Thursday, August 12, 2021

Rancho Recipe: Kim Chee!

 One of my favorite things in the entire world to eat is Napa kim chee. It is DELICIOUS.  I go through the stuff like a buzz saw.  It's my breakfast of choice, in fact.  Kim chee over rice with a little sesame oil.  That'll put lead in your pencil, boy. It is among one of the top healthiest things in the world to eat, too. Look it up!  But the problem is, the stuff is expensive.  

So I goes online, I does, and I looked up recipes.  Come to find out, making napa kim chee is absolutely dead simple and need not involve the use of vast crocks and burying things for a year and all that. No!  You can make it in your kitchen!  No cooking involved! 

The core process is soaking room temperature, bruised napa cabbage in just enough room temperature salt water to cover it for about four hours, or overnight, doesn't matter.  The salt, the water, and the compounds and natural bacteria found in the cabbage mix and create what's called a lacto fermentation.  How? The salt kills harmful bacteria but not the benign ones, and those benign bacteria produce not alcohol, but lactic acid.  It's that lactic acid that pickles the ingredients.  You get that process started and it's off to the races! 

First and foremost:  Do let's start out with clean hands and utensils, and do rinse off your ingredients too.  Unless you like botulism.  Do you like botulism? No. Nobody likes botulism.

Now the following is all 'to taste', and take into consideration the fact that I'm the only one in the house who eats the stuff.  I make it in small batches, and it lasts me about, eh, two weeks if I'm being conservative.

The salt water should be as salty as the sea.  Please don't use sal gris or himalayan pink salt because those products are not pure.  Ideally, use kosher salt.  I like the 'Diamond Crystal' brand.  Iodized is fine. Smoked is also fine. The idea is, you don't want dirt (pink Himalayan is full of clay) or seagull shit and fish assholes (sal gris) in your kim chee. 

  My particular taste is more cabbage than anything else, so I use a smallish head of napa as big around as a magnum bottle of wine (how's that for a measurement?), four red radishes,  two tablespoons of crushed garlic, one teaspoon of crushed ginger, one cup of cut scallion greens, a healthy few glugs of fish sauce and about 1 tbl of oyster sauce, or less.  I use two heaping tablespoons of Nanami Togarashi spice, and once it's all mashed together and packed I end up with about a half-gallon of kim chee.  

Now to get things happening, you chop the head of Napa in half. (This is to help keep the ingredients all in a bunch and submerged than it is aimed at end use, when you'll cut it into bite size with a scissors.)  Use the core too, removed and sliced fine.  Put it in enough salt water to just cover it.

Now, scrunch the cabbage around in the salt water with your bare hands until it gets soft. Spend a couple of minutes really squishing this stuff. Put a cheesecloth or a splatter guard over the bowl to keep out flies, roaches, hippies and what have you.  Then walk away and find something to keep you busy for the next four hours (or overnight, doesn't matter.)   

The salt water and the cabbage juices and natural cabbage bacteria all start doing their thing and lactic acid begins to be created.  Once it starts, it doesn't stop, although it will slow down to almost nothing after being chilled in the refrigerator.

After this initial soaking, strain out the cabbage into a bowl - but keep that salty water handy - and add the rest of the ingredients to the cabbage, which will now be very flubby and glossy.

Squish the ingredients together in a bowl to make the juices flow. Use your hands, gloved or not, or use a potato masher and a spoon and turn it over and around and just really mistreat it for awhile. Don't make a paste out of it, let the ingredients keep their structural integrity, but get them juices flowing!  

Now pack it all in a jar, a Tupperware, what have you, and pack it in tight.  No air bubbles. Tip in a little of the salt water, tap the container on the counter until there's no bubbles coming to the surface, squish it down and then put a plate, or pickling weights, or whatever you can on top of that, and then top it up with the leftover salt water until it covers the ingredients by an inch. The idea is to keep as much of the vegetation underwater as you can, though naturally a few bits will escape (and you will throw those away, because they'll spoil the batch.) Leave some 'head room' in the container, about an inch or two between the lid and the contents. With the weights in place, put the lid on very loosely, set the container in a bowl out of the way, at room temperature - not in the blazing sunlight, of course,  and wait three days.  

Some liquid might burble out due to the fermentation process. I've never had this happen, but my daughter, who makes it in huge batches, has. Wipe that up with a clean, dry paper towel (no soap!) if that needs to happen.  Three days later, tighten down the lid, and put the container and the bowl it's in into the refrigerator, and there you go. Done! Ready to eat once chilled!

Now you're worrying about botulism and salmonella.  Me, I'm assuming you rinsed off your vegetables and you have a clean workspace.  That being the case, lactic fermentation is pretty safe.  You're working with an acid, after all, (lactic acid!) and like vinegar, also an acid, also used to pickle, it kills the 'bad' bacteria, and only the acid producing organisms survive. 

 Like anything that's been canned or pickled, once you open it, put it right back in the refrigerator.  If you don't, then you're courting trouble.  Otherwise, be neat and clean and you'll be OK.

And you'll have kim chee!  


  1. Boy, this is taking off like a house afire. Sheesh. Try and improve the lives of your invisible friends! *goes off to waah and suffer*

  2. Something weird is happening to my comments lately, it seems [not just here but also on Wordpress, as it seems to have happened at Ms Scarlet's, too] - I posted a comment here making the observation that somehow a pickled-cabbage-related dish from Korea has suddenly become ever-so-trendy [because "K-Pop" is suddenly "a thing", probably], whereas Sauerkraut, an equally delicious and nutritious dish from Europe (which can be tarted-up with no end of spices such as paprika) is overlooked as "old hat".

    This comment never appeared, it seems, so I now appear to be a curmudgeonly old bugger who has ignored your meticulously written blog post...


  3. I'm just now reading this post because I'm behind checking in on everyone, but I've also been having technical difficulties as well. In fact, some of the comments I posted on Jon's two sites never went through and I didn't have time to keep trying so I had to move on.

    At any rate....

    I LOVE KIMCHEE TOO! I have never thought to try making it myself, but I will give it a try. I have a lot of Asian friends, mostly Japanese, but a couple of Korean and Vietnamese friends too. I can't remember who first introduced me to it, but I've been eating it since college.

    I hope this comment goes through. Ta-ta for now.

  4. Jon: The comment weirdness is all throughout Blogger and has been for months. It seems to have gotten worse this past two weeks for some reason. Blogger has always been a troubled medium, though, and this is exactly what I expect from the fucker. Now, as for sauerkraut? Kraut me no kraut. I grew up with Germans, and they were probably kicked out of Germany for the shit they did to sauerkraut. I have been subjected to horrible things done in the name of sauerkraut, including the addition of raisins and vast, pointy amounts of caraway; baked with cheese on top, made with Karo syrup...nope. The scars are real and they haven't healed *snuffle* The only kraut I trust is Mago. (and Steinfelds Sauerkraut, found in a jar, safe from raisins.)

  5. Proxima Blue/Melanie Reynolds: Go online and you'll find gazillions of recipes. The simpler the better. The main thing is to get the Japanese pepper mix that I referenced, because that's the taste that really makes it!

  6. Yes, I will try it. There is a Japanese food market that just moved to a location even closer to me so I can go more often! I was really looking forward to the Kim Chee I bought at the local co-op last weekend to discover that one of the ingredients in it is apples. APPLES in Kim chee! Well, now I can't eat it because I'm allergic to apples and pears. Boo!