Anyone who wants to try making korean food at home absolutely needs a good kimchi recipe. Not only is kimchi a common side dish for many meals, napa cabbage kimchi is an irreplaceable ingredient for a lot of dishes. This recipe pulls no punches with authentic and strong flavors, but simplifies the ingredients and process to achieve a recipe very attainable for even fledging home cooks.Jump to Recipe
Why Make Kimchi at Home?
For months I avoided making my own kimchi, opting to just buy it from the grocery store instead. That came with a few problems. Grocery store kimchi is ridiculously expensive, and the taste isn’t even ALL that. With zero experience in fermenting I was scared I would mess up and create an inedible biohazard. So when I finally decided to try making kimchi myself I braced myself for a bad ending. To my surprise, my first small test batch ended up.. Pretty good? I attributed that first success to beginner’s luck, so I tried again, and again, and again. Each time I ended up with slight variations in taste but all of them were edible and easily recognizable as kimchi. Later that night I made kimchi tofu stew and it turned out the best tasting it’s ever been. Turns out homemade kimchi makes a big improvement in taste when cooked with.
Rookie Mistakes to Avoid
Oversalting the Cabbage
After rinsing all the brine off the kimchi you may taste it and realize it’s way too salty! This can happen when either too much salt is added, or the kimchi has been left to brine for too long. I once endeavored to make a huge batch, and I mistakenly did both! The large volume I worked with threw off my calculations for salt amount and brine time, and I overshot both by a large margin. Luckily, this mistake is easily reversible
Just soak the cabbage in fresh cool water. Replace the water every thirty minutes, taste, and repeat until the cabbage is properly seasoned. If you remember learning about osmosis from science class, you know why this works. Salt will travel through a semipermeable membrane (in this case the cabbage leaf) from an area of high salt concentration to low concentration. Soaking in water and replacing the water often slowly draws the salt out from even the deepest parts of the cabbage. Just don’t pull too much salt out, as you don’t want to lose the natural preservative power of salt.
Leaving Large Air Bubbles
Large exposed pockets of air will create an area for bad bacteria to multiply and spoil your kimchi, so be sure to firmly pack each slice of cabbage in. Ensure that every bit of cabbage is submerged in liquid. Small air bubbles may form and rise to the surface occasionally. These bubbles are perfectly normal and are a good sign that proper fermentation is taking place.
Modern day kimchi is usually stored in a large glass or plastic container. You don’t want anything completely airtight, as the fermentation process produces CO2 gas that may pressurize the container if unable to escape. Leaving you with a ICED (improvised cabbage explosive device). Some containers specialized for fermentation use a special lid that lets gas out without letting let air in. This is an ideal environment, but not absolutely necessary for good kimchi. As long as its not left completely in the open, kimchi will ferment properly in most regular containers.
If going the plastic route be sure it’s BPA-free and safe for long term storage of acidic foods. I use an old plastic bucket from a batch of grocery store kimchi. It’s a good size and food safe. If you’re a real traditionalist you can use an onggi, an earthenware pot historically used to store fermented foods. Just stay away from any metal containers. Kimchi gets increasingly acidic as it ferments, which could make the metal leach into your kimchi.
Easy and Authentic Kimchi
5 lbs napa cabbage (roughly 2 large heads)
½ cup salt
- Rice flour paste
1 ½ tbsp glutinous rice flour
2 tbsp white sugar
1 ½ cup water
- Blended Sauce
¼ cup fish sauce
15 garlic cloves
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into chunks
2 inch piece ginger, peeled
¼ cup salted shrimp (saeujeot)
- Final Additions
½ to 1 ½ cup gochugaru, depending on ideal spice level
3 cups daikon radish, cut into strips
8 green onions, cut into thin strips
- Cut the cabbage into quarters lengthwise. Trim off any brown spots on the outer core. Briefly soak in fresh cool water and drain. Thoroughly coat the cabbage leaves with salt, making sure to rub salt in between each layer.
- Let brine for a total of 1 and a half hours, turning the cabbage over every 30 minutes. In the meantime, you can prepare the other ingredients
- In a pan, combine glutinous rice flour, sugar, and water. Bring to a bubble and simmer on medium-low heat stirring frequently until thickened, about 8-9 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- In a blender or food processor, add onion, garlic, ginger, fish sauce, and salted shrimp. Blend until a paste forms. Mix with rice flour paste, gochugaru, radish, and green onion. Stir until a homogenous paste forms
- Optionally cut a small piece of cabbage off. Rinse it with running fresh water to wash off excess brine and taste. It should taste seasoned but not overly salty. If not salty enough let brine for another 30 minutes. If too salty let soak in fresh water for an hour.
- Rinse the cabbage under running cool water to remove all the brine, making sure to wash in between layers and near the base. Drain well.
- Coat the cabbage with the spicy paste. Make sure to fully coat in between the layers and close to the roots. Place in the storage container of your choice. Cover and let ferment at room temperature overnight (8-24 hours). Taste and see if it is sour enough to your liking. Once it is, place it in the fridge to slow the fermentation process. Enjoy.