Mak­ing Kim­chi Is Eas­ier Than You Think

You just need a large jar, a cou­ple of bowls, gloves (if you want them), and th­ese four steps

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1. Salt the cab­bage.

“This is the num­ber-one thing,” Choi says about salt­ing, a part of the process called joe­lim in Korean. Salt­ing the cab­bage and let­ting it rest draws out its wa­ter and gives it a lightly “cooked” tex­ture, pre­par­ing it to be fer­mented. “Not ev­ery salt is the same and not ev­ery cab­bage is the same, so even if you have an ex­act recipe, you will still prob­a­bly have to im­pro­vise based on what looks and feels right.” Eight to 10 hours of rest after salt­ing is a good start­ing point, but check ear­lier to de­ter­mine how much the cab­bage leaves have wilted. “You want a lit­tle bit of crunch to re­main, but when you lift up the cab­bage, it should flop down,” says Choi. Be sure to rinse veg­eta­bles at least 3 times in cool wa­ter after salt­ing.

2. Make the paste.

“This is where peo­ple get cre­ative—each re­gion and house­hold has their own recipe,” Choi says. Her take falls be­tween the fla­vors of south­ern Korea, which is known for fishier ver­sions, and Seoul style, which is spicy and sour. She swears by adding plum ex­tract to the paste, but you can sub­sti­tute puréed fruits like ap­ple or kiwi if plum ex­tract proves dif­fi­cult to find. Other cru­cial el­e­ments in­clude a sticky rice “glue” made from cooked rice flour, for thick­en­ing, and a com­bi­na­tion of fish sauce, fer­mented baby shrimp, and dried pol­lock or cod—which gives the kim­chi a re­fresh­ing bright­ness called shi­won. “It’s just not the same with­out it,” Choi says. You can make the paste a day ahead and re­frig­er­ate in an air­tight con­tainer.

3. Mix things up.

The best way to mix the paste into the salted cab­bage is with your hands. Be­cause—par­tic­u­larly in tra­di­tional recipes—the cab­bage is kept in large wedges be­fore it’s sea­soned, noth­ing else can do a bet­ter job of work­ing the paste into the nooks and cran­nies. So wear gloves if you want, and focus on coat­ing each piece. “Don’t overdo it, but don’t skimp ei­ther—get ev­ery leaf cov­ered in some paste.” Then, see how the color looks. “I like kim­chi that’s vi­brantly red, which means it’s re­ally well sea­soned and the chile flakes are fresh,” Choi says. If your chile paste looks too dark or too brown, that means your chile flakes are old. Use them soon after buy­ing, or store them in the freezer to re­tain their color and fresh­ness.

4. Let it fer­ment.

Tra­di­tion­ally, kim­chi mak­ers would bury their batch in the ground in earth­en­ware pots to fer­ment. But since the neigh­bors will likely talk if you start dig­ging holes in your back­yard, a ves­sel on your kitchen counter will work just as well. Coil the cab­bage pieces into a large air­tight jar or crock, leav­ing at least 3 inches of space at the top to pre­vent the bub­bly, fer­mented juices and gases from ooz­ing out (some­thing Choi says has hap­pened to her count­less times). After 2 days at room tem­per­a­ture—or more if you want it re­ally sour and funky—transfer the jar to the re­frig­er­a­tor for an­other 5 days. After that, it’s ready to eat and will last up to a year. “The whole idea of kim­chi is that it’s long-last­ing,” Choi says.

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