Reprinted from Korean American. Copyright © 2022 Eric Kim. Photographs copyright © 2022 Jenny Huang. Published by Clarkson Potter, a Random House imprint
Excerpt from Eric Kim’s debut cookbook, Korean-American: Food That Tastes Like Home. Check out Life Kit’s guide with Eric Kim to learn how to start cooking Korean-American food.
Jean’s perfect jar of kimchi
Yield: 1 gallon
Time: 4 hours
Consider this recipe the key that unlocks all other levels of Korean home cooking (or at least the ones in this book). Jean worked especially hard to get this recipe to fit snugly in a one-gallon jar with her tong baechu kimchi, or whole Chinese cabbage kimchi (where the leaves are held together by the core rather than being chopped into pieces first be; in my opinion, this results in a much better tasting ferment). She did this mostly out of obsession, but also because: Is there anything more satisfying than a recipe that makes a perfect glass of a really good thing?
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 2 medium heads of Chinese cabbage (about 2 pounds each), all dirty outer leaves removed, quartered lengthwise
For the perfect sauce
- ½ medium yellow onion, peeled
- ½ medium red apple, peeled
- ½ medium Korean pear (aka Asian pear), peeled
- 10 large garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
- ¾ cup gochugaru
- ½ cup fish sauce
- ½ cup saeujeot (salted fermented shrimp; see page 25)
- 3 tablespoons maesil cheong (green plum syrup; see page 22)
- 1 pound Korean radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 5 large spring onions, cut into ½ inch pieces
1. Fill a large, wide tub with 6 cups of cold tap water. Add the salt and stir to dissolve. Place the cabbage quarters in the water, making sure the inner leaves are completely soaked by opening them slightly. Soak the cabbage, cut-side up, in the water until wilted and flavored, about 3 hours, turning once halfway through. The bowl will fill with more water as the salt draws the liquid from the cabbage.
2. Meanwhile, make the perfect sauce: In a food processor, combine the onion, apple, Korean pear, garlic, and ginger and blend until smooth. Place in a large bowl – about the largest you have – and add gochugaru, fish sauce, salted fermented shrimp, plum syrup, radish, and green onions. Stir to combine.
3. Drain the salted cabbage quarters and rinse in the sink by running them under the cold tap and squeezing out the excess liquid. Place a cabbage quarter in the large bowl with the sauce and spread over the cabbage and between all the leaves. When it’s fully foamed inside and out, gather its wide leaf ends together and drape them over its root end like you’re changing a baby, essentially folding the whole thing in half. Place this gorgeous new kimchi baby in a 1-gallon jar. Repeat with the remaining quarters of cabbage, placing one finished and wrapped bundle at a time tightly into the jar. You should be able to fill the entire jar with this amount of kimchi. Top up the jar with the remaining kimchi sauce and cover loosely with a lid.
4. You can eat this kimchi immediately after making it, although it doesn’t get its signature acidity until you let it sit. To do this: Store at room temperature until it begins to ferment and turn sour, 2 to 3 days depending on the time of year and the temperature of your kitchen. After that, refrigerate for 2 to 3 weeks until fermented and up to 6 to 8 months.
NOTICE: To store your kimchi during fermentation, the best option is a one-gallon jar with a loose-fitting plastic lid. It’s available online and in every Asian store. A stainless steel jug with a metal lid comes in second place. The only thing you shouldn’t use is a mason jar with an airtight lid. When it comes to kimchi, the air has to escape somewhere—to the “fart,” as I like to say.
Regardless of which jar you use, you should check your kimchi every 2 to 3 days during the initial stages by opening the lid and using a sterile utensil to press the top of the kimchi to release some gasoline. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s a useful way to learn about the fermentation process and what’s going on in your kitchen. It is also an additional insurance. Your jar might explode (although that has never happened in my life, nor my mother’s, so I don’t know why it keeps happening to people).