Kimchi is a Korean cuisine classic and, along with its German cousin saukraut, is one of the world’s most well-known fermented foods. It’s no coincidence that they’re both made from cabbage; there’s something about this humble vegetable that makes it particularly delicious when lacto-fermented - it’s really, really savory.
Kimchi comprises a number of things that I have a great fondness for: garlic, ginger, chillies and salt. The combination of these powerful ingredients, along with the fermentation process, results in a very potent flavour. Obviously I wanted to try making my own kimchi and put my own slant on this classic, and after doing some research I ended up constructing a hybrid of a few different recipes. My variation was to add a bit more garlic and ginger and a lot more chillies. Most recipes for classic kimchi call for gochugaru chilli flakes, which are a vibrant red colour. I opted for ancho, which are a dark, almost black colour and more sweet than spicy, and arbol, which are a brighter red colour and are fairly spicy. The result was a darker, earthier colour which I think is much nicer and more appetising than the classic bright red version. My version is also considerably spicier than your average shop-bought kimchi, which is what makes it better in my opinion. But I’m a chilli addict, so maybe I’m biased.
For this recipe you’ll need 3-4 large jam jars or Kilner jars. You should get a lovely earthy color if you use the same chilli flakes (although the colour will fade a bit compared to the photo, as it was taken at the start of the fermentation process), but if you can’t source the ancho and arbol chilli flakes, just use whatever you can find.
- 1 napa cabbage
- 3 tablespoons good quality sea salt
- 1 bulb of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
- 3 tablespoons finely grated root ginger
- 1 teaspoon golden caster sugar
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1.5 tablespoons arbol chilli flakes
- 1.5 tablespoons ancho chilli flakes
- 1\2 bunch spring onions
- 6 green finger chillies
Firsty, salt the cabbage: remove the bottom 1cm of the cabbage and discard, then chop the rest into approx. 1 inch pieces. Place in a large bowl and sprinkle the salt over. Spend 5 minutes massaging the salt into the cabbage using your fingertips, then add enough cold water to just cover. Put a plate or a heavy weight on top to ensure the cabbage is completely submerged then leave at room temperature for 1.5 hours.
Rinse and drain the cabbage in a colander, reserving around 5 or 6 tablespoons of the salty water for later. Gently squeeze the cabbage with your hands to remove the excess water, then leave to drain.
Make the spice paste: Finely grate the garlic and place in a bowl along with the ginger, sugar, fish sauce and chilli flakes. Mix until you have a smooth paste. Mix the cabbage with the spice paste and massage with your fingertips again (use gloves if you’re bothered about your hands getting stained and smelly!).
Sterilise the jars: you can do this by washing them in hot soapy water, then rinse, and, without drying, put straight into an oven at 180C for 20 minutes. Alternatively, just put them through the dishwasher.
Pack the kimchi into jars and press down until some liquid rises to the top to cover the kimchi, and leave 2cm of space at the top of the jar. If it’s too dry, transfer the kimchi back to the bowl, mix in some of the salty water and put back into the jar.
Leave at room temperature for 2 - 5 days, depending on how much fermentation you want. The warmer it is, the faster the fermentation will be. I’d advise 5 days for a really strong savoury flavour. You should place the jars on a tray as some liquid will likely seep out. Open up the jars every 24 hours to allow the gases to escape. Once you have achieved your desired level of fermentation, put the jars into the fridge. The kimchi will continue to mature and will be best after a week or two but you can eat it immediately if you’re too impatient!