Monday, May 7, 2012

Homemade Kimchi

Right now in the microbiology course I'm teaching we're considering all the different ways that microbes make a living, eking out energy from the most unlikely sources and in the most unlikely settings. It's hard not to feel a little superior as humans, knowing that we have the luxury of aerobic respiration, popping out dozens of ATPs for every sugar molecule we ingest, while the slow fermenting microbes toil away to make a couple of ATPs from the same starting material. But, while dashing to class after frantic mornings getting the kids off to school, I've been thinking that there's a lot to be said for those fermenters' slower paced lifestyle. It's not all about the ATP. I'm certainly grateful for those fermentation byproducts, especially when they result in a delicious and easy kimchi stir fry supper at the end of a long day.

This kimchi recipe is based on David Chang's from Momofuku. It is easy to prepare once you locate the Korean chili powder, called kochukara, which I grabbed while racing through Sunrise Asian Food Market on a mission to find roasted black sesame seeds, although I forgot the jarred salted shrimp called for in this recipe. The chili powder went into a gingery, garlicy, salty, sweet paste that I tossed with cabbage, daikon radish, carrots, and green onions. Then I left the cabbage-affiliated microbes to their leisurely fermenting as we dashed off to a Saturday soccer game. Later that evening I tucked my jars in the refrigerator, instructed to let the kimchi continue fermenting for a couple of weeks, but we couldn't resist sampling it the next day. It was already delicious, with a strong kick of ginger.

A stash of kimchi is a readymade stir fry in a jar: a bounty of precut vegetables, softened but still with plenty of crunch, in a delicious sauce, that just needs heating up with some starch and protein. We're particularly fond of this kimchi fried rice recipe for a quick weeknight meal. A new favorite is kimichi fried rice cakes, topped with strips of cooked egg and a sprinkle of those sesame seeds. Given our speedy rate of kimichi consumption, our diligent cabbage fermenting microbes barely made it to their two week mark before we had gobbled them up. 

Cabbage Kimchi
adapted from Momofuku
makes 1 to 1 1/2 quarts

1 small to medium head cabbage, discolored outer leaves discarded
2 tablespoons kosher or coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (greens and whites)
1-2 julienned carrots
1 small daikon radish, peeled and julienned
20 garlic cloves
1 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger 
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup kochukaru (Korean chile powder)
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup usukuchi (light soy sauce)
2 teaspoons jarred salted shrimp (optional)

1. Cut the cabbage lengthwise in quarters, slice out the cores, then cut the quarters crosswise into 1-inch-wide pieces. Toss the cabbage with the salt and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a bowl. Let sit for a few hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. 

2. Combine the garlic, ginger, kochukaru, fish sauce, soy sauce, shrimp, and 1/4 cup sugar in a large bowl. If it is very thick, add water 1/4 cup at a time until the brine is just thicker than a creamy salad dressing but no longer a sludge. 

3. Julienne the carrots and daikon and slice the green onions. Drain the cabbage. In a large bowl, combine the vegetables and the brine.

4. Transfer the kimchi to clean glass jars. Pack the kimchi down so that the vegetables are submerged in the red spicy brine (the goal here is to have the vegetables in an aqueous, oxygen-depleted environment that promotes fermentation of lactic acid bacteria and prevents the growth of other bacteria). You can leave the kimchi to ferment in a cool place for a day or refrigerate directly. Though the kimchi will be tasty after 24 hours, it will be better in a week and at its prime in 2 weeks. It will still be good for another couple weeks after that, though it will grow stronger and funkier.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for giving some props to Sunrise. They've been my go-to since the days they were on W 11th. Love the Thai peanut sauce they make, much better than just about anything you can buy. Good peeps!

Anna said...

Loved the microbiological perspective. The fried rice sounds so delicious.