Here’s how the national dish of Korea, kimchee (or kimchi or gimchi) came to be made in my home kitchen.
Months ago in planning 2014’s “Open Flame” events, I included a couple of homages to international grilling. Because of the increasing importance of Asian cultures on Oklahoma and its developing cuisine, I made “Oke-Asian” the first theme with international flare.
Fusion cuisines are a mixed reputation because most attempts are akin to forcing square pegs into round holes. To get fusion right, it takes a lot of work and even more editing. Chef Vuong Nguyen has been getting fusion right since opening Guernsey Park with a group of Asian friends with Oklahoma roots. Vuong himself is Vietnamese by blood but Oklahoman by birth. He grew up attached to the Asian District before it was officially the Asian District with a grandmother and father with extensive cooking chops. His culinary influences are authentically fused by his upbringing so it’s no surprise his menu reflects more than experimental combinations. The menu at Guernsey Park and the upcoming Covell Park are truly Oke-Asian creations, and they’re reflections of a young chef flirting with genius.
I hadn’t met Andon Whitehorn or his chef-partner Colin Stringer of Nani before our June “Open Flame,” but was familiar with their unique Cherokee-meets-Japan ideas. Whitehorn was trained as a sushi chef and is part Cherokee by blood. Natural curiosity led him to research the cooking practices of the people native to this state and this country. What he learned was the sustainable practices and preservation techniques used by his Choctaw ancestry had a lot in common with the ancient Japanese culture that inspired his career path. Again, an organically Oke-Asian result.
So, how the heck was I going to add to this with no formal training in Asian cuisine nor any wealth of knowledge through my upbringing? I grew up in Austin with a father who referred to Chinese food as “fodder” and never ate sushi until the 1990s?
Well, the best I could.
First off, I decided to take a crack at Korean barbecue thanks to my deep love affair with bulgogi and Korean tacos. I reckoned if I was going to go Korean, kimchee was an essential ingredient.
The dish I settled on was a Bulgogi slider. Initially I thought I would top it with kimchee, but no slider is complete without some kind of creamy condiment. Rather than concoct a flavored mayonnaise to complement the kimchee, I opted to marry it to the ultimate Okie condiment, Ranch dressing. Thus, Kimchee Ranch was born.
My recipe for Bulgogi Sliders with Ginger-Caramelized Onions and Kimchee Ranch are here.
I didn’t have room for the kimchee recipe with a little background on my journey into making it follows.
If I was going to serve kimchee in what is essentially a cooking class, I thought it was important to make it. Turns out, it’s not terribly difficult. On the other hand, it takes patience and a little courage to ferment cabbage in your pantry. That and a patient wife.
The nuts and bolts of the operation are this: Julienne green onions, grate daikon and ginger with some other goodies, roll it all up in well-salted cabbage and cram those rolls into an airtight, glass container and let it all ferment for a few days in a cool, dark place. It’s traditional to dig a hole and bury the aforementioned jar of veggies in the ground. Makes sense, a hole in the ground is a dependable way to maintain a cool, dark temperature. But my backyard doesn’t need any new holes, so I opted for the pantry.
I drew ideas from a number of sources, but advice from Ba Luong at Super Cao Nguyen Market was invaluable. Ba’s biggest tip was to choose a jar of kimchee from his store because it’s easier. I told him I had no doubt that he was right and result was likely better, but it’s sort of my job to take on these tasks and live to tell the tale.
Ba helped me find the tiny salted shrimp and coarse-ground red chile on the same aisle where the finished kimchees are found.
So, this kimchee fermented for about three days, I stirred the jar every day. Be sure to invest in kitchen gloves and wear an apron as the Korean red chile is practically a dye once the fermentation begins. Of course, you’ll need a one-gallon glass jar with a lid that closes airtight.
Basic Kimchee 1.0
1 head napa cabbage
2 bunches green onions julienned
½ cup salt, divided into two ¼ cup servings
1 medium daikon radish, peeled and grated coarsely
2½ tablespoons minced garlic
1½ tablespoons grated fresh ginger
¼ cup coarsely ground Korean red chile flakes
1 tablespoon baby salted shrimp
Quarter the cabbage lengthwise and place them, outside facing down, on a large cooking surface or large mixing bowl. Use the first serving of salt to sprinkle on each layer of the cabbage leaves. The cabbage should look like gondolas that’s just been through an salt storm. Let those gondolas sit about an hour, then rinse the leaves, pat them dry and use the remaining salt to repeat the process. What you’re doing here is curing the cabbage , and softening the leaves.
While the leaves are curing, combine the remaining ingredients and set aside.
After the second hour of curing, rinse the cabbage again to remove any excess salt. This time, don’t pat the leaves dry.
Plant small amounts of the vegetable mixtures under each layer of leaves, working toward the core. Starting at the core, roll the cabbage to the end and place in the jar. Repeat with the remaining three quarters, close the lid, wrap the top in plastic and secure with a rubber-band.
At least 24 hours later, open the jar and flip the ingredients resecure and return to the pantry.
On the third day, your kimchee should be good to go. It will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks. When ready to serve, pull a cabbage roll and slice across the roll into thin strips as if it were rolled basil leaves.
SOURCE: Dave Cathey