Recently, State food writer Allison Askins and I explored Hyundai Korean Market on Decker Blvd., to be able to tell you about the wonderful foods you can purchase there. We found a wide variety of exotic offerings including gallon jars of colorful cabage kim chee. We were able to sample the kim chee and found it delicious-not too fiery – with just the right amount of heat! You can read more about our adventures in Allison’s article in the State Newspaper today and online.
Some people say there are at least one hundred types of kim chee in Korea; others say twice that amount. The most famous type is Baechu Kimchi – whole stuffed cabbages that are traditionally prepared in November. It is the kind seen often in American supermarkets, packed into glass jars in a spicy red pepper liquid.
I learned to make this type kim chee from a noted cooking authority in Korea. Preparing the mix of seasonings does take a little time but it is worth the effort. Summer kim chee is the easiest type to make and can be eaten almost immediately. (Look for some recipes in other posts in this category.)
Kim chee is a food that connects the Korean people to the land and to their past. It is considered a national dish, often served at every meal. Kim chee stimulates the appetite, adds variety and clears the palate after eating fatty grilled meat.
Korea is an agrian culture with cold, bitter winters. The people developed pickling as a food storage method to preserve the vegetable supply during the winter. It also gave them a much-needed source of Vitamin C. The flavor of kim chee develops through lactic acid fermentation. Koreans believe lactic acid generates a chemical reaction that is effective in curing digestive disorders. In the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Finnish researchers reported that fermenting cabbages produces isothiocyanates, which can retard cancers in laboratory experiments.
Kim chee was developed around the 7th century. Early forms were simply salted vegetables and may have been called, shimchae or ‘salted vegetables.’ The dish evolved over the centuries, with additions of seasonings and hot red peppers. After cabbage was introduced into the Korean food supply, it was commonly used for making kim chee. During the late Joseon period, whole cabbage kim chee became popular and is the type we are most familiar with today.
The red chilies used for kim chee are dried and processed into coarse and fine powders (kochu karu) or cut into spicy stringlike threads (shil kochu). Red chili powder is used for making a thick, tasty seasoning paste called ‘Gochu-jang,’ (kochu-jang).
These chile products lend a rosy hue and heat to Kim Chee dishes. Besides red peppers, other popular seasonings are garlic, gingerroot, leeks, green onions, sesame seed oil and fish paste. Hawaiian-style Kim chee calls for a little sugar and fish sauce, like the Fillipino Patis.
KIM CHEE IN EVERY POT~
In Korea, pickling becomes a fall social event (kim jang choi) , where neighbors work together to turn mountains of salted, Chinese Napa cabbage into kim chee. Nappa cabbage and Korean radish (similar to daikon) are firmer and sweeter in the autumn. Whole salted cabbage is soaked for a short period, then the inside of each leaf is packed with shredded green onion, ginger, garlic, shredded daikon radish and shrimp, anchovy or oyster paste. The cabbage is also loaded with potent amounts of ground pepper and shredded pepper threads. The stuffed cabbages are traditionally packed into earthenware jars with the lids weighted down. The jars are wrapped in straw mats and placed in a storage area beneath the ground or in a special hut. This protects the cabbage from freezing during the winter months. The storage method was once prevalent throughout the Korean countryside, especially in the north. Around Seoul, you would be hard-pressed to dig a kim chee hole these days without the help of a jackhammer.
You will find jars, crocks or special stainless steel pots of winter kim chee in every Korean home, homemade or storebought. I purchased several sizes of these handy metal pots while in Seoul. They have clamps that make them airtight, keeping kim chee odors where they belong and out of the house. Many Koreans have a separate small refrigerator just for storing fermenting kim chee.
Not all pickled vegetable dishes are spicy and fiery-hot. Refreshing summer kim chees are made on a daily basis and might contain cucumber, pear apples, daikon radish, and spinach. Stuffed cucumber (Oi Sobagi), filled with green onion, chives, garlic and ginger is popular. So are stuffed eggplants, brined sesame leaves, pickled green onions (chives), marine algea and mustard leaves. Water kimchi has a refreshing and tangy juice that tastes spooned good over rice.
White kim chee is popular in Northern Korea and doesn’t contain red pepper. The salted cabbage may be stuffed with strips of daikon radish, pear apple, ginger, garlic and pine nuts. This mild type is often eaten with rice or noodles as a snack. Kim chee is generally milder in the North.
Kim chee develops a special flavor as it ferments. Salt controls fermentation and deactivates the bacteria so the vegetables can be preserved for a long time. The development of lactic acid helps mature kim chee. The pickle ferments faster in the summertime. If preserved too long, the sweet taste of the cabbage disappears.
Kim chee should be kept in a cool place or it quickly overferments and sours. Korean cooks might bury two raw, whole eggs in the kim chee for a couple of days to help reduce the sour taste.
How long should you keep a batch of kim chee A lot depends on your own tastebuds. I like to eat homemade kimchee best the day after it is prepared. Seven to ten days tops, as long as it stays refrigerated. After that, kimchee sours too much to suit my taste.
Some people prefer 2 to 3 weeks of aging. Commercially made kim chee can last longer, if stored properly, perhaps as long as three months. If your kim chee moves beyond the ripe stage, do as the Koreans do and chop it up to add to dishes like ‘kim chee jji-gae’ (stew) or fried rice.
Kim chee has become a global food. Anywhere Korean immigrants live, kim chee can be found in local markets.
Hyundai Market carries various size jars of colorful kim chee shipped from Korea. Kim chee connoisseurs consider it superior to that made in domestic factories. But the domestic kind, made by Korean manufacturers in California, tastes pretty good too.
Buy kim chee in small amounts. It is important to use clean utensils when removing kim chee from the jar; otherwise mold could grow. Keep kim chee tightly covered in the refrigerator. Kim chee manufacturers recommend repacking a large amount of kim chee in smaller portions in air-tight containers. Eat one portion at a time-allowing the remaining kim chee to stay sealed to avoid air contact – oxygen hastens fermentation.
In Korean cuisine, whole cabbage kim chee is used in a variety of dishes: soups, sushi, pizza, fried rice, curry, fish cakes, noodle and rice dishes.
To make a few simple types of kim chee at home, look for the post, A Medley of Easy Kim Chee Recipes, which can be found in the Category, No Asian Take-Out Required!