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At a market on Jungangno Street in Gwangju a woman rubs cabbage leaves with kimchi marinade.

Tong Baechu Kimchi

Whole Cabbage Kimchi

Koreans seem to strive to burn schnapps out of everything – even stones. That holds good also for kimchi – there's hardy any vegetable in Korea that is not «kimchi-ised» through fermentation. No wonder there are more kimchi recipes than Koreans on this planet.

One can find innumerable instructions and guides on the Internet and in cookbooks on how to prepare the widely known Tong Baechu Kimchi, kimchi made of whole Chinese cabbage – with every manual recommending a different method of preparation. The basic ingredients for Tong Baechu Kimchi are Chinese cabbage (Korean Baechu), spring onions and, quite often, radish (usually Daikon radish) – but carrots, mustard leaves, leeks, watercress, parsley, algae, etc also go into its preparation

The cabbage and other ingredients are at first marinated in brine, which can be of vastly different potencies, ranging from mild to very strong, after which they are spiced and fermented over a period of several days – a process that gives them their typical kimchi flavour and also ensures their long-term preservation. The basic spices are ginger, chilli (mostly in the form of the coarse Korean chilli powder, Gochugaru) and garlic. It also includes the addition of some form of fish and seafood: in the simplest case, fish sauce from the bottle (made of sardines or prawns); in more refined cases, salted prawns or sardines (Korean Jeotgal), fresh or preserved oysters (Korean Gul), salted yellow corvina (a popular Korean fish from the Sciaenidae family, the drummer, or umber fish).

Kimchi is served with almost every meal as a side dish (Banchan) and is usually eaten with white rice. On his journeys through Korea, Hektor Maille naturally got his money's worth of kimchi – and also took keen interest in learning how it is prepared.

The preparation of kimchi depends on a certain time management: salting of the cabbage takes about six hours, the initial fermentation at room temperature lasts for roughly 12 hours and the subsequent fermentation for about three days. Those who do not have so much time can opt for the quick alternative of making simple Baechu Geotjeori (fresh Chinese cabbage kimchi).

Ingredients (for 10 persons)

1 or 2 big Chinese cabbages of in total 1½ or 2 kg

salt (at least one cup)

1 not too big, white radish (Daikon radish) of 300 to 400 g

More salt (2 tablespoons, for the radish)

1 onion, finely chopped

100 g spring onions, of a thin kind as they are sold in Asia-Shops – chopped in pieces of 3 cm

100 g asian cive (Allium tuberosum) – chopped in pieces of 3 cm

1 piece (10 cm) of ginger (about 100 g), cleaned and finely chopped

6 to 8 tablespoons chili flakes (if available Korean Gochugaru)

1 whole bulb garlic, (about 10 pods), pressed

1 tablespoon sugar

3 heaped tablespoons pickled baby shrimps, finely chopped, with teir brine

3 tablespoons anchovies sauce or fish sauce

Not very nice – but efficient: Kimchi, packed in a plastic bag.

Preparation 1: Pickling the Cabbage

The Pickling of the cabbage helps to remove water from its leaves. There are some very different ways to do it. We have chosen the following procedure.

  1. If necessary, remove all faded leaves and the ugly part of the stem (making sure that the leaves still hold together).
  2. Make a cut of 5 cm in the stem and brake the cabbage in two parts. (This seems unnecessarily complicated. Braking the cabbage instead of cutting it produces less little pieces – and it is easy to do).
  3. Prepare a brine with 10% salt (1 cup of salt per 10 cups of water – or 250 gm of salt per 2.5 litres water).
  4. Put the cabbage into the brine and weight it down with a plate – it should be all covered.
  5. Let the cabbage stand for 6 to 8 hours.
  6. Wash the cabbage under running water and drain well. Repeat at least three times. Wring the cabbage out carefully and let it drain in a sieve.

Preparation 2: Marinade and application

  1. Chop the radish in thin sticks of 3 or 4 cm. Sprinkle some salt over it and allow to stand for 30 minutes. Wash well, press out the remaining water and allow to drain.
  2. Mix well the radish-sticks, onions, spring onions, cives, ginger, chili-flakes, garlic, sugar, baby-shrimps and anchovies-sauce – and allow to stand for a moment – unless everything has gained a reddish colour.
  3. Rub the mixture between the leaves of the cabbage – all leaves need to be covered with marinade. At the end you can wrap the most external leave around the cabbage in order to form a kind of package.
  4. Put these packages in a container – so that they have as little contact with the air as possible.
  5. Allow to stand at room temperature for 12 hours – unless the kimchi has a slightly sour taste. Put in the fridge and allow to ferment for at least 3 days. Serve with white rice and other side-dishes on a on a piece of meat or fish. How long the kimchi can be kept depends on different factors (hygiene, temperature) – it should be edible for at least ten days.

Traditionally, kimchi is prepared in large quantities (with a minimum of 10 cabbages per preparation) and allowed to ferment in special ceramic containers, which are put out to stand on platforms in the backyard of the house. In western conditions, this is a hard act to follow. But instead of a ceramic container, which provides for the ideal cabbage density in Korean conditions, in western conditions one can use a plastic bag, from which to much of air can easily be removed.

A little Korean Dinner with Kimchi, Kimchi-Stew, Myulchi Bokkeum, Sogogi Jang Jorim etc. – on December 19, 2009 at Hüningerstrasse in Basel.
A big plate with kimchi along with other Korean side dishes (Banchan) on a customised table in Paris (HOIO's menu-test for Episode 6 of «Mission Kaki» on November 20, 2009).

More about the travel adventure of Secret Agent Hektor Maille:

While Hektor Maille sat absorbed in the spicy aromas of these culinary preparations, he pondered the meaning of the Solomon's Seal that had appeared before him all of a sudden:

First Publication: 1-12-2009

Modifications: 25-1-2011, 18-6-2011, 14-11-2011, 13-12-2011