Kimchi Pickling 101 with Chef EJ Jeong of Cham Korean Bistro
Led by Chef EJ Jeong, formerly of BOA and A.O.C., the two hour-long class was fun, educational, and most importantly, tongue-searingly delicious. While teaching us how to make traditional Napa cabbage kimchi (tong baechu kimchi), Chef Jeong weaved in hilarious stories about her family and culture. My favorite anecdote recounted a popular Korean saying that “a man can live without a wife, but not without kimchi.” Now, that’s some serious affection!
Before the class officially began, we were treated to a selection of small bites including tofu pockets, kale chips, and seared tuna on a stick. I’ve enjoyed the spicy tuna and seaweed pockets countless times at the restaurant, but the kimchi variety was new to me. The best part of the kimchi pocket was that it was topped with candied anchovies! I’m crossing my fingers that it becomes a menu mainstay because the world needs more candied little fishes.
After we filled our bellies halfway, it was time for the learning to commence…
The ingredients for the tong baechu kimchi were laid out neatly for us. The recipe is a three step process. First, the cabbage needs to soaked and salted. Second, the marinade has to be prepared. Lastly, the cabbage is combined with the marinade and left to ferment for three weeks.
For Napa cabbage
- 2 heads Napa cabbage
- 2 cups sea salt
- 8 cups water
- 1 cup sweet rice powder
- 5 cups water
- 1 cup coarse Taeyangcho red chili pepper powder
- 5 ounces garlic
- 10 ounces Asian pear, peeled and quartered
- 9 ounces onions, peeled and quartered
- 1 ounce ginger, peeled
- 4 ounces Fresno chilies
- 2 pounds radish, julienned
- 4 ounces minari
- 4 ounces red mustard greens
- 4 ounces Korean chives
- 4 ounces green onions
- 1/4 cup Korean anchovy fish sauce
- 3/4 cup Korean salted shrimp sauce
- 4 ounces fresh shrimp, chopped
- 4 ounces Korean salted shrimp
Prepare Napa cabbage—Trim the cabbage by removing any brown leaves on the outer layers. Slice the center of the cabbage’s stem 2 inches deep. Using your thumbs and hands, pull the cabbage into two sections through the slit. Repeat for the remaining cabbage.
Soak the cabbage sections in salted water (8 cups water to 1 cup sea salt) for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the cabbage from the salt water and sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of salt between each of the cabbage leaves.
Return the cabbage to the salted water with the cut side facing up. Rotate the cabbage every two hours, bringing the cabbage on the bottom of the container to the top and vice versa.
After 5-6 hours, the texture of the cabbage will be properly rubbery. Wash the cabbage thoroughly and gently. Drain the cabbage in a colander, squeezing as much water from the leaves as possible. Set aside.
Prepare kimchi marinade—Combine the water with the sweet rice powder and whisk until smooth. Heat the water and rice powder mixture on the stove on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. When bubbles start to form, reduce the heat and continue to stir. Once the mixture thickens and becomes translucent (approximately 10 minutes), take it off the heat. Cool the mixture completely.
Once the rice powder mixture has cooled completely, transfer it to a large bowl. Add the red chili pepper powder to the rice powder mixture and combine well.
Add the pureed chili mixture, along with the radish, minari, red mustard greens, chives, and green onions to the rice powder mixture. Combine the mixture thoroughly, making sure that the greens are incorporated completely.
Lastly, add in the anchovy fish sauce, salted shrimp sauce, and fresh and salted shrimp. Once again, combine the mixture very well. If mixing with your hands, be sure to wear rubber gloves to avoid chili burn.
Prepare the kimchi—Take the cabbage and stuff the marinade mixture between the leaves, working from outside in, starting with the largest leaf to the smallest. Do not overstuff, but make sure the marinade mixture adequately fills the leaves.
When entire cabbage is stuffed, take one of the larger leaves and wrap it tightly around the rest of the cabbage. Divide the cabbage among jars, pressing down firmly to remove any air bubbles. Only fill the jar 80 percent full because the kimchi will expand as it ferments. Keep the jar tightly sealed and refrigerated for at least 20 days. [For Printable Recipe Click Here]
As a reward for all of our hard work, we were treated to beautiful plates of bo saam that included a fresh oyster, tiny salted shrimps, fermented chili paste, slices of pork shoulder, radish kimchi, wilted Napa cabbage, and sesame leaves. The Chef also made a special batch of white kimchi and persimmon kimchi to complement the bo saam.
Soon after, we departed into the night with our breaths reeking of garlic and generous jars of freshly made kimchi destined for our refrigerators.