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Seeking advice from anyone who;s ever actually made kim chee

I know how to make kim chee *in principle* and I've made it several times. But it never turns out nearly as good as commercial stuff, and I'd love to hear from anyone who's actually made more than 2 or 3 batches.

Part of the problem is that virtually every recipe I've seen for kim chee in any cookbook omits something important.

For example, it looks to me like it's important to put it into a jar when it's still fermenting. But no recipe I've seen mentions this. Am I guessing correctly that this is an important step?


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  1. I'm not sure what your recipe is, so if you want to post it I could probably comment more accurately. But, true kimchee does NOT have vinegar. Quick style kimchee is made this way but the fermentation traditionally doesn't happen with vinegar. Also, usually there is some form of small brined shrimp that is added. I remember my mother even chopping up octopus and adding it to batches. As with so many things, the quality of the ingredients will effect your final batch. My mother would never buy napa cabbage at certain times of the year because it was not the right season for the cabbage. Those were the times she would make turnip kimchee and in the summer a lot of cucumber kimchee.

    2 Replies
    1. re: bostonfoodie111

      Did the op say he was using vinegar? I didn't see that.

      1. re: bostonfoodie111

        Only a barbarian would add vinegar to kimchee! Key ideas for me: degorge the nappa, use Korean red pepper, add some sort of dried fish, ferment in the absence of air.

      2. You need to find yourself a Korean female. The making of kimchee is one of those skills that needs to be learned at your mother's knee (an experienced stand-in will do). The tricky part for me was knowing how much salt to add, and when the salting process was done. You really need someone who knows what's what to show you what the veg looks like/feels like when it's ready. Once you know. it's easy. The actual seasoning is a matter of personal taste and varies a lot.

        4 Replies
        1. re: pikawicca

          What if I find a Korean female and ask her to make it for me? I'd only eat about 2 gallons a week! People hate to eat with me at Korean bbq places because I try to hog all the kimchee and MOST of the other, is it pan chan?, dishes, too.

          1. re: oakjoan

            yes it is called pan chan or ban chan. I hope you ask for more kimchi when you've eaten it all, because it's free

          2. re: pikawicca

            I suspect you are right re a Korean female, and in fact I often comment about my kim chee that "it's not what mamasan used to make!"--and I'm not Korean!

            1. re: Howard_2

              I don't know what "mamasan" means, but "san" as an ending is very Japanese, and could be offensive to many Koreans, so I would avoid saying that. Just a friendly tip. The word for mother in Korean is "uh-mma."

          3. There are so many slightly different styles of "basic" bok choy kimchi alone - don't get stuck on "which one is real."

            Then there are other kimchees - I had incredible luck with cucumber kimchi last week (ferments in a day or less, doesn't keep well):

            3 cucumbers (oh-ee) (pickling variety if you can get them)
            2 stalks green onion
            1/2 onion
            1 jalapeno
            1 tablespoon gochujang (red pepper paste)
            1 tsp minced garlic
            2 teaspoons vinegar
            2 teaspoons sugar

            Slice cucumbers in half and then into thick slices. Cut green onions into 2 inch pieces. Slice jalapeno. Quarter onion and then slice. Put all veggies in a bowl, add the spices, and mix. I use a disposable plastic glove like the one pictured above to mix everything together. Taste and if it needs salt, add to taste. If you like it sweeter, feel free to add more sugar. Serve chilled.

            5 Replies
            1. re: wayne keyser

              Kimchi is usually made with Napa Cabbage not Bok Choi, although Bok Choi kimchi sounds like it might be interesting.

              1. re: Humbucker

                I thought kimchi was made with just about any vegetable you could think of. The Korean market I go to in New Malden (London) sells bok choi, Napa cabbage, cucumber, radish, and loads of other kinds of kimchi! Cabbage is the most common, though.

                1. re: Kagey

                  Kimchi is really any fermented veggie. It doesn't even need to be spicy.

                  1. re: Kagey

                    Kimchi applies to a wide range of fermented vegetables, but traditionally, bok choy is not one of them. Far be it from me, though to prevent the creation of new traditions in food. Where would we be if Italians had refused to use the strange tomato from the New World?

                    1. re: AppleSister

                      I was actually going to try making kimchi with roasted napa cabbage. I'm curious to see how that would turn out.

              2. Two vital things to check:

                Are you using Korean chile powder?
                Are you using kosher salt during the salting step?
                Are you using enough garlic and ginger?

                Protein is not necessary. I hate shrimp and/or other slimy seafood in my kimchi.

                7 Replies
                1. re: Shazam

                  seriously? I love adding salty seafood to the kimchi...it adds a special taste to it. Plus it makes it taste better as it gets ripe and stinky.

                  Kimchi after a few months = heaven

                  1. re: Shazam

                    Yes re kosher salt and Korean red pepper and garlic; have not yet used ginger in kim chee.

                    One of the things that intrigues me is that all commercial kim chee that I buy, seems to be under some pressure in the jar. I'm wondering how important that is.

                    1. re: Howard_2

                      Well kimchi is a fermented product, so there is some gas expulsion going on. I've heard that some of the more vigorously fermented kimchi can blow the cap right off the jar if you're not careful.

                      1. re: Howard_2

                        You should definitely add ginger. It adds a certain bite that when missing makes the kimchi rather flat.

                        Ideally, the garlic and ginger should be ground into a paste using a mortar and pestle or a blender. The finer the better.

                        1. re: Howard_2

                          Homemade kimchi is under pressure because the fermentation process produces gas. My mom would put our jars of kimchi in buckets because sometimes the juices would be forced out of the jars by the gas. If you like kimchi that's more sour, the pressure is a good sign that it's ready to eat.

                        2. re: Shazam

                          I hate the slimy stuff too (esp. oysters) but there should at least be some ground up for flavoring, no?

                        3. wait a minute, whats the recipe? what ingredients have you bought?

                          you know how time consuming this is right? you can't just make it in a day. I mean you have to salt the stuff overnight. Which reminds me, are you making your basic baechu kimchi - cabbage kimchi? What sort of protein are you throwing in there to ferment it? Oysters? Shrimp? Squid? Octopus?

                          I have never made kimchi, but I understand the basics of it

                          When I go home for christmas (next week), I am going to ask my mother to teach me how to make kimchi. I hate to say it, but everytime she makes it I get bored and impatient. I also hate waiting for it to ferment.

                          Nothing is worse then waiting for chong gak kimchi (radish) to ferment. That stuff takes FOREVER...and it is my favorite

                          jeesh, sorry if I sound bitchy. i really didn't mean to come off that way (: I just get excited about korean food

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: bitsubeats

                            Whoa, you don't need to salt overnight. For napa cabbage kimchi, a salt time of three-four hours is more than sufficient. Any longer and the kimchi will be far too salty, even with repeated washing.

                            1. re: Shazam

                              really? thats what my mother does.

                              maybe she doesn't use as much salt? who knows...

                              I just found a few kimchi recipes. One said to salt it for 6 hours, another 8 hours, and the last one said 5 DAYS...holy crap

                              maybe its because she uses rock salt and not kosher

                              1. re: bitsubeats

                                She probably uses less salt. I salt the hell out of my kimchi - I really like it salty :)

                                It's certainly not necessary to salt overnight though. My conventional kimchi recipe is great, and I only salt for about 3-4 hours.

                            2. re: bitsubeats

                              Since kim chee is a biological product, TIME is a key element! I didn't think you sounded bitchy.

                            3. A key point in making kim chee, often overlooked, is that when you start the cabbage mixture fermenting, you want to limit its contact with the surrounding air--iow, anerobic fermentation.

                              1. Mom always had a kim chee rock. Why hasn't anyone talked about the importance of weight/pressing?

                                Along similar lines, I just made a non-fermented eggplant kim chee (or pickle): salted and pressed slices for a few hours, wrung the water and salt out, added vinegar-sugar-chili mix. Turned out crispy and good.

                                1. The Korean red pepper is a key as is the fish product. I have also had a hard time making MY homemade kimchi have that special something that makes my Korean relative's product so addictive.

                                  IMO I can't get my hand on the right ingredients, even with really well-stocked asian markets here in Boston.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: C. Hamster

                                    I live in boston and I too feel your pain. Thank god I am flying to Maryland to see my parents this weekend. I can't wait to eat some freshly steamed soondae and yummy home cooked meals.

                                  2. I recently started trying to make different kinds of kimchee. Unfortunately, I never watched my grandmother make it when I was young, so I've been pretty much winging it. It's hard because there are so many recipes for kimchee out there, and they are all SO different. Salting times, for instance, range from 1 hour to a few days. I've had so many salting fiascos because of this. Additionally, salting methods vary. Some recipes call for 1-3 tbsp of sea salt simply rubbed onto your vegetable of choice. Others call for a brine solution. Fermenting times also vary greatly. Overnight to 2 weeks!

                                    I guess I should point out that I’ve mainly looked at recipes for radish kimchee (kkak do gi), easy cabbage kimchee (mak kimchee), cucumber kimchee (oi kimchee – this one, I’ve bombed every single time), and just recently, water kimchee (nabak and dongchimi kimchee).

                                    In my numerous attempts, I realize that quality ingredients are key. Especially especially the red chili powder. In researching hundreds of different recipes, I typically see fish sauce and/or fermented shrimp being used. Sometimes, recipes would call for a mixture of rice flour and water to be added to the seasonings. Not sure what that does.....I’m guessing it makes for a “thicker” and “brighter” sauce?

                                    One note. I've never used kosher salt - always sea salt. They are so different from one another, I'd imagine results would be very different as well.

                                    I’ve used different methods and the results are getting somewhat better, but I think there will be a lot more experimenting before I can confidently say, “I know how to make kimchee”.

                                    My cabbage (mak) kimchee is decent, and my radish (kkak do gi) kimchee is getting there (getting that right texture is so hard). My cucumbers have all turned out super salty and inedible. And my water kimchees have a long way to go. 

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: MeowMixx

                                      Kosher versus sea salt shouldn't make too much difference. What matters is that salts containing iodine should be avoided - I've had some metallic tasting kimchi as a result.

                                      I'll have to ask my mother about the oi kimchi - she did something different with the salting with them that I can't remember. I hate making it because it's so labourous. But hers was the best oi kimchi ever. But I make superior baechu kimchi :)

                                    2. Key points when I make kim chee (or when I *used* to make it):

                                      1. Degorge the nappa--i.e. mix with kosher salt to draw out some water. I do this overnight, then drain the stuff.

                                      2. Mix degorged nappa with crushed fresh garlic, some kind of fish (dried shrimp, anchovie paste, etc), small amt of sugar, Korean red pepper flakes.

                                      3. Put that mixture in a container of some sort, for expl a cut-off 2 or 3 liter plastic soda bottle, and then plug the bottle with a bag of water. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT, and is not mentioned by most recipes. In technical terms, this is anerobic fermentation, rather than aerobic fermentation. Aerobic fermentation will produce a very different product!

                                      4. Let it ferment for a few days, depending on temp of surrounding air. Then put into jars and eat.

                                      I have begun to suspect that a key point might be that it should be packed into a jar and then sealed and allowed to ferment in the jar for an additional day. But I'm not sure.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Howard_2

                                        Step 3 is very important. Also, make sure you really pack the kimchi down. I still remember my mother explaining this point to me very seriously. :)

                                      2. As the responses show, kimchi is a very personal thing. I grew up eating my mom's (and her sisters'), and we like it a certain way, more on the side of fresh than fermented. I don't like most commercial kinds because it's usually very salty. Ultimately, you might like the commercial stuff best because that's what you "grew up" with, and it may not be quite feasible to make it in a "commercial" style at home.

                                        1. Kimchi has also been "rated" as one of the world's most healthiest food to eat along with lentils, yoghurt, soy and olive oil in a recent magazine artcile I read.

                                          I grew up eating homemade saurkraut and grandma making VATS of it. Kimchi sounds very much like it. I loved all the posts but sure had hoped some of you who have made kimchi before would have also posted the recipe you use and your procedure.

                                          Howrd 2--I don't get step 3 with the liter bottle and plugging it with a bag of water.

                                          Also has anyone made it with regular cabbage?

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: Kis Kati

                                            Kis Kati: the reason for plugging the fermentation vessel (a/k/a "a 2 or 3 liter plastic soda bottle with the top cut off") is to limit the amount of oxygen available to the fermenting vegetable. With minimal oxygen, you get a lot of growth of one particular microorganism, the name of which I forget; a totally different one thrives with lots of oxygen. The vessel that Koreans use to make kim chee almost certainly serves the same function, i.e. limits the amount of available oxygen.

                                            1. re: Howard_2

                                              Howard_2: I am in total fascination to the process of making kimchi. As I said, I've never had any kimchi and only after reading about how healthy it was to eat that I began to consider adding it into my diet. I won't lie---spicy nappa cabbage fermented with fish sounds REALLY unapetizing. Now this is coming from a person who, on different occasions, has eaten homemade saurkraut and pickled herring--the two together shouldn't be that bad--no?
                                              FoodFuser below listed some sites that I thought a were great. The first one on bottle biology perfectly described (with pics!!)the bottle process you use. What a cool idea and one that my teenage children, who are avid chemistry students, would enjoy helping with. It even teaches you how to make your own ph tester.
                                              I want to try making some this week in a 2 liter bottle using anchovies. As to whether I will use regular gabbage instead of napa, I have yet to decide---but you can bet I'll let you all know how it turns out. THNX!

                                            2. re: Kis Kati

                                              don't see why you couldn't make it with regular cabbage.

                                              my mother's friend has made a papaya kimchi before and it was fantastic. I bet watermelon rinds would be delicious as well.

                                              1. re: bitsubeats

                                                Wow! Papaya kimchee! I would so love to taste that!

                                              1. re: FoodFuser

                                                THANKS for these links!!! The park.org site I could not get to but all the rest were excellent! I loved the bottle biology website and the kimchi.or.kr site had some great nutritional facts about kimchi. No wonder it was rated to be one of the 5 most healthiest foods to eat.

                                                Good luck with your peppers. I wanted to grow some habaneros this year but had no luck. I think it was my soil content and not enough sunshine. Will give it a go again next year in a different spot with different dirt----hopefully I'll find a way to keep the deer away.

                                                1. re: Kis Kati

                                                  Recent studies suggest that eating pickled foods increases the risk of contracting stomach cancer. Supposedly, Koreans have the highest incidence of stomach cancer in the world.

                                                  I'm of Korean heritage and will continue to eat kimchi, but beware of anyone who tells you that it is some magical superfood.

                                                  1. re: Humbucker

                                                    thanks for that info. As to how "healthy" kimchi is---well they are not my words. The March 2006 issue of Health magazine (www. health.com) not only says that kimchi is "loaded with vitamin a,b,and c, but its biggest benefit maybe its 'healthy bacteria'...Some studies show fermented cabbage has compounds that m
                                                    may prevent the growth of cancer." Now the bigger question is do you believe everything you read. I guess all things in moderation. Thanks again.

                                                    1. re: Kis Kati

                                                      Of course, knowledge of health matters is constantly evolving and changing, so what's "true" today often changes tomorrow.

                                                      Not only that, but I used to subscribe to Health magazine, and was not very impressed with it. Moreover, it's not unusual for monthly magazines of this type to want to carry "positive" stories, so would they carry negative stories about foods that they and others have touted in the past? Hmm......

                                              2. I just buy a jar of regular Kim Chee I like as a primer,then add 3 times as much Napa Cabbage.Then add some garlic powder,red pepper,ginger,a little salt...too much will throw fermentation for a loop,a tablespoon is good enough,and water covering the cabbage,then put a plastic hair bag with elastic over it,let it sit for 3-4 days at room temperature,stir it once a day.Put a bowl or plate on top to keep it pressed down.
                                                Even though the primer cost $5 bucks your tripling your money and the end product is very good.*

                                                *Be very careful,check for bad spots like black stuff and throw those leaves out,after 3-4 days refrigerate in a large jar with a tight seal.You could put in seasme oil before you refrigerate,I dont know if fermented Seasme oil would be real good for you.

                                                1. Very interesting. I will try when I have a chance. Can't do it right now--I am temporarily living in a small place and my wife has told me in no uncertain terms "no kimchee making till we're home and you can do it in the basement."

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Howard_2

                                                    LOL I dont blame her making kimchee stinks to high heaven!
                                                    You probablly can get all the spices and plastic bonnets with elastic or whatever they call the things at the dollar store,at least the ones where I live have them.My grandma told me about those hair bags and there great for making kimchee and covering food.

                                                  2. My tips for making kimchee:

                                                    When salting, let sit overnight, then rinse 2 or 3 times. Put a plate and rock on top of cabbage/vegetable so it is continually being pushed down expelling as much water as possible.

                                                    When brining, let sit for half a day, rinse 2 or 3 times. A plate with a rock on top will keep the cabbage/vegetable completely submerged in brine.

                                                    Squeeze excess water out of napa cabbage, chinese broccoli, radish or cucumber.

                                                    Combine sauce ingredients seperately: lots of garlic, ginger, korean red pepper (gochugaru), chives, slivered green onions, shredded daikon, sliced jalepenos, fish sauce, and optionally: salted baby shrimp/oysters. For gok du khi (cubed radish), my mom adds cooked rice flour paste to make the sauce thicker so it adheres to the radishes.

                                                    Take each cabbage/broccoli/cucumber and coat with sauce mixture, making sure to get it into every nook and cranny. You want to stuff this mixture in between the leaves or in cuts that you've put in the cucumbers. Wrap napa cabbage leaves tightly around the stuffing and itself.

                                                    add stuffed cabbage/cucumber one layer at a time in a clean glass jar with tight fitting lid. add more of the sauce/stuffing mixture between each layer and push down with each layer.

                                                    when layering is done, put a small plate and a rock/weight in the jar to keep the pressure on.

                                                    put the tight fitting lid on, let sit outside (in spring/fall) or in your kitchen (winter/summer) for 2-3 days, refrigerate afterwards.

                                                    hope those tips help, but i agree that if you can find someone to show you how to make it once, it will be a lot easier. :o)

                                                    5 Replies
                                                    1. re: soypower

                                                      These tips are all very helpful. One more that would be helpful would be something about limiting the amount of oxygen that gets to the fermenting product. Do you know what kind of vessel your mother uses? It must limit contact with air in some way.

                                                      Also, do I assume correctly that you cut the nappa into pieces before salting?

                                                      1. re: Howard_2

                                                        we just use big glass jars (about a gallon size?) with tight screw on lids now. we used to use those big clay pots but found that we like to make kimchee more often in smaller batches.

                                                        as far as cutting the nappa cabbage first, we slice the cabbage in half vertically, then half that so you get nice long quarters. then when we stuff the leaves, we wrap the outermost leaf tightly around the quarter. then when we're ready to serve, we cut it into bite size pieces.

                                                        i found a couple links that use pretty traditional methods, so you may want to check them out.


                                                        1. re: soypower

                                                          I use large jars too just got to make sure you leave extra room for swelling otherwise it'll push the juice out the lid.

                                                          1. re: billjriv

                                                            absolutely! we leave enough room to put in a little plate and a rock on top.

                                                            1. re: soypower

                                                              yeah, my friend is korean and she fills up the big glass jars and weights it with a big smooth round rock before putting the top on. Those rocks are also really good for cracking crab without smashing the meat and cracking nuts. Actually what she did was she bought big gallon glass containers of already made kimchi at the korean supermarket, ate up all the kimchi, and washed the jar and now she puts her own homemade kimchi inside. I've seen other people do that too and I suspect most Korean households have a ton of these huge glass jars lying around so maybe you might want to ask around. once the kimchi is done, she cuts it and puts them into little tupperwares so that she can pull out fresh kimchi for each meal, less spoilage I guess.

                                                              a lot of commercial kimchi has msg in it and lots of salt. however, there are brands that have no msg (see the label). The Koreans that I know are pretty health conscious and they seem to want everything organic and dislike msg and other additives nowadays.

                                                    2. On this subject, I've had a heck of a time finding a pickling crock. Does anyone know of a source? My grandma used to have one with a lid that fit perfectly inside, so she could weigh down sauerkraut. I'm beginning to wonder if they're even made anymore?

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: amyzan

                                                        As I recall, sauerkraut is another of those fermented vegetables which need to have minimal oxygen to ferment properly.

                                                        I'm thinking that I'm gonna make a fermentation vessel with an airlock. I'm gonna make the airlock out of clear tubing I'll get at Home Depot. Back in the days when I was making wine, you could buy an airlock at the store that sold the grape concentrate.

                                                        1. re: amyzan

                                                          Oh, hard to find...but for a fermenting crock...google...and this is one source I came up with...didn't check prices..but a great description and sketch of how they work! I want to get my husband a wonderful, old fashioned pickling crock...still looking but I think this will work for pickles and most definitely for kimchee!


                                                        2. I see them at estate sales mostly. But they're hard to find with the lids intact.

                                                          1. Japanese plastic-wares stores often have picking tupperwares, with an air-tight top, and a knob that lets you tighten an internal "plate" that squeezes down the veggies. In the kimchi case, I guess the issue isn't so much compressing, as simply keeping the lid right down on top of the liquid. They come in a variety of sizes, and are quite cheap (just a few dollars)

                                                            3 Replies
                                                            1. re: another_adam

                                                              I've seen one here, but the quality was terrible. In fact, each one on the shelf had cracked or broken plastic lids, in various ways. I asked and they said they'd get more in, but the same brand. If it cracks in shipping, it'll certainly break at home. They were $15, too, soo not worth the money. I wish I could find one better made. They look great for quick pickling, as they don't have any valve and look airtight. I'll keep asking for a different brand...

                                                              1. re: amyzan

                                                                $15 does sound quite steep! they're not exactly the sturdiest things ever, but like all japanese plasticware, it should be cheap enough that if one breaks (preferably *after* you buy it!!), you can get a new one and find a way to reuse the intact parts of the old one...

                                                                1. re: another_adam

                                                                  I think it's because I live in KS. Most items in Asian groceries are about twice the price of stores on the coasts. When I visit San Diego a few times a year, I take my big suitcase so I have lots of extra room to bring back good buys. Rice, noodles, sesame paste, it's all cheaper there, probably because there's little or no freight reflected in the price.