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Matt and I have grown to like Kimchi but it is really expensive to buy in stores and there is only one or two brands unless you go to a specialty store. In this post, we are going to share how we made Kimchi and compare a couple of fermentation containers.
What is Kimchi?
One way to describe Kimchi is Korean sauerkraut but I don’t think that really does it justice since there is far more that goes into Kimchi then just cabbage, salt, and maybe caraway seeds.
Kimchi is traditionally made with any of the following ingredients:
- Napa Cabbage
- Savoy Cabbage
- Bok Choy
- Fish Sauce
- Korean Chili Flakes
- Green Onions
It is important to note that you can use other cabbages if you want to bu the results are going to vary a bit. Even in Korea, there are many different recipes for Kimchi. It is one of those recipes that everyone’s mom or grandma has their own special way of doing so there is a lot of room for experimentation.
Using more small containers reduces the weight you have to lift all at once. That can be nice. Fermenting means dealing with a lot of liquid.
Fermented foods will bubble over or a container may even explode if not allowed to vent. This is very important to remember and a reason why specific containers, lids, and methods are used for storing fermented foods.
Kimchi is delicious on its own or even on tacos, gyros, or burgers.
Kimchi like all fermented foods is high in probiotics. It can help with digestion.
Kimchi is very expensive to buy in the store and the selection is limited.
A pint jar of Kimchi at my local Ingles grocery store is $6. When a local company was making it and selling it by the quart it was $10 but you could bring the jar back and get a quart for $8. That is pretty spendy for something that is cabbage based even if it is fancy cabbage.
Making your own is more cost-effective and allows you to change the recipe bases on your own tastes.
There are countless types and sizes of fermentation crocks out there. Any of them will work for Kimchi. I have a classic 4-gallon crock. Matt and I do not buy larger crocks because they are simply too hard to move and too heavy to carry when full of fermenting foods.
As far as finding recipes go, there are a ton online or you can pick up a book on fermented foods. Here are a few titles that are popular.
Fermented Vegetables: Creative Recipes for Fermenting 64 Vegetables & Herbs in Krauts, Kimchis, Brined Pickles, Chutneys, Relishes & Pastes
Jars with Airlocks
You can purchase jar lids that have airlocks in them for easy fermented foods at home using regular canning jars. This reduces the smell. I do have to say that you should try to keep airlock lid jars in a specific section of your fridge to avoid them from getting broken. The airlocks stick up quite a bit so they can be easy to bump. After further research, I did find some lids that are silicone and do not stick up. I am not sure if one works better than the other.
The plus side is that you get to use common jars (usually wide-mouth) that can be found for under $12 per dozen and just ferment and eat your foods out of the same jar. So once the food is packed in the jars, you can just enjoy it when the fermented flavor develops enough for your tastes.
It is a reasonable way to get started with fermented foods and trying a lot of different recipes without spending a fortune. Technically with 12 jars and airlock lids, you could try 12 different recipes or pickled foods. However, for making a lot of one thing, Crazy Korean containers are a more realistic way to do it.
For weighing down foods in jars so that the liquid covers them, you can get glass weights. This link will take you to what I found. You may be able to find a better deal somewhere else.
These are also sold as E-JEN fermentation containers. As far as I can tell the only difference is the label that goes on the container. I think one is for the American or English market and the other for the rest of the world.
Sizing can be a bit weird. For starters, you are not supposed to fill it more than 2/3 if you are keeping actively fermenting foods in them. This means you need to buy a considerably larger container than the amount of food you want to make at once.
Consider where you will be storing your containers too. Square containers that stack are going to work out better for a lot of people, especially those that are just using their refrigerators for fermented foods.
Our experiment included making Kimchi in a crock and in the Crazy Korean Container. We did let all the Kimchi stay in the crock for 4 days before putting some in the Crazy Korean.
We bought way too many veggies to fit in the one container we purchased so we had to make some Kimchi in a crock. Since we had so much to deal with we just put it all in there initially.
As stated before there are many Kimchi recipes. Ours stayed pretty traditional except for the purple cabbage we added.
Spices and Sauces
3 oz high-quality pickled ginger. We like the organic variety from The Ginger People. It has not artificial colors too. You can add more ginger to taste or less if desired. It is not a required ingredient or anything like that. I would not recommend reducing the lemon juice or fish sauce. You can add more fish sauce if you like that flavor just like you can add some extra peppers or chili sauce.
4 tbsp Lemon Juice
1 tbsp red pepper flakes
4 tbsp Fish Sauce
2 tbsp Garlic Chili Sauce
Main Veggie Ingredients
2 lbs Napa Cabbage
2 lbs Savoy Cabbage
2 lbs Purple Cabbage
1 bunch Daikon Radishes (About 5-6 radishes)
2 large Carrots
1 large onion
Chives. We just sprinkled some in. This is an ingredient that you can add a little or a lot of depending on personal preference.
We chopped up all the cabbage and let it set in salt water for about 8 hrs. Some recipes call for doing this for less time and some for more. The point is to let it soak for a while. If anyone has any ideal time they like to use please share.
After soaking, Matt rinsed the cabbage. Some people rinse 2-3 times but we just rinsed really well one time. This reduces the salt to a manageable point.
The other vegetables were sliced and chopped and added to the mix. Along with all sauces and spices. We had to add some water back to make sure the Kimchi was covered.
Now we just had to wait and let the fermentation begin.
4 days later we transferred some Kimchi to the Crazy Korean Container and then let the other ferment longer in the crock. 5 days past that I put the Kimchi in the crock into jars and turned the lids up while leaving the ring a little loose to allow for off-gassing.
The results are Kimchi with a purple tint to it which is kind of fun but not traditional either. I want to do it without the purple cabbage next time and we might try getting the specific Chili flakes that many recipes call for. I think that fermenting foods like this is something that takes a little practice and you get better at over time as you learn what combinations are the tastiest, what containers to use, and what temperature to ferment at.
If you got a good Kimchi recipe then please share. There are just so many of them out there and I am still very much a beginner that wants to learn and do more! Here are a few recipe links that I found.
Just to recap. The Kimchi in the crock was allowed to ferment for 11 days in the crock and was then put in jars and allowed to ferment in the fridge for 3 more days for a total of 14 days. The Kimchi in the Krazy Korean container was in the crock for just 5 days and then allowed to ferment in the fridge for 9 days.
Matt and I taste-tested the Kimchi side by side and came to the conclusion that the almost entirely crock fermented Kimchi had a more sour flavor that reminded us more of the Kimchi we have bought from the grocery store. The Crazy Korean Kimchi was just not there yet. This leads me to believe that if you ferment part of the time in the fridge, it is simply going to take longer to get a more sour and pickled flavor.
The plus side is that the Krazy Korean container doesn’t stink up the house. I can deal with a longer fermentation time if it reduces the odor. In a small house like ours, there is not a lot of room for a smell like that!
We will do some things differently next time we make Kimchi.
Matt and I are going to hunt down the actual chili spice used for making Kimchi instead of just using whatever we have on hand. I found it on Amazon and will be ordering some shortly.
We are not going to include a purple cabbage either. This is not our first attempt at Kimchi using traditional cabbages. I think that we will be sticking to Savoy, Napa, and maybe some Bok Choy in the future.
I also think that it would be a good idea to get some jar lids with airlocks and another Crazy Korean container or two just so we can easily take a jar to my Dad and keep the odor down at our house and his.
Crazy Korean containers make more sense for the average person. Unless you have some nostalgia for a crock that you can’t get over, I recommend trying them because they contain the odor of fermenting foods. It can be a very smelly experience.
With a crock, you are probably going to be putting it into jars later anyway. With the Krazy Korean containers, you can keep your fermented foods in the same container the whole time and be assured that it is sealed enough to not let nasty things in.
Crocks don’t go well with the average family refrigerator that is being rummaged in and opened all the time.
They are also not user-friendly. It takes a bit of effort to get out some pickled foods for just snacking on or quick meals throughout the day. So putting Kimchi and other pickled foods in a jar are what most people wind up doing and that is just another step. Plus unless you shell out the money for lids with airlocks, you have to just leave a jar lid a little loose or do what I did and turn the actual lids upside down in the rings to allow for a little off-gassing.
The most affordable way to get started with fermented foods is still the mason jar and airlock lid route, especially if you want to try a lot of different recipes or foods at once. You may find that having a variety of fermenting vessels is the way to go as you explore the world of fermented foods.