What Is Kimchi, And How To Make Your Own

Kimchi is often thought of as the national dish of Korea. This is a quick and simple kimchi recipe - and more delicious than any ready made kimchi we've found. The kimchi changes flavour over time as it continues to ferment, even when it is kept in the refrigerator.

It is tasty to eat after the initial 24-48 hours at room temperature, when the cabbage will have already started to ferment. However, after that, it completely depends on personal taste - have a spoonful every few days, and then decide.

How long should kimchi ferment?

Tuck in the moment the kimchi is made, and the red pepper and ginger are the strongest flavours. After a day or two there is a slight fizz but the pepper kick remains and after a week it is more sour, but the flavours can seem more balanced. Two to three weeks and it really deserves its nickname 'stinky kimchi'. 

In the first couple of weeks, the kimchi is pleasant to eat fresh. After a while, once it is more fermented, the kimchi is better used as base to bring flavour to cooked recipes - kimchi pancakes, or kimchi and bacon stew. It is best to consume it within four weeks.

What vegetables go into kimchi?

The main vegetable in kimchi is cabbage. Once you get into it, you can add all sorts of vegetables: grated carrot, daikon radish, and even replace the cabbage with pak choi or cucumber. However, keep the same ratio of anchovy sauce or fish sauce as the salt in it preserves the vegetables.

Read more background and history on the famous condiment here 'Kimchi: Korea's greatest food?'

What water to use when making kimchi?

There is a much debate in fermentation about what water to use if you're adding some - the concern is that chlorine in your water might kill any 'good bacteria', and prevent fermentation from happening. If you're in a high chlorine area, you can use bottled water instead of tap water.

What should I make kimchi in?

You can make kimchi in most containers, however it is important to keep the cabbage submerged in liquid to help prevent mould growth. Therefore something tall and narrow is best, like a 1 litre clip top jar. To help keep the cabbage under liquid, you could rest a small food-safe weight or small sauce dish on top. Sandor Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation, mentions using a small sealed plastic food storage bag filled with a 2% salt solution (100ml water with 2g salt dissolved in it) resting on top (the brine is in case it leaks into your vegetables). However, pressing the cabbage down below the surface as needed - bubbles of gas released during fermentation can push up the cabbage - works well too. 

Alternative you could even use a food-safe plastic bag to hold your kimchi, which is how kimchi-making is taught in one cookery school in Seoul, South Korea. In the early stages of fermentation at room temperature, just press out any extra air and reseal. If you do make kimchi in a plastic bag, you might prefer to keep the bag in a sealed box in the fridge to reduce the garlic-fish odours - plastic bags of kimchi tend to smell more strongly than glass jars!  Or if you want something reusable, perhaps try one of these silicone sandwich bags


Ingredients, for a 1 litre jar of kimchi Serves: 20

  • 1 small head of Chinese leaf or Napa cabbage (roughly 650g)
  • 1 tbsp (20g) fine sea salt
  • 10g Korean red pepper powder (up to 25g if you like it very spicy)
  • 50g fish sauce
  • 50ml water
  • 1 tbsp (15g) ginger, grated 
  • 1 tbsp (15g) garlic, grated 
  • 4 spring onions, finely sliced

Method

  1. Slice the Chinese leaf into 1cm rounds and separate the leaves. Mix well with 1 tbsp salt until evenly covered, and leave to sit at room temperature for 1.5-2 hours. Toss every 15-20 minutes. The cabbage will reduce in volume, release water and soften.
  2. Next wash away the salt: fill the bowl cabbage bowl with cold water and then drain. Repeat several times. 
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the red pepper powder with the fish sauce, water, ginger, garlic and spring onion and pour over the cabbage. Massage into the cabbage well for a minute using your hands. The cabbage will release some more liquid, but try not to bruise it.
  4. Move the cabbage mixture into a clean 1 litre clip-top jar. Press down well with a clean fork or your fingers to remove air bubbles, pushing the cabbage beneath the liquid. To help keep the cabbage submerged you could also place a tiny sauce-dish inside the jar pressing on the cabbage. 
  5. Close the lid and leave at room temperature to ferment for 48 hours (at around 20 degrees Centigrade). Whilst the cabbage is at room temperature, you must open the jar every 12-24 hours to release any gas build up and push the cabbage back under the liquid. Your kimchi will be ready to eat!
  6. Move it to the fridge, and consume within a few weeks. 
© Speciality Cooking Supplies Limited 2020


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12 comments

  • Had a go using Savoy cabbage instead of napa/Chinese cabbage and worked a treat! I live in a small Scottish town and we don’t have access to “adventurous” ingredients like kimchi (or specialist vegetables, sadly), so being able to make my own is a real treat!

    Fran E on

  • Follows this recipe, used rock salt and tap water, No bubbles after 2 days so assume no fermentation. Room temp 21C. Most disappointing. Do not know what the problem is.

    Ann on

  • Here I am, reading away – yes I will definitely have a go at making this. Beautiful photos, beautiful sounding ingredients. I’m in !

    Joanna on

  • Beautiful :)

    Miss Whiplash on

  • I make kimuchi like your recipe without anchovy sauce!
    Your kimuchi looks delicious

    Keiko on

  • Maybe your salt contained iodine or anti-caking agents, can stop ferment, so can chlorinated water. Or try to leave at room temperature for longer, I leave sauerkraut to ferment for days, even weeks. The fermentation prevents spoiling, that’s why it was adopted centuries ago.

    John Williams on

  • No idea at all! I make exactly this recipe every month or so. Maybe you’re expecting to more gas to be generated? Recipes that use a flour roux always create more pressure in the fermenting container – so the fermenting is more obvious (I suspect the flour is just extra food to help the bacteria activate more quickly) – however in taste tests we’ve done, the kimchi tastes no different. We’ll be back in the office on Tuesday after the bank holiday, so – if you’d like to talk through – drop us an email with your phone number and I can give you a call.

    nicola on

  • I’ve used this recipe but could not get the kimchi to ferment, has anyone got any clues as to what I may be doing wrong?

    Chris Lawson on

  • That’s a good thought. It isn’t something I’ve come across, and have always had good results with tap water: both in the UK and in a cookery school in South Korea (similarly with sourdough starters that some people can only get to work with bottled water). Perhaps it depends on your local water? Which brand of bottled water do you find works?

    nicola on

  • To get the Kimchi to ferment you need to use bottled water to rinse the cabbage…tap water will not work. Once I got this right my Kimchi bubbles away like mad! It is so delicious…we use English radishes and turnip cut in matchsticks alongside the Chinese cabbage. Good luck!

    Lucy Thorpe on

  • Great recipe I’ve had superb results, couldn’t get Korean anchovy sauce in my part of the UK but the Thai stuff worked fine. Very tasty. First attempt was too salty as I didn’t wash the original salt off sufficiently, but next couple of batches were fab. Thanks for sharing.

    TomK on

  • Hi there

    I will definitely try this recipe. Would ordinary Nam Pla work OK do you think? I don’t have the Korean anchovy sauce.

    Also, which supermarkets stock this Chinese cabbage? Don’t think I’ve seen it in Sainsbury’s!

    Lizzie on

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