Thursday, December 10, 2009
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