Fermentation Nation: How To Make The Best Kimchi

Completely iconic and unique, kimchi is a staple in Korean cuisine. First recorded in historic texts roughly 1,500 years ago, kimchi is an extremely popular, enduring dish. Similarly to sour kraut, the fermentation process leads to a sour flavor, but kimchi uses a variety of ingredients that give it a rewardingly complex flavor profile. It’s not uncommon to notice spicy and umami flavors in your own kimchi. Served with almost every meal in Korean cuisine, kimchi is a must-have item for Asian inspired dishes. The tradition of preparing kimchi is historically rich, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Look to these tips to help you get started on the right foot.

Know Your Varieties

We’ll be focusing on the most common variety of kimchi, which is prepared with Napa cabbage, but there are many different bases you can use. First and foremost, your kimchi will excel if you use fresh, seasonal ingredients. By tailoring your vegetable base to the season, you can create unique flavor profiles to match the season. For example, Napa cabbage is undoubtably the king of fall, but fresh greens like scallions make amazing spring kimchi.

Experiment With Ingredients

Additional ingredients can be just as essential as your base. Onions, garlic, and pepper flakes are key, but you can spice it up in numerous ways. You can go the traditional route by using fish sauce, or you can try to bring stronger umami flavors by including mushrooms or shrimp! Kimchi rewards experimentation, so don’t be afraid to try something new.

Stay Salty

Salting kimchi is essential to proper fermentation, as it encourages integral acids that prevent rot. However, salt can easily overpower your dish, so be conservative when salting. Be sure to only use kosher salt or sea salt though, as standard table salt can actually harm the fermentation process due to its high iodine content.

Keep It Cool

After preparing your mix, it is important to first let your batch store at room temperature. This will help encourage quicker fermentation, but should be moved to the fridge after a couple days. The cooler temperatures will help to bring out a more complex flavor. Always use an airtight jar or a fermentation crock, as premature air exposure can lead to molding.

  • Pro Tip: Keep your kimchi away from sunlight, as this can spoil the mixture.

Age Gracefully

When it comes to aging, think of kimchi like a fine wine. As the fermentation time increases, the flavors inside will become more and more elaborate. However, you can age kimchi for too long. Though it doesn’t spoil, after a period of 2.5-3 months, your kimchi will become progressively more sour. Kimchi is a great idea for chefs who like to prep in advance, as extended time can insure an exciting, sophisticated batch.

  • Pro Tip: If your kimchi is too fermented and sour for your tastes, don’t stress. You can use the brine for a marinade!