in to some spicy fermentation--funky Korean ambrosia; kimchi, that is. There was frost on the cabbage leaves, what was left of them. I had planted some savoy cabbage rather late, but we got ten or twelve little heads, lovely they were, absolutely mignon. When I cut the petits choux from the plants, a lot of quite edible looking leaves remained, the ones that hadn't enrolled in the heading-up program. I felt I owed something to these hardy individualists. They seemed a little tough, but no more than, say, collards or big mustard greens. I thought a brining and a good dose of fermentation might turn them into something delicious.

The photo at right illustrates our current situation: the hot, and the not-so-hot. My chilies, which were hanging out to dry, are now pretty much freeze-dried.

I also had roots, all those carrots from my volunteer plot, and some turnips I'd forgotten about. With sub-zero temperatures on the way, it was all-ashore-that's-going-ashore and devil-take-the-hindmost, with a little bit of Katie-bar-the-door thrown in for good measure. Or something like that. The cold plays tricks on the mind.... I had to use warm water to dislodge some the turnips even before the real deep-freeze set in. Those roots and a few leaves of lacinato kale went into a mixed-vegetable ferment.

I got out my prized copy of
Wild Fermentation , by Sandor Ellix Katz, aka "Sandorkraut." The Momofuku cookbook I recently bought also has kimchi recipes, and I may try David Chang's version in future (though I must admit Chang's kimchi scares me a little, calling for dried shrimp or dried scallops in the seasoning). When it comes to fermentation, I trust Sandor Katz.

I made a brine according to Katz's instructions: 1/4 cup salt to 1 quart water. Washed the cabbage leaves, cut out the thick rib, shredded them. The turnips I peeled, the carrots, not; I sliced them thin on my "Benriner."

The sliced roots, the kale, and a bit of leek went into a separate brine. After a few hours in their salty baths, I drained the vegetables, reserving the brine, and rinsed them in fresh water, as they tasted a bit too salty.

I chopped the flavorings: garlic, ginger, chili, a couple of small leeks. I tossed the vegetables with liberal doses of this extremely aromatic mixture, and put them into separate jars. The cabbage really compressed--what looked like it would barely fit into a quart jar came down to less than a pint. The cabbage smelled bracingly "kimchi-ish" right away--spicy, mustardy, garlicky.

That was two days ago. The jars have been sitting on my kitchen radiator cover. I check them each day and make sure the vegetables are covered in brine. They're just starting to ferment, the mixed vegetable version moreso, because of the sugar in the carrots, I would imagine. Within a week they should be taking on a distinctly fermented character, and when they're as funky as I want them, I'll put them in the fridge. There they will keep for as long as you like. I just recently tossed out the end of a jar I'd made two years ago.

I will report back on my kimchi's progress, and how we wind up using it, in future posts.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw


ESP said...

Hi Guys!
Mmmmm (Insert Homer Simpson drool) I simply love Kim-chi, I really do. I have traveled a fair amount in Korea on business where I fell in love with the true Korean barbecue, and I do mean the real thing. The flavors have always stayed with me as a culinary favorite and I am lucky that we have a really good Korean restaurant that we frequent on a regular basis in Austin, (I just wish it had real coals rather than gas though). I love to eat this fermented delicacy, and it is so good for you!
Great post, look forward to see how it turns out.

Trout Caviar said...

Hi ESP: You're lucky to have tasted kimchi, and all that other great food, at the source--I'm jealous! I'd love to know more about Korean cooking. Do you know of a good cookbook? (Though it's not really a Korean cookbook, I think you would find that Momofuku cookbook interesting; Chang is Korean-American, and that influences a lot of his cooking.)

My carrot kimchi is fizzing along nicely now, and the salvage cabbage one is getting a good funk on it. I think I'll make some kimchi soup this coming week, especially with another cold snap coming in. Cheers~ Brett