Kimchi Recipe, Spicy Pickled Napa Cabbage
Kimchi is a must-have side dish that appears in almost every Korean meal. "Kimchi" is the generic Korean name for pickled vegetables. When Koreans say "kimchi," they usually refer to spicy napa cabbage kimchi, since napa cabbage is the most common vegetable used in making kimchi. For other variations, people usually specify the vegetable name before the word “kimchi” (e.g., "O-ee Kimchi" means Cucumber Kimchi and "Yeolmu Kimchi" means Summer Radish Kimchi). Kimchi is also used as an ingredient for many other Korean dishes.
If you are new to kimchi, you may be repelled at first by its strong smell and unique taste. Once you get used to it, however, you will most likely become addicted. This may not be a bad thing, since kimchi is also famous for its health benefits. It is rich in fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), calcium, and iron, and also contains many beneficial lactic acid bacteria. Some researches say that kimchi is great for digestive health, lowering cholesterol, fighting cancer, anti-aging and for an immunity boost. One can easily find pre-made kimchi in Korean markets. But you can certainly make your own as well, and you can make it to fit your personal taste and spiciness preference.
The quality of sea salt and gochugaru (Koran hot pepper flakes) is key to making great kimchi. Many Koreans use 100% Korean produced sea salt and gochugaru to make best quality kimchi even though the price is much higher than products from china or other countries.
Get all kimchi ingredients shipped to your home here!
Buy 100% Korean Produced, USDA Certified Organic Gochugaru here.
|3 lb||Napa Cabbage 배추 (1 whole napa cabbage weighs between 2.2 lb - 5 lb or 1 kg - 2.3 kg)|
|15¾ cups||Water 물 (for dipping solution)|
|1 cup||Coarse Sea Salt 굵은 소금(for dipping solution)|
|½ cup||Coarse Sea Salt 굵은 소금(for sprinkling)|
|1 tbs||Sweet rice flour 찹쌀가루(or regular flour)|
|¾ cup||Water 물 (for flour soup)|
|1 tbs||Garlic (minced) 다진 마늘|
|½ tsp||Ginger (minced) 다진 생강|
|7 oz||Korean Radish 무 (1 radish is about 2-3 lb or 0.9-1.36 kg)|
|3||Green Onion 파|
|½ cup||Gochugaru, Korean Hot Pepper Flakes 고추가루|
|1 tsp||Anchovy Fish Sauce 멸치액젓|
|2 tbs||Shrimp Fish Sauce (Sae Woo Jeot) 새우젓 (aka salted shrimp. You can use more anchovy fish sauce instead)|
|1 tbs||Sugar 설탕|
*The default serving of this recipe is set to 1. For this recipe, 1 servings refer to about 1 whole 3 lb napa cabbage.
- 1 large bowl for dipping solution
- 1 large roasting pan or tray for brining
- 1 large strainer for draining water
- 1 small-medium pot to make flour mix
- 1 large bowl for seasoning
- 1 large bowl or tray used in applying seasoning on the napa cabbage
- 1 pair of rubber gloves for kimchi making
- 1 kimchi container (earthenware, glass bottle, stainless or plastic container with a lid)
Buy Kkakdugi or Kimchi ingredients online here.
Buy 100% Korean Produced, USDA Certified Organic Gochugaru here.
Optional Ingredients and Substitution
-Minari is optional.
-Some Korean like to add raw oysters to their kimchi. If you are new to Kimchi, we recommend not using raw oysters since it adds distinct flavor that you may not like. Other raw seafoods such as squid and fish can be added as well. If you are adding seafood, make sure it’s fresh since you have to add it raw. Clean them in salt water thoroughly and drain completely. Then, embed one or two pieces in each layer. It's better not to add raw seafood if you are making a big batch of kimchi and want to keep it for months.
Good to Know
When to start
If you are making kimchi with 1 or 2 napa cabbages, the amount of work is not so bad.
But, the brining and draining process still takes hours. You can start brining in the morning, then finish up in the afternoon or brine overnight then finish in the morning.
Amount of Kimchi
The default serving amount of this recipe calls 1 napa cabbages. Usually ¼ napa cabbage is good for a meal for 8-10 people.
(1 large napa cabbages = 32 - 40 servings. If 2 people eat kimchi once a day, it will last 2-4 weeks.)
Use rubber gloves!
Use clean food-safe rubber cloves for brining cabbages and applying seasoning. Otherwise, your hands will sting from salt and chili peppers.
There are three ways of brining napa cabbages:
1. Dry method: Sprinkle coarse sea salt between the leaves of cabbages, leave them for 4 hours. Flip the cabbages and leave for another 4 hours (total 8 hours). Usually 1 cup of salt is used for one whole cabbage. Wash and drain.
(pros: shorter brining time, less salt is needed, cons: can be uneven)
2. Wet method: Make salt solution and FULLY immerse napa cabbages in the solution for a total of 12-16 hours (flip the cabbages after 6-8 hours). Put something heavy on top so the cabbages stay under the salt water. The optimal concentration of salt solution is 15-20%. The Ratio is water:coarse salt=5:1.
(pros: evenly brined, cons: longer brining time, a large amount of salt needed)
3. Combination of dry and wet methods: Make salt solution (water: coarse salt=16:1) in a large enough bowl to fit a half napa cabbage. Dip each half in the solution making sure all parts of the cabbage are wet. (When you are done dipping all halves, discard the salt solution.) Then, take the wet cabbage out of the salt solution and place it in a large empty bowl or a roasting pan. Then, sprinkle about ¼ cup of coarse salt (for each half) between the layers only on the white stem part. Leave them for about 4-6 hours. Repeat for each half. Flip the cabbages and leave it for another 4-6 hours (total 8-12 hours).
(pros: optimal brining time and amount of salt, cons: more effort required)
Brining time may vary depending on the temperature, the amount of salt and the type of napa cabbage used. In summer, brining time is shorter, In winter, it gets much longer. How do you know if the brining process is done? When you bend a leaf of the napa cabbage backwards, it should be bent without breaking or resistance. After rinsing 2-3 times, it should saltier than the desired saltiness. The saltiness decreases during the fermentation process.
If there is too much salt, the napa cabbage will lose the sweet taste. If there is too little, your kimchi will taste really bland. Also, if it’s not brined long enough, it can taste bitter or rot instead of being properly fermented. Don't fret! After a few trials, you will get it!
Coarse sea salt is key to good kimchi. Table salt would not give you the same flavor and texture.
You can use different proportions of Anchovy Fish Sauce and Salted Shrimp (Shrimp Fish sauce), depending on your preference. In southern parts of Korea, people use more anchovy fish sauce. I find using too much anchovy fish sauce makes kimchi too fishy and bitter. Other types of fish sauce are used in different parts of Korea, but shrimp and anchovy fish sauces are the most common.
Kimchi Seasoning Leftover
If you have made more seasoning than you need, you can freeze the seasoning. When the next round of kimchi comes around, thaw the seasoning in the fridge overnight and use it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I have to use Coarse sea salt ?
You can use kosher salt. But, coarse ones are better than fine ones. If the particles are too small, it may speed up the brining process too much that the texture of kimchi may not be as crispy.
We don’t recommend using table salt (iodized salt) because iodine prevents fermentation and the texture and the color of kimchi may not turn out right.
You can buy coarse sea salt from local Korean market or order online here.
How long should I ferment kimchi for?
Fermentation time depends on temperature and the amount of salt in the kimchi. A lower temperature and smaller amount of salt will make the fermentation process slower. They say slowly fermenting kimchi at 5-10℃ (41-50°F) for 15-20 days results in the most tasty kimchi.
The duration of fermentation also depends on your personal preference. Some people like fresh (almost unfermented) kimchi. Some like it very fermented and sour.
I personally like my kimchi fermented to medium sourness. I leave it out in room temperature for 2-3 days. The best way is to leave it out and taste it every day. When it reaches your preference, put it in the refrigerator. If you made a large amount, you can leave some out and store the rest in the fridge right away. Then, take some out later for more fermentation as needed.
Remember that kimchi will produce gas and liquid as it is fermented. Leave some room in the container, or it will overflow.
How should I store my kimchi and how long does it last?
Traditionally, kimchi was stored in earthenware called "Ong-gi." Ong-gi (Onggi) is breathable pottery that keeps kimchi and other fermented foods in an optimal condition. In the old days, Koreans used to make kimchi in the fall, then place it in an ong-gi and bury the ong-gi underground to keep the kimchi throughout the winter.
Today, most Koreans use plastic kimchi container to store Kimchi, and keep the containers in a specialized Kimchi fridge. Kimchi fridges keep kimchi at an optimal temperature, and keeps your regular fridge free of the potent kimchi smell. You can buy a specialized kimchi container here.
If you don't have any of the above, place the kimchi in a tightly sealed container and keep in the fridge. See below to learn how to prevent kimchi from getting moldy.
Kimchi can last 6 months or longer in the fridge but it may get sour in taste. Sour kimchi is perfect for making kimchi stew, kimchi pancakes, kimchi fried rice, etc. If you add fresh seafood such as oyster to kimchi, it's better to consume the kimchi within a month.
I got white mold on my kimchi. Is that normal? What should I do?
Getting molds on kimchi is not ideal. This can happen when kimchi is directly exposed to air as it's fermenting. When you place kimchi in a container, make sure you press down firmly to get rid of any air between kimchi. (Do this every time you take out kimchi from a container that contains a large amount of kimchi.) Then, cover the top with a plastic sheet or saran wrap before closing the lid. Finally, make sure the lid is on properly. To make this easy, you can buy a specialized kimchi container instead.
Another reason for mold to appear is that you don't have enough salt or kimchi sauce/seasoning for the cabbages. We all know salt preserve things.
They say white mold is not harmful. So if it's only on the very top, you can get rid of the top layer and save the rest of the kimchi. But if you don't want to take a risk, you may want to use the rest for cooking stew, soup or fried rice. If you get different colored (green or black) mold, it's definitely bad for you.
Why go through the hassle of making kimchi with a whole napa cabbage instead of pre-cutting it?
There is a type of kimchi made with pre-cut cabbages called “Mak-kimchi.” Mak-kimchi is made to be eaten quicker and it does taste slightly different from regular kimchi (although some people may not be able to tell the subtle difference.) There are at least 3 benefits of making kimchi with an uncut cabbage:
1. Making kimchi with whole (uncut) napa cabbages minimizes direct exposure to air which helps kimchi stay tasty for a longer period of time.
2. When the cabbages are pre-cut, the seasoning is absorbed into the cross section immediately and decreases the delicious and unique fermented taste.
3. When the kimchi is cut afterward, it allows a better presentation. It also shows that Kimchi is freshly taken out and has not been served to anyone else (i.e., it’s not a leftover that was served in previous meals).
Do you have to cut kimchi when serving?
In general, kimchi is cut when it is served as a regular side dish. However, sometimes the leaves are left long when kimchi is served to wrap rice and meat. When you cut kimchi for serving, cut once down the middle the long way. Then, cut across both halves multiple times to create bite size pieces. Carefully move the sliced kimchi onto the serving plate so that the layers are beautifully presented.
More questions? Please leave your questions below in the comment section. We will do our best to answer as soon as we can.
Ingredient amounts in the recipe instructions are for the default serving size.
Click to enlarge photos.
Ingredient amounts in the recipe summary are for the default serving size.
1. Make incision
Make a 3-inch incision in the middle of the cabbage at its base. For the traditional method, you don’t have to wash the cabbage in the beginning since it will be thoroughly washed after the brining process.
2. Break cabbage apart
Use your hands to break the cabbage in half.
Break in half
3. Make second incision
Make a 2-inch incision at the end of each half.
4. Make salt solution
Make salt solution. 1 part salt, 16 part water. Must use coarse sea salt. Filtered water is best but tap water works OK.
Make salt solution
1 part salt, 16 part water
Put on gloves to protect your hands. Submerge one of the halves in the salt water ensuring all parts of the cabbage half are wet. Take it out of the water and set it aside. Repeat the same process with the other half. Then, discard the salt water.
Soak cabbage in salt water
6. Sprinkle salt
Place one of the soaked halves in a large platter or roasting pan. Reserve ¼ cup of coarse sea salt for EACH CABBAGE HALF and sprinkle some on each layer, focusing mainly on the white stems. Start from the bottom layer and go through each layer. Then repeat for the other half using another ¼ cup of sea salt.
1/4 cup for each half
7. Pay attention to stems
The white stems need more salt because of their thicker texture. The leaves will soften quickly, while stems take more time.
Let it sit for 5 hours. You will see some liquid at the bottom. Leave the liquid as it is. *If your room temperature is higher than 78 °F, you may need to shorten the brining time.
Let it sit 300 min
Flip the cabbages after 5 hours so the salt is absorbed evenly. Then leave them for another 5 hours (10 hours in total).
Let it sit for another 300 min
10. Tear into quarters
After 10 hours of brining, tear each half in half by pulling apart the incision made earlier, making four quarters in total.
Wash & cut into 2-3 inches
11. Wash 3 times
Wash them thoroughly 3 times (each time with fresh water). If you tear off a piece of a leaf to taste it, it should taste a little bit saltier than you like. The saltiness will decrease as the cabbages ferment. *If it’s extremely salty, wash more until you get desired saltiness.
Wash thoroughly 3 times
Drain all the water out by placing the cabbage upside down in a strainer for 4 to 5 hours. Not draining properly could result in undesirable flavors. There should be some space between the bottom of the strainer and the surface of the sink so the water can escape.
Drain 240 min
13. Make flour soup
In a small pot, add sweet rice flour to COLD water (1 TBS flour and 3/4 cup of water for seasoning for 1 cabbage) and stir until there are no lumps. Cook on low to medium heat, while stirring, until it just starts to boil and reaches cream soup like consistency. Take it off the heat and let it cool for at least 40 minutes.
Stir until no lumps
Cook while stirring Low Heat
Let it cool 40 min
14. Make gochugaru paste
Add all the hot pepper flakes (gochugaru) into the COOLED flour soup and mix well. OPTIONAL: Leave it for about 20 minutes to get a more vibrant color.
15. Mince garlic and ginger
Mince garlic and ginger. The smaller the pieces, the more evenly distributed they will be throughout the kimchi.
16. Cut green onions
Wash and cut green onions into 1-inch pieces.
Wash & cut
17. Julienne radish
Wash and peel the radish. Finely julienne it (very thin strips: 1/16 inch or 2 mm).
Wash & Peel
Fine julienne (1/16”)
18. Complete seasoning
When the cabbage is fully drained, combine gochugaru paste with anchovy fish sauce, salted shrimp, minced garlic, minced ginger, sugar, cut green onions, and julienned radish.
Combine all seasoning ingredients
19. Apply seasoning I
Put on the disposable gloves to protect your hands. Place each cabbage quarter on a large tray and apply seasoning mix in between the leaves. Go through each layer leaving some chunks of radish and green onions in the white stem part so they don’t fall out.
Apply seasoning on each layer
20. Apply seasoning II
Once seasoning is applied to all the layers, hold the cabbage quarter in your hand and rub some seasoning on the outside.
Apply seasoning on the outside
21. Fold and wrap
Fold the cabbage quarter in half. Using the very outer leaf, wrap the bottom part of the cabbage quarter to secure the fillings in the layers.
Fold & wrap
22. Place in container
Place in a container with a good seal. Once the container is filled, use your hand to pat down on kimchi so that it is tightly packed in the container. Fill the container about 80% or less; otherwise, it can overflow as kimchi produces liquid and gas while fermenting. You can use any glass jar or high quality plastic container, but for best results, use our e-jen kimchi fermentation container that induces probiotic fermentation and keeps the kimchi at an optimal condition.
Cover the top with a plastic sheet (cling wrap) and close the lid. If you are making a small amount and will be eating it in a week or two, you don’t have to cover with a plastic sheet. The plastic sheet keeps the air out so it reduces a chance of getting molds.
Cover with plastic sheet
Close the lid
24. Special container
Or you can buy a specialized kimchi fermentation and storage container with an inner lid that removes air here. If you are using our e-jen kimchi fermentation container, simply insert the inner vacuum plate until it meets the cabbage. Close the plug. Then, close the outer lid. If the fermentation is excessive and the inner plate keeps getting pushed up, you can leave the plug open until it goes in the fridge.
Leave it out at room temperature (approx. 70 °F or 21 °C) for two days to get the fermentation going. *At a high temperature, it will ferment faster. The more it ferments, the sourer the flavor gets.
After 2 days at room temperature, keep it in the fridge for slow fermentation. Kimchi lasts for months when refrigerated. Every time you take out kimchi, pat down the rest in the container, cover with a plastic sheet and close the lid tightly to prevent molds.
Store in the fridge
27. Cut to serve I
To cut kimchi for serving, take one quarter out of the container. Cut once down the middle lengthwise.
Cut down the middle lengthwise
28. Cut to serve II
Cut across both halves multiple times to create bite size pieces. The end of the cabbage is not served, but it can be saved to be used in kimchi stew or kimchi soup.
Cut into bite size pieces
29. Transfer to plate
Using the side of the knife, carefully lift the sliced kimchi and move onto the serving plate so that the layers are beautifully presented.
Transfer to plate
Serve cold as a side dish. Enjoy!