SO… WHAT EXACTLY IS KIMCHI?
Napa Cabbage Kimchi is a traditional fermented side dish native to Korea. It is made with a variety of vegetables and seasonings, most notably napa cabbage and Korean red pepper powder known natively as gochugaru. These ingredients go through lacto-fermentation, the same process used to make dill pickles and sauerkraut, to make traditional Kimchi.
Napa Cabbage Kimchi and other fermented foods have seen a huge surge in popularity thanks to recent research on the health benefits of probiotics for digestive health, among other areas. And thanks to the continued production of ceramic fermentation crocks, you can still make your fermented foods in the same traditional style that has been used for hundreds of years.
MIXING BOWLS: You’ll want one large (4 or 5-quart) and one small (1 or 2-quart) glass or stainless steel mixing bowl to combine the salt and cabbage before transferring to the fermentation crock. Stainless steel and glass are non-absorbent materials and will not impart any undesirable flavors into your vegetables like plastic. We like the largest and smallest bowls from this Pyrex set of bowls or this Cuisinart set of bowls. Both are great sets with lids that you will get a lot of general use out of in the kitchen for cooking, backing, and food storage!
FERMENTATION CROCK: We recommend that you use a traditional ceramic fermentation crock, like the SAUERKROCK by Humble House, instead of mason jars for all food fermentation recipes and we have documented the reasons for this in detail in this blog post. The main reason for this is that mason jars and other clear glass vessels allow light and UV rays in which can be harmful to the fermentation process cause damage to your fermenting food.
STORAGE JARS: After the Kimchi has completed the lacto-fermentation process, you will need to transfer it over to mason jars for refrigerator storage. We’ve found that wide mouth mason jars make for the easiest transition and best storage solution and recommend either the quart-size like these ones or half-gallon size like these ones. The Kimchi produced by this recipe should fit in approximately one quart-size jars.
PLASTIC GLOVES: Gloves are totally optional, but we recommend food grade disposable poly gloves like these ones if you don’t want your hands to sting from massaging the salt into the napa cabbage!
Makes approximately 1 quart of Traditional Napa Cabbage Kimchi
We recommend visiting an Asian supermarket for a one-stop shop to pick up the required ingredients.
- 1 (2 pounds) napa cabbage
- 1/2 cup mineral-rich dry salt*
- Cold water**
- 1 (1 pound) daikon radish
- 4 medium scallions
- 1/3 cup Gochugaru / Korean red pepper powder (more or less to spice tolerance)
- 1/4 cup ginger root
- 1 bulb (6-8 cloves) garlic
- 1 tablespoon Fish Sauce
- 1 tablespoon Korean salted shrimp (found in refrigerated section)
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
*We do not recommend using standard table salts or kosher salts because they are refined and often contain anti-caking agents. The best salts we’ve used for making Napa Cabbage Kimchi and other fermented foods are Real Salt brand sea salt and varieties of Pink Himalayan Salt. These salts are natural and unrefined which means they contain no artificial ingredients and maintain all of their original minerals which add to the quality and flavor of your recipe.
**Tap water is treated with chlorine and other chemicals that inhibit the growth of both bad and good bacterias. If you plan on using water from the faucet, make sure to run it through a charcoal filter to strip it of chemicals. You can also use natural spring water as another alternative.
PREPARE THE CABBAGE
Cut the cabbage into quarters lengthwise, then trim out and discard the core. Next, cut the cabbage crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips and place them in a large bowl with the salt. Massage the salt into the cabbage with your hands (wear gloves if desired) until it is noticeably softer to touch, then fill the bowl with filtered water until the cabbage is mostly covered. Weigh the cabbage down using your fermentation weights so that it is completely submerged and cover with plastic wrap.
After letting stand at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours, thoroughly rinse the cabbage with cold water and let it drain in a colander for 15-20 minutes.
PREPARE THE REMAINING INGREDIENTS
While waiting for the cabbage to drip dry, peel the daikon radish then cut it into 2-inch matchsticks. Trim off the scallions ends then cut into 1-inch pieces. Combine the radish and scallions in the large bowl. In a separate small bowl, combine the minced salted shrimp, peeled and minced ginger, minced garlic cloves, gochugaru, fish sauce, and sugar and stir until you achieve a smooth paste.
COMBINE ALL INGREDIENTS
After the cabbage has been given time to dry out, transfer it back to the large bowl with the other vegetables, hand squeezing out the excess water beforehand. Pour the paste into the large bowl, then massage the paste thoroughly into the vegetables with your hands until they are fully and evenly coated.
FERMENT THE MIXTURE
Transfer the finished mixture into your cleaned out fermentation crock then pack it down with cabbage tamper. Make sure the crock is filled no more than 3/4 full in order to leave room for the ceramic weights. Set the weights on top of the mixture to ensure it stays submerged in the brine that develops during the lacto-fermentation process. Place the lid on the crock, fill the water channel water, then tuck the crock away in a low-traffic area (like the inside corner of a kitchen countertop) in order to avoid being disturbed while it ferments.
Let the mixture sit in the crock at room temperature for anywhere from 24 to 48 hours depending on your umami flavor tolerance. Don’t forget to check the water channel regularly to ensure enough water remains after evaporation to keep a seal.
CAN, REFRIGERATE, AND ENJOY
Move the fermented Napa Cabbage Kimchi into the wide mouth mason jar and refrigerate it, waiting at least 48 hours after first refrigeration before eating for best taste. Next step? Enjoy! Napa Cabbage Kimchi usually tastes best if eaten within the first two weeks of refrigeration but can last up to a month or longer due to the preserving power of lacto-fermentation.
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