Years ago, a friend of mine, who served in the Peace Corps in Korea, talked of one of his most difficult cultural experiences: learning to eat Kimchi, the cornerstone of the Korean diet, that was served morning, noon and night. He said it was just nasty.
Fast forward thirty years and I’m now making my own Kimchi, loving it and wondering what my friend was complaining about. However, while researching this sauerkraut recipe in preparation for my fermentation workshops, I stumbled across an ingredient missing from my Americanized Kimchi sauerkraut recipe: fermented fish sauce!!! Now I know what my Peace Corps friend was talking about.
If you live in Korea, you receive a “Kimchi Bonus” from your employer and in early November begin making kimchi – a lot – to last through winter. The average Korean eats about 40 pounds of kimchi every year! That’s one jar a week compared to our one jar a year.
The annual Keem Jang (Kimchi) Making Festival is held at the Seoul City Hall Plaza in Korea every year in early November. Over 2,000 volunteers gather together to make over 270 tonnes of kimchi to give away to the needy during the winter season.
Fish sauce is one of those flavors that smell nasty but in moderation give a dish an amazing umami flavor that you just can’t pinpoint. But kimchi is also made traditionally with raw oysters fermented in or fermented squid. I admit I have not had the guts to try this yet. I’m thinking that the kimchi your friend had may have been heavily fermented. Of course the more fermented the stronger. And perhaps really too foreign to his palate.
Kimchi scared me for years. I only had nibbles occasionally and it really was an odd taste. I don’t consider my palate all that adventurous and I find lightly fermented kimchi amazing. When it gets more heavily fermented I make stew or pancakes out of it.
Onto making some Kimchi.
This post was originally published on September 26, 2014. It was last updated with new information and images on May 17, 2017.
Note: If this is your first time to make sauerkraut, learn how to choose the best cabbage for sauerkraut, and use The SureFire Sauerkraut Method… In a Jar: 7 Easy Steps, with its step-by-step photography, tips, and additional fermentation information first, then return to this recipe.
And, once you are comfortable making sauerkraut in a jar and want to make larger batches follow: The SureFire Sauerkraut Method… In a Crock: 7 Easy Steps.
Notes and Tips to Get You Started on this Kimchi-Style Sauerkraut Recipe
Napa Cabbage vs. Green Cabbage
Traditionally, Kimchi is made with Napa cabbage that is first soaked in a salty brine. The rinsed cabbage is then mixed with a garlic-ginger-red pepper paste and then packed into an earthenware crock. I have shied away from Napa cabbage because I rarely see it at my local farmer’s market and when I do find some, it invariably has more little slugs nestled amongst the leaves than I care to deal with.
For this sauerkraut recipe, we use green cabbage (By all means feel free to use Napa Cabbage in this recipe.) and mix in the traditional ingredients – NO fermented fish sauce, however – and salt and create our brine in the bowl in one step as is done with my other sauerkraut recipes. This is the only sauerkraut my oldest son will eat, so I always make sure I have some on hand.
Gochugaru – Korean red pepper powder – is traditionally used to flavor and add heat to Kimchi. When I made my first batch of Kimchi over 10 years ago, Korean Gochugaru red pepper powder wasn’t readily available, so I substituted red pepper flakes which worked fine,
now that Gochugaru is readily available in Asian stores and on the internet, I’ve started using it instead of the red pepper flakes
there is no going back.
Gochugaru is a coarsely ground red pepper with a texture between flakes and powder that disperses throughout your sauerkraut coloring it beautifully and adding a complex flavor not found with red pepper flakes. The highest quality gochugaru is made from sun-dried chili peppers.
Store your gochugaru red pepper powder in your freezer to extend the shelf life.
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Korean Chile Flakes (Gochugaru), 8oz. by Mother-in-Law’s Kimchi is the Gochugaru I first purchased. I own – and love – The Kimchi Cookbook, by Lauryn Chum, founder of Mother-in-Law’s Kimchi. It is grown and sun-dried in Korea.
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Gochugaru Organic, USDA Certified Organic Red Hot Chili Pepper Flakes, Korean Sun-Dried 10.6 oz is an organic brand. Made from sun-dried chili peppers. Peppers are grown in Mexico; packaged in the USA. Resealable bag.
Two Easy Ways to Peel Ginger
I keep both fresh and frozen ginger on hand. For frozen ginger, grate it using the fine side of your grater. The peel is left on the outside of the grater box and the minced ginger sits in a nice pile on your cutting board ready to be scraped into your sauerkraut mixing bowl.
I used to peel fresh ginger with my vegetable peeler and often bemoaned at how much of the ginger I was loosing. Try instead the Spoon Trick as shown in the video below.
Turn Up – or Down – the Heat
The spiciness or heat of Gochugaru or red pepper flakes can vary greatly. If you like it hot, use 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. If you don’t want it too spicy, use 1/2 teaspoon, instead. Then, adjust for future batches or taste after mixing in the salt and add more red pepper if you feel it needs it.
Don’t Want to Irritate Your Hands with the Red Pepper Flakes?
If your hands are sensitive to the capsicum in the red pepper, don’t add them to your bowl until you have mixed all your cabbage and vegetables together and created your brine. Then, sprinkle on the red pepper flakes, quickly mix and then pack into your jar. You also might want to consider wearing a pair of thin plastic gloves when making this sauerkraut or using a large spoon when mixing and packing.
Ways to Eat Kimchi-Style Sauerkraut
I maintain an ever-growing list of ways to enjoy your sauerkraut. Check out #20: Peanut Butter Kimchi Sandwich!
Kimchi-Style Sauerkraut Recipe
I have two forms of my Kimchi-Style Sauerkraut Recipe for you. The online one that follows – with numerous pictures – and a PDF version below for printing that includes Gourmet Pairing Options and information on recipe ingredients.
Shown below are the tools I grab just about every time I’m about to make a batch of sauerkraut.
The Five Tools I Grab Every Time I Make a Batch of Sauerkraut
Kimchi Style Sauerkraut
- Kitchen scale, ideally digital
- Cutting board and chef’s knife
- Large mixing bowl
- Vegetable peeler and grater
- 1-quart (L) wide-mouth canning jar or similar sized jar
- 4-ounce (125 ml) canning jar (jelly jar)
- Wide-mouth plastic storage cap (or lid and rim that comes with jar)
- 1 medium head fresh green cabbage, 2 ½–3 pounds (1 kg), 2 ½–3 pounds
- 1-2 carrots
- 1 bunch green onions
- 1 large radish, (watermelon is nice) or bunch small red radish
- (You want about 1/2 cup grated radish)
- 1 -inch knob fresh ginger
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- 1-2 teaspoons Korean red pepper powder (gochugaru)
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce, optional, but highly recommended
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) iodine-free salt (fine-grain)
- SET UP. Gather Supplies and Set Up ScaleUsing a kitchen scale to weigh your ingredients is THE secret for delicious sauerkraut… batch after batch. My favorite scale is discussed here. You don’t want to include the weight of your bowl in your measurements, so either zero out the scale (usually done with a button on a digital scale or a knob under the tray on a mechanical scale) or write down the tare (bowl) weight.
- CHOP. Prep Your Vegetables and CabbageWhen making sauerkraut, you first prepare the flavoring ingredients – carrots, ginger, radish, caraway seeds or whatnot – then add sliced cabbage. This allows you to add only as much sliced cabbage as necessary to hit 1¾ pounds (28 ounces, 800 grams) on the scale, the amount that fits perfectly – usually – into a 1-quart (liter) jar. Grate carrots and radish, thinly slice green onions, grate ginger and mince garlic, placing everything, along with the red pepper flakes or Korean red pepper and optional fish sauce, in your bowl. NOTE: If you're concerned about the "hot" nature of the red pepper on your bare hands, either wear gloves or quickly mix it in right before packing your jar.Discard the dirty or limp outer leaves of your cabbage, setting aside one of the cleaner leaves for use during the SUBMERGE step.Quarter, then slice cabbage crosswise into thin ribbons. I leave the core in because I find it helps to hold the layers of cabbage together making the slicing job easier.Add sliced cabbage to your bowl until the weight of your vegetables and cabbage is 1¾ pounds (28 ounces, 800 grams).
- SALT. Create Your BrineSalt pulls water out of the cabbage and vegetables to create an environment where the good bacteria (mainly lactobacillus) can grow and proliferate and the bad bacteria die off. You really do need salt to make sauerkraut. Sprinkle vegetables and cabbage with 1 tablespoon of salt and mix well. Then, massage the vegetables with strong hands until moist, creating the brine. You should be able to tilt the bowl to the side and see a good-sized puddle of brine, about 2–3 inches in diameter. This process can take anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes. Notice how the mixture has shrunk. Due to the hot nature of the red pepper, wash hands wells after.
- PACK. Pack Mixture into JarOnce you notice a small puddle of brine in the bottom of your bowl (you may need to tilt it to one side to see it), it is time to pack the moist mixture into your jar. See my article on dry sauerkraut if you're having difficulty creating enough brine. Grab handfuls of the salty, juicy cabbage mixture and pack them into your quart-sized (liter) wide-mouth canning jar, periodically pressing the mixture down tightly with your fist or a large spoon so that the brine rises above the top of the mixture and no air pockets remain.Be sure to leave at least 1 inch of space between the top of the cabbage and the top of the jar. Because we weighed out just the right amount of cabbage to fit in your jar, this should happen automatically.Pour any brine left in your mixing bowl into the jar and scrape out any loose bits stuck to the sides of the bowl or to the sides of your jar.
- SUBMERGE. Hold Ferment Below BrineNow make sure your fermenting mixture is in a safe anaerobic (no air) environment. This means that you need to keep the cabbage mixture submerged in the brine while it ferments. Take that cabbage leaf you saved during the SETUP step, tear it down to just fit in the jar, and place it on the surface of the packed cabbage. Forgot to save a cabbage leaf? No problem. You can fold a narrow piece of parchment paper to size or even cut an old plastic lid to size. Place the 4-ounce jelly jar (or preferred weight) on top of the cabbage leaf, right side up with its lid removed. (Here I'm using the weight included with the Ferment'n fermentation lid.)Lightly (to allow for escape of CO2 gases), screw on the white plastic storage lid or airlock of your choice, following their directions.I like to label my jars using green or blue painter’s tape and a permanent marker. I note the flavor of sauerkraut I made and the date I started fermenting.For this recipe, I used the Ferment'n water-sealed fermentation lid. It comes with a weight, the water trough you hold in place with a metal canning band and the lid.
- FERMENT. Ferment for 1 to 4 WeeksTime now for the friendly bacteria to do their work while you watch and wait. Can you wait 7 days to taste the tangy crunch?Place your jar of fermenting sauerkraut in a shallow bowl (to catch the brine that may leak out during the first week of fermentation), out of direct sunlight. Wait for 1 week before opening to sample.For what to expect as your sauerkraut ferments, see SALTY Cabbage to SOUR Sauerkraut: Fermentation Signs to MonitorShould the brine level fall (very unlikely) and remain below the level of the sauerkraut during this first week, dilute 1 Tbsp of salt in 2 cups of water and pour some of this brine over the sauerkraut (removing the little jar first) until it just covers the mixture. Put the little jar back in, screw the lid on lightly and let the fermentation continue.Don’t worry if the brine disappears after the 7- to 10-day mark. By this time, you’ve created a safe environment in which the bacteria that would cause mold or slime has been chased away by the beneficial bacteria produced during the fermentation process.You can ferment your sauerkraut for up to 4 weeks. The longer you ferment it, the greater the number and variety of beneficial bacteria that can be produced.
- STORE. Store in Refrigerator for Up to 1 YearAfter fermenting your sauerkraut, it’s ready to go into the refrigerator and ready to be eaten. Rinse off the outside of the jar. You can take the little jar out. Clean the rim if necessary (sometimes it can get sticky from the brine that overflows), and screw the lid back on tightly. Add to your label how long you fermented the contents.Enjoy a forkful or two of your sauerkraut with your meals. It will continue to ferment – aging like a fine wine – but at a much slower rate than before. If the flavors are too intense, leave it the jar for a month or two and then eat it. You will be amazed at how the flavors have changed.If successfully fermented (tastes and smells good), your sauerkraut can be kept preserved in your refrigerator for up to a year.
Notes and Tips
- For frozen ginger, grate it using the fine side of your grater. The peel is left on the outside of the grater box and the minced ginger sits in a nice pile on your cutting board ready to be scraped into your sauerkraut mixing bowl
- For fresh ginger, using a vegetable peeler results to wasting some of the flesh. Instead, try using a spoon to scrape the outer layer.
- The spiciness or heat of Gochugaru or red pepper flakes can vary greatly. If you like it hot, use 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. If you don’t want it too spicy, use 1/2 teaspoon, instead. Then, adjust for future batches or taste after mixing in the salt and add more red pepper if you feel it needs it.
- If your hands are sensitive to the capsicum in the red pepper, don’t add them to your bowl until you have mixed all your cabbage and vegetables together and created your brine. Then, sprinkle on the red pepper flakes, quickly mix, and then pack into your jar.
- You also might want to consider wearing a pair of thin plastic gloves when making this sauerkraut or using a large spoon when mixing and packing.
- Optional, but highly recommended. My favorite is Red Boat. You can read more about fish sauce here. The fishy smell dissipates during fermentation.
- One of my readers substituted soy sauce for the fish sauce with great success.
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Last update on 2022-09-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API