In Korea, the traditional strains of kimchi are designed for storage, not for immediate consumption. This recipe is built upon speed while getting the best, most flavoursome kimchi. I designed this version to be fermented as fast as possible because we serve a lot of kimchi at Momofuku and, like just about everyone in New York restaurants, we have very limited space for storage.
Some things to think about: it's a good idea to have a very big mixing bowl and a pair of gloves at the ready to stop your hands smelling of kimchi. Among the things that can prevent your kimchi working are not using enough salt and not storing the kimchi properly.
Get the best cabbage possible. Preserving often gets off on the wrong foot because people have the idea that you start the pickling process with food that's about to spoil. That's a bad idea. You need the best ingredients possible, at the height of their freshness, to make delicious kimchi. Make sure your cabbage is vibrant.
Quarter the napa or Chinese cabbage and cut it into bite-sized pieces (about the size of your thumb) and wash it well, then drain it just as thoroughly.
Next, make the cure mixture of salt and sugar; the sugar I use in this recipe isn't traditional but it helps balance the seasoning and assists in the fermentation process. Mix the cure well with the cabbage, then taste it; it should be more salty than sweet, like something you might want to serve right away as a quick salt-and-sugar pickle. Set the cabbage aside for half an hour or more while you make the kimchi seasoning.
At home I use a stick blender in a cheap, big plastic cup because I don't like to have my food processor permanently permeated with the intense smells and flavours of kimchi. If you've ever made a Margarita in a food processor that has been used to make kimchi, you'll know what I'm talking about.
Chop up the ginger and garlic, add the Korean chilli flakes with the wet ingredients and blend them to a smooth paste, adding water if it isn't wet enough. If you don't have salted shrimp, it doesn't matter. Use salted anchovies instead. Technically speaking, you don't even need to use dried chilli; I've made kimchi with fresh jalapeños, and my mom makes a version with sriracha hot sauce.
Omit the seafood altogether if you'd like the kimchi to be vegan. For years I thought kimchi needed seafood to ferment properly. It turns out I was wrong - fermentation occurs because of microbes that thrive in a high-salt solution. Kimchi needs to be salty to ensure food safety (the fermentation process makes it taste less salty). The best kimchi I've ever had was from a Buddhist monastery in Korea and it was totally vegan and very spicy.
Drain the cured cabbage. Add the kimchi seasoning, spring onion and carrot, and mix them well. Taste it. It's still fresh, but it's no longer just boring cabbage. You could serve this as is if you liked.
The next step is storage. I like to pack my kimchi into resealable Mason jars, but a sturdy Tupperware container also works. If you visit a Korean market, buy a kimchi box. It's a smell-proof container that has two or three safety layers that will prevent your fridge from smelling of kimchi. The most important thing is to ensure the kimchi is submerged in the pickling liquid. If it's not, get a smaller container or weigh the kimchi down.
Keep the kimchi in a cool, dark spot, much as you would a gremlin, until it starts to ferment, then refrigerate it. When I make it this way at home, it usually takes 48 hours for fermentation to start. You can taste the effervescence. If you want to serve it now, no problem. I love kimchi at this stage. From this point it takes two weeks to a month for the fermentation to do its work and the kimchi to be in its prime. Properly stored, kimchi remains edible for a few months, but the more it ferments, the funkier it tastes - and that's when my mom turns it into kimchi stew.
When you've come to the end of the kimchi bucket, don't throw away the liquid. Strain it and use it as a starter for your next batch. Maybe make it with radishes this time: three daikon peeled and cut into small chunks in place of the cabbage. Kimchi: the gift that keeps on giving.
- 1 medium Chinese cabbage, outer leaves discarded
- 3 daikon radishes
- 2 tbsp kosher or coarse salt
- 135 gm caster sugar
- 20 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 20 slices peeled fresh ginger (100gm), finely chopped
- ½ cup gochugaru (see note)
- 60 ml fish sauce (¼ cup)
- 60 ml usukushi (see note) (¼ cup)
- 2 tsp jarred salted shrimp (see note)
- ½ cup spring onions batons
- ½ cup julienned carrot (about 1 small)
- 1Cut cabbage in half lengthways, then cut each half crossways into 2.5cm pieces.
- 2If you're making radish kimchi, peel daikon, trim off any discoloured sections, then cut them into 1.5cm chunks and proceed as above with the salt and sugar, and as follows.
- 3Toss the cabbage or radish with the salt and 2 tbsp of the sugar in a bowl. Refrigerate for half an hour (and up to overnight) while you prepare the seasoning.
- 4Combine the garlic, ginger, gochugaru, fish sauce, usukushi, shrimp and remaining sugar in a large bowl. Blend to a paste with a stick blender.
- 5Add water ⅓ cup at a time to seasoning mixture until it's just thicker than a creamy salad dressing but no longer a sludge (about 1 cup water in total).
- 6Stir in the spring onion and carrot.
- 7Drain the cabbage or radish and combine it with the seasoning mixture.
- 8Pack the kimchi in jars, ensuring the cabbage is submerged, cover with plastic wrap, and pierce a couple of times to allow air to escape. Stand it in a cool, dark place until it starts to ferment (48-72 hours), then refrigerate. Though the kimchi will be tasty after 24 hours, it will be better in a week and at its prime in 2 weeks and still good for up to a month, though it will become funkier as time passes.
Gochugaru, Korean chilli powder, and usukushi, a light soy sauce, are available from Asian grocers. Salted shrimp is available from Korean grocers.