6 Essential Tips to Make Flavorful Kimchi

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With the arrival of cool temperatures comes fermentation. Kimchi is one of the most versatile Korean side dishes there are, as it can be catered to every preference—from spice level to what vegetables you use. It’s made with lacto-fermentation, the same process used for sauerkraut and dill pickles.

With the right equipment and storage, your kimchi can last a very long time. Once you have a good batch, you can use it on your fried rice, an omelet, soup, and even on its own. If you are ready to get your hands dirty and massage some cabbage, here are six tips to make the most flavorful kimchi.

1. Stay seasonal

Just like baking and cooking, fermentation requires the best ingredients to taste the best it can. Fermentation is a way to encapsulate those delicious peak flavors of summer or fall ingredients to be consumed during the dead of winter or later. Think using about using napa cabbage in the fall during harvest, but then switching to fresh greens during the spring thaw.

2. Move past the cabbage

While napa cabbage kimchi is the most popular variety of kimchi, it’s certainly not the only one. Kimchi fermentation is one of the most versatile recipes to use on vegetables. Expand beyond the cabbage and start using cucumbers, radishes, onions, spinach and even mushrooms. Your CSA box will be helpful in this endeavor.

3. Get the right equipment

If you don’t have your own fermentation crock on hand, then use a combination of a large bowl and mason jars. Make sure everything is clean and disinfected before use. Including, of course, your hands, the most important tool of all.

4. Temperature matters

Fall and winter are the best times to ferment kimchi since you need a cooler ambient temperature to preserve it. Once you’ve packed your kimchi into crocks or jars, put it away from the sun, in a room you keep cool. The cold temperature helps the kimchi ferment, gain great texture, and keeps mold growth at a minimum.

5. Don’t leave it for too long

After a week, start checking your kimchi. The longer the kimchi ferments, the more bitter it gets. Optimal flavor, depending on ingredients, is about three weeks. If you remove any kimchi from the container, make sure the rest remains fully submerged under the liquid to encourage the fermentation process and discourage mold—if the kimchi is exposed to air, it might develop white mold. If it does, don’t worry—just remove the top layer and you can still eat the rest.

6. It’s all in the paste

Kimchi paste—the combination of pepper flakes, garlic, and other ingredients that give kimchi its kick—comes in many ways. Some people add oysters or squid to their kimchi and others just add more veggies to ferment with it. It’s up to you. You can go the simple yet equally delicious route of fish sauce and fermented shrimp for your paste. Just remember to utilize the right hot pepper flakes for the mixture. The NYC-based Korean cooking blogger Maangchi recommends a few here from Amazon.com.

And did you know you can make your kimchi vegan? Substitute the fish sauce for red miso paste for a compliant addition. Aside from that, most ingredients are the same so you can refer back to your favorite recipe or follow this recipe at Serious Eats.

Muriel Vega is a freelance writer based in Atlanta, GA. You can follow her cooking adventures on her Instagram: @kickmuri.

Photo by David Davies CC BY-SA