CABBAGE KIMCHI (POGI KIMCHI)

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Aside from barbecue, kimchi is probably the dish most synonymous with Korean cuisine. This fiery red, funky, fermented cabbage is on the table every meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner, 365 days a year. It is one of the cornerstones of Korean cooking, and Koreans consider it vital to their daily diet.

Kimchi making may look daunting, but don’t worry, it’s really very straightforward. You’ll just need to have one or two very large bowls for the brining of the cabbage and a large container to ferment it in. Also, I highly recommend that you wear plastic or latex gloves while smearing the chilli paste onto the cabbage leaves. Otherwise, your hands will be tingling afterwards and the odour, while delicious, will linger on your skin. Many Korean households purchase pre-made kimchi these days, and you can certainly do that and use it wherever kimchi is called for in my recipes, but please do try making this at least once.

Ingredients

Makes about 4.5 LITRES (8 PINTS)

  • 2 litres (3 1⁄2 pints) warm water
  • 225 g (8 oz) coarse sea salt
  • 1 very large Korean cabbage or several heads Chinese cabbage (2.2–2.7 kg/5–6 lb total), bottom(s) trimmed, wilted and tough outer leaves discarded and rinsed well
  • 2 small onions, roughly chopped
  • 12 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 10 dried anchovies (myulchi), head and guts removed
  • 6 spring onions, roughly chopped
  • 64 cloves garlic, 8 crushed and the rest left whole
  • 1 (25 cm/10 in long) piece dried kelp (dashima)
  • 250 g (9 oz) gochugaru (Korean chilli flakes)
  • 14 tbsp fish sauce or anchovy sauce
  • 10 tbsp salted shrimp (saewoo jeot), rinsed
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 1 (18 cm/7 in) knob fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 3 carrots, julienned
  • 12 spring onions, cut into 5 cm (2 in) pieces
  • 200 g (7 oz) Korean white radish (mu) or mooli, peeled and julienned

Method

  1. In a large bowl, stir together the warm water and 115 g (4 oz) of the salt until the salt has dissolved; let the salted water cool. Meanwhile, partially cut the cabbage(s) in half lengthways, starting from the root end and cutting about halfway to the top. Using your hands, pull the cabbage(s) apart to split in half completely. Repeat so that each half is halved in the same way, which keeps the leaves intact and whole.
  2. Loosen the leaves of each wedge so that they are easy to spread. Sprinkle the remaining 115 g (4 oz) salt over and between all the leaves, salting the core area more heavily. Put the cabbage into a large bowl (use two if they don’t fit) cut-side up. Pour the cooled salted water over the cabbage, then pour enough cold water into the bowl to cover the cabbage; don’t overfill the bowl, as some liquid will be drawn out of the cabbage. Weigh down the cabbage with a plate so the wedges are completely immersed. Leave at room temperature for 6–8 hours, flipping the wedges halfway through.
  3. Rinse the wedges well under cold running water and gently squeeze out any excess moisture. Put the wedges, cut-side down, in a colander and leave to drain for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine the onions, mushrooms, anchovies, spring onions, the 8 crushed garlic cloves and the kelp and bring to the boil over a high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the liquid, discarding the solids and leave the anchovy stock to cool completely.
  5. When the stock has cooled, in a food processor, combine the remaining garlic cloves, chilli flakes, fish sauce, salted shrimp, sugar and ginger and process until smooth. Add enough of the stock to make a smooth paste, about 475 ml (16 fl oz) total. Discard any remaining stock. Transfer the spice paste to a large bowl and stir in the carrots, spring onions and radish.
  6. Rub the spice paste all over the cabbage wedges and between each leaf. Pull the outermost leaf of each wedge tightly over the rest of the wedge, forming a tidy parcel. Pack the wedges into one or more glass or other non-reactive containers with a tight-fitting lid (see Tip, below). Press a piece of clingfilm directly on the surface of the kimchi, then cover. The kimchi can be eaten at this young stage or after it sits at room temperature and starts to get sour and ‘bubble’, about 2–3 days. Store the kimchi in the fridge, where it will continue to ferment at a slower pace. I like to age mine at least 2 weeks, but it really is up to preference. Cut the kimchi before serving.

notes

While large glass jars or Korean earthenware containers are preferred for storing kimchi, they’re not always easy to find. Look in the housewares section of Asian markets for glass or plastic kimchi containers, which have become popular. You can also use any sturdy BPA-free plastic or other non-reactive container with a tight-fitting lid. You’ll need a container or containers with a total capacity of 4.5 litres (8 pints) for the kimchi.

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