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Kimchee ver. 2.0

Way back, I posted a version of kimchee a Korean friend gave us once. Since then, I have experimented with all kinds of different kimchee recipes to get a particular flavour I remember from the Korean restaurant near our house in KL. After a few years of trying stuff, I finally came up with a flavour I really liked. The secret to good kimchee is that there is no substitute for Korean chilli powder. It's the actual floral-fruity perfume of the chilli powder that opens the tastebuds in kimchee for me. Substituting it with other kinds of chilli powders or flakes gives the wrong scent and the wrong colour. I get my Korean chilli powder from Hmart, which has online orders and home delivery, as well as various sizes of chilli powder packs in varying levels of spiciness.

My entire opinion on fermented foods hinges on the idea that it is tasty. I've heard the health stuff one way or the other, but my final verdict on the subject is that it's tasty. Fermented foods were a big part of my taste vocabulary growing up. At least half of the Chinese/Malay dishes we ate at home or outside contained belacan, spiced fermented shrimp paste, which lends a distinctly pungent, warm aroma and flavour to foods. scanner_darkly once described a dish of water convulvulus fried in belacan I ordered as tasting like car exhaust, but there are more ways to cook it I have yet to experiment with. If I wasn't so afraid of making my kitchen smell like oil and fermented shrimp for the next year, I would probably make belacan fried chicken, a treat I still sometimes crave.

Many fermented foods in Malaysia were treats, or daily foods. Mom got on the miso bandwagon early, long before it was popular, so I had miso soup regularly as a kid. Chinese cuisine invented tofu, soy sauce and salted bean pastes, so these flavours naturally influenced my taste in food as an adult. Soy sauce is the main flavouring of my household. The Kampar chicken biscuit (does not contain chicken) is a savoury-sweet cookie considered a regional specialty in Malaysia, whose main flavouring is fermented, salted tofu. Cincalok, another regional specialty, is basically dried prawns in the runoff from washing rice, which, if done right, actually smells fresh and pleasantly shrimpy with the sweetness of rice (otherwise, it just has the most incredible pong). One of the most coveted fermented flavours in Malay food comes from fermented durian, tempoyak, which is like, double the pungent, nostril-stopping action. My favourite thing from the Ramadan markets is sweet potato shoots cooked in coconut milk with tempoyak, if it can be found. It's salty, pasty and ideally a little sour, with the richness of durian.

The only fermented food I've found a little too strong for me has been Thai fish sauce. Used sparingly, in Thai cooking, balanced with other flavours, it's awesome. As a flavour on its own though, it's like the stiff, peaty, fermented swamp water quality of Seth's preferred whiskey.

Kimchee is possibly the only pickle I've ever had time to make. A little kimchee, a bowl of rice and an egg on top is a quick meal when I'm particularly busy. The leftover kimchee liquid is a marvellous marinade and a great base for savoury pancakes. I tend to make small amounts, about one month's supply for a single person, as I'm the only person who eats it in my house. No vats, sterilization or specialized jars required.

Kimchee ver. 2.0
Easier than pie.

Enough glass jars with screw tops to store kimchee (I use old honey and pasta sauce jars)
1 Ziploc bag

Leftover water from soaking/1st or 2nd rinse of about 2 cups of rice or more (the starchier the rice, the better, but any rice you serve at home will do)*
1 medium-sized head of Chinese cabbage (peeled into individual leaves)
3 sticks spring onions (sliced into long strips)
1 thumb ginger (minced)
3 cloves garlic (minced)
2 tbsp salt
1 - 2 tbsp Korean chilli powder

1. Rinse cabbage leaves thoroughly and allow to air dry (I leave them on my dish rack) until most of the washing liquid is gone.
2. Throw leaves into the Ziploc bag, add salt. Seal and shake to coat leaves thoroughly. Leave 3 - 24 hours.
3. Rinse cabbage leaves thoroughly again to remove as much salt as possible. Set aside.
4. In a pot, gently heat up all the remaining ingredients until warm. Do not boil. A few tiny bubbles popping up at the side are about right. This is your pickling liquid.
5. Store cabbage in jars. I usually roll the cabbage leaves individually, and pour in the pickling liquid in increments. You can also pre-chop the leaves to size (before Step 2), mix them in the liquid then pour it all in.
6. Leave covered jars in a cool, dark place outside of the fridge for 2 days. Unscrew lids every 12 hours or so to release trapped gas bubbles. You may need to tamp down the cabbage with a spoon or chopstick so it stays submerged.
7. Store jars in the fridge and leave to mature for a week. Serve cold.

* This is basically the runoff from the water you use to clean rice before boiling it. Just save the water, with all the powdered rice starch in the bottom, and chill it if you're not going to use it right away. The water will only keep for about 4-5 days in the fridge.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 18th, 2011 03:27 am (UTC)
I'm going to have to try this. ^_^

(and I might share this with friend who's been working on making kimchi)

Edited at 2011-05-18 03:29 am (UTC)
May. 18th, 2011 09:20 pm (UTC)
Oh, go ahead, and please let me know how it goes. :)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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