Monday, October 17, 2011

when you're with a sweep you're in glad company

Hopefully this weekend I'll get more dduk in Boston, and then I can tell you how awesome dduk bokki is. Until then, I can tell you how awesome kimchi is.

Okay, check it out: making kimchi is pretty much the same as making sauerkraut. You add salt to cabbage and wait.

This is also basically the same as making traditional (non vinegar) pickles. You add salt and wait.

The salt inhibits the growth of bad bacteria. That's, you know ... why we have salt. At all. People forget this these days, but we didn't start harvesting salt for the sake of French fries. French fries are just spandrels.

The bad bacteria is halted, and the good bacteria is waved on through to ferment the sugars, good lactobacillus guys, the same family responsible for the tartness and tanginess of yogurt, buttermilk, sourdough bread, traditional pickles, and like I said, sauerkraut. And also silage, for that matter, the fermented cattle feed I grew up with the smell of. ALL ONE OR NONE.

After a period of time, the cabbage - or whatever other vegetable you use - turns tart. Pickled, but not vinegary-pickled. The tartness comes from lactic acid, not acetic acid. Like acetic acid, lactic acid is acidic enough to preserve foods in the long-term, by providing an environment that is inhospitable to all the shit that'll food-poison you.

The differences: sauerkraut is aged for a long time before it's used. Months. Kimchi sits on the counter for a weekend and then goes in the fridge, and is considered "old" before the sauerkraut is even ready. Which is not to say there's anything wrong with old kimchi, but usually, aged kimchi is used in cooked dishes and especially soups and stews, while younger kimchi is served fresh.

The seasoning is different too, of course, with sauerkraut being often unseasoned, and sometimes including caraway seeds, juniper berries, cranberries, beets, carrots, black pepper, and probably lots of other options I don't know anything about. Kimchi on the other hand is seasoned with a thick paste of Asian pear, chile pepper, garlic, ginger, and salt in the form of some kind of fish or shellfish paste or sauce. Since the 1970s, Korean fish sauce has been sold as an easier alternative to older ingredients, and today a lot of "artisanal" kimchis leave fish products out - using plain salt - in order to keep their products vegan and increase their potential customer base.

You can make anything into kimchi.

You can make anything into anything.

Here's the basic process:

Salt the cabbage.

Rinse the cabbage.

Season the cabbage.

Jar the cabbage.

Await the cabbage.

Salt the cabbage - Napa cabbage is traditional, but like I said you can make anything from anything, this isn't paint by number, this is adult by-God swim - either in a very strong brine (very very salty water) or just pack salt between and around all the leaves.

This is the part that gives me the most trouble, and I do not know why. I must have done something different the first time, because it's only been the subsequent times when it hasn't gone off without a hitch.

Ideally you want to keep the cabbage whole or quartered, and it'll age slower that way once it's in the fridge. But if you don't have containers big enough for that, then remove the hard stem end of the cabbage, separate the leaves, and proceed.

Salt it, by either means, and wait a few hours, until the salt has drawn out enough cabbage liquid that you can bend a leaf in half without it breaking. And somehow that continues to take all day for me. It oughtn't. Use more salt.

Which is why you then rinse the cabbage, to remove surface salt.

Season the cabbage! Now, white kimchi lacks red pepper, but normally you would use Korean red pepper flakes, and you can go ahead and substitute some other chile pepper if you want. Peel and core an Asian pear - I've used apple when Asian pears aren't available - and puree it with cloves of garlic, a little onion if you want, fresh ginger, your salt/fish source, and the chiles. You notice I'm not giving you amounts. I don't use them myself. You may want your kimchi especially garlicky or gingery, or sweeter than usual. It's all good.

Pack the paste all over every leaf of cabbage, and pack it into jars. Cover with additional paste and water if necessary, and cover it. Lactic fermentation is an anaerobic process: that means you don't want oxygen in there.

Await the cabbage, leave it sitting on your counter for a few days. At least two. A few more if it's chilly.

Boom, kimchi!

Many kimchis

From left to right: napa cabbage kimchi, Brussels sprouts kimchi, garlic scapes kimchi, green tomato kimchi, okra kimchi. Like I said, you can make kimchi out of anything.

And if you can make kimchi out of anything, by extension you can use any seasonings. I made some "Mexican kimchi" using napa cabbage seasoned with a paste of Asian pear, cilantro, garlic, coriander, cumin, and Mexican chiles:

Hanger steak, Mexican kimchi, pumpkin seed chile sauce

With hanger steak and pumpkin seed chile sauce (simmer salted roasted shelled pumpkin seeds - pepitas - in water with dried Mexican chiles, garlic, and Mexican oregano; puree once soft; strain; reduce if necessary; season with salt and vinegar).

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