© Sam Horine
Napa cabbage kimchi (Baechu kimchi)
A classic kimchi recipe plus spicy specialties for an Asian feast
Napa cabbage: the granddaddy of all kimchi. There are literally thousands of different kimchi recipes tied to the seasons, but this is the kimchi that people think of when they hear the word kimchi.
Traditionally, napa kimchi is made in the late autumn (October through December) to prepare for the famously harsh Korean winter. The tradition is called kimjang and back in the day entire communities got together to make it in large batches. We’re talking as many as 100 heads of cabbage at a time, with recipes passed down village to village, generation to generation. But you can certainly make yourself a batch any time if you can find plump and healthy napa cabbage.
For the cabbage
12 c. (3 L) water
1 c. (250 ml) coarse sea salt
1 large napa cabbage (2 to 3 lb. / 1 to 1.5 kg)
For the rice flour paste
2 tbsp. (30 ml) sweet rice flour
1 c. (250 ml) water
For the marinade
1 small onion, roughly chopped
½ c. (125 ml) roughly chopped, peeled Asian pear
2-inch (5-cm) knob of ginger, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
4 Korean red chili peppers, trimmed and cut in half
¼ c. (60 ml) water
½ c. (125 ml) salted fermented shrimp
¼ c. (60 ml) sugar
½ c. (125 ml) rice flour paste
1 c. (250 ml) coarsely ground gochugaru (Korean red chili flakes)
1 bunch scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced
1 carrot, grated
½ c. (125 ml) peeled and grated daikon radish
In a large container, combine 12 cups (3 L) of cold water and the sea salt. Cut the napa cabbage head lengthwise, then into quarters. Place in the salt water and brine for 6 hours at room temperature. The brining step both adds flavour and opens the cabbage’s pores, allowing the marinade to soak in. Rinse in cold water and have a little bite. If you would prefer it saltier, brine for another 6 hours to overnight.
Once the cabbage is brined, make the rice flour paste. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, continually whisk the sweet rice flour and 1 cup (250 ml) water until it reaches a boil. Keep whisking for 2 minutes until it reaches a pudding-like consistency. Remove from heat, transfer to a container and refrigerate until cool.
Combine the onion, Asian pear, ginger, garlic, chili peppers and ¼ cup (60 ml) water in a food processor and run until smooth, then transfer to a large bowl. Add the shrimp, sugar, rice flour paste, gochugaru, scallion greens, carrot and daikon, and combine well.
Drain the brined cabbage, rinse each piece well in cold water and place them in a very large bowl. While wearing plastic gloves, toss the cabbage with the marinade, coating well. Transfer to clean, large glass jars or clean plastic containers with lids that fit snugly. You can cut the cabbage to fit if you want, or keep the leaves whole and pack them tightly in the jars. Affix the lids, though not too tightly, and place the jars in a cool, dark and dry space, and allow to ferment for 1 day. (Heads up: the fermentation process may cause some kimchi juice to bubble over, so place the jars in a plastic bag.) When done, refrigerate for 5 to 7 days or until the kimchi has reached your desired level of funk. It will keep up to a month in the refrigerator to enjoy eaten directly from the container, or longer for use in further cooking. Makes about 2 quarts (2 L).
Buying the cabbage
Look for cabbage that appears healthy and fresh; remove the outer few layers if anything is browned. The remaining leaves should be tightly packed.
The paste and marinade
Next make the rice flour paste (an important binder) and the marinade, which includes an essential ingredient: salted fermented shrimp called saeujeot. While many recipes call for fish sauce, the salted shrimp add a pronounced flavour that is just too good to omit.
Kimchi is alive and always changing
Kimchi is all about personal taste, and some like their kimchi fresh, while others like it older and funkier. Our suggestion is to make a large batch (6 to 8 heads) and store it in several jars to sample after different time periods (five days, 10 days, two months etc.). But if you’re new to the kimchi making process, start small with the recipe here and scale up later.
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