Thursday, December 5, 2013

Making Kim Chi

Hello All,

This past week I had the joy of taking part in a very old Korean tradition, making the winter store of Kim Chi. For those who aren't familiar with the dish, it's a kind of spicy fermented cabbage that is served with every meal in Korea. Though, I guess it's not limited to cabbage. You can make Kim Chi with just about any vegetable. Anyhow, at the start of winter, women usually get together in large groups and spend about two days making Kim Chi. I was invited to attend such an event with some women from church. Here is a look into the process. 

Well, you start with cabbage. We made a "small batch" so we only used about 40 cabbages and 20 of those giant radishes. (I have titled this photo "before the onslaught")
Next, we washed and salted the cabbage. Yes, that is a giant cabbage bathtub. But don't worry. It's a small batch.
 While the cabbage is sitting there all salty and thinking about itself we move to sauce preparation. The left is a bowl of anchovies puree and a TON of garlic. The left is a starch concoction with a rice base. When I asked what it was for, I was told it would make the Kim Chi taste "smooth".
 The next addition was smashed ginger. If you'd like to know how much you're out of luck. When I asked what recipe they used or how they knew to make it, they responded that they just did. No Recipe required. I believe it too. These four women moved around and got everything done with little discussion of the task itself.
 Now for a little bit of the sea. This step required seaweed, the green blog now in the bowl, fresh shrimp, 3 month old pickled shrimp, year old pickled shrimp, to the left there, raw squid and fish sauce. 
And a ton of crushed red pepper. 
Then to the chopping station. In addition to  saucy stuff and sea food, you add cilantro, these Korean greens, green onions, carrots, radish, turnip, and pear. All grated super fine. Thought my arm would fall off.

 To give you an idea of the scale of our operation. What started as the bowl and the chopping station has now merged to fill the large washtub we saw earlier.
 Of course before we could deal with actually making the Kim Chi, we had to make sure the sauce was right. This involved eating raw oysters wrapped in fresh cabbage leaves with the Kim Chi sauce as a garnish. If all that raw sea food combined in a cabbage leaf doesn't sound like the most delicous thing in the world to you, I assure you that you are mistaken.
 You then take a quarter of a cabbage and place it in the sauce. Then, you take the sauce and rub it in between each and every leaf. I was shocked how tenderly it was done. It was kind of like giving a baby a bath.
Then you fold the top over, wrap up the outer leaves tightly around the bundle and place it in a large earthenware jar.  I loved seeing the cabbage wrapped up and snuggly in their winter beds. Also, I'm aware of how weird the previous sentence must sound, you just had to see the way these women worked to understand my madness. 
Once the jar was full, and I mean full, pressure is key so they really shove it in there, the jar is topped off with fresh cabbage leaves. The rest of the jar is filled with boiling salty water and topped of with large rocks to add pressure. These jars were put aside to be eaten in about three months. We also put some in plastic containers for fresh Kim Chi. These are ready to eat immediately and won't ferment as much, so they'll be mush less sour.
The ladies are hard at work on the assembly line. I am so grateful to them for sharing this tradition, as well as some gossip, with me.