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A little fermentation can go a long way

The Koreans have mastered the art of fermentation, a skill that is becoming more and more prevalent as we try to understand exciting, homemade global foods such as kimchi.
The first time that I ever made kimchi was about a year and a half ago, and I just finished my experimental jar today – a sad yet satisfying day in that I learned a great deal about the process.
The fermentation process that occurs when you make kimchi creates probiotics and other living organisms that aid in digestion on top of adding an intense layer of flavor to a bowl of rice. In fact, many studies have shown that kimchi has more lactobacilli than yogurt, a notion that should excite a great many health nuts out there.
Before I go any further, I need to tell you to do your own research on kimchi and food safety. Be careful with this, as food safety is paramount in all instances. But the fermentation process is what helps to keep this safe.
Similar to brewing beer and fermenting wine, the process of making kimchi properly keeps it relatively. I guess you could compare it to people in the Revolutionary era drinking beer and wine over the local water – the pathogen level was significantly lower.
I was inspired to start my mad science experiment due to a mountain of Napa cabbage on hand. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. Kimchi was an obvious choice, and as I wanted to understand the principles, I set out to make a batch. And it was a big batch.
If you notice in the picture, I started the Kimchi on Oct. 28, 2013. I just finished eating it on May 4, 2015 and it was delicious. In fact, it improved with every passing month, and there was none of the tell-tale carbonation of spoiled Kimchi that I had read about in my studies.
Of course, every time I cracked the jar, the students would complain about smelling it all the way across the kitchen and most wouldn’t try it. That was fine, since it meant more for me. But after about a year, I could get more and more students to try it.
After that one-year mark, some students even started liking its sharp, acidic flavor. Either the sharpness died down or our taste buds were becoming acclimated and excited every time I opened the jar.
All in all, it was a success. Now I just wish that I started another batch so that it would be ready for us to eat now. Oh well, next semester I teach International Cuisine, and day one is China and Korea, so I know one menu item that we will make. And if I could only have a little more storage, I’d keep it on hand throughout the year. Well worth the effort.

Makes about 4 pounds
2 heads Napa cabbage
1/2 cup Kosher salt, coarse
2 c. Water
1 Tbsp. Rice flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 c. Fish sauce
1 c. Korean hot pepper flakes
1 head garlic, peeled and partly crushed
2” Fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 c. Daikon or red radish
1 c. Carrot, cut into bias-disks
1 bunch scallions, end trimmed
1 ea. Yellow onion, julienne

1. Make sure that every utensil, storage container, cutting board and knife is clean and sanitized.
2. Split the cabbage into quarters and spread out the leaves to coat with salt.
3. Sprinkle the salt on the cabbage thoroughly and rub through.
4. Allow to sit in a strainer in the sink for about 2 hours. This is similar to salting eggplant, only let it go the full two hours.
5. While the cabbage is salting and releasing its water, make the base for your kimchi by heating the water and adding the rice flour in a slurry to thicken the water ever so slightly. This will help the fermenting marinade stick to your cabbage.
6. Remove from the stove and place in a bowl large enough for the cabbage and the remaining ingredients.
7. Add the sugar, fish sauce, pepper flakes, garlic and ginger and mix well. Set aside until the cabbage is ready.
8. After two hours, rinse the cabbage thoroughly to remove as much salt as possible. Then squeeze any excess water out of the cabbage.
9. This to me is the most critical step in the entire process. Carefully and thoroughly combine all ingredients (including remaining vegetables and marinade) in the bowl, ensuring that everything is thoroughly coated. This is critical, as you want the spices to keep the food healthy during the fermentation stages.
10. Place in a sealed jar. I used an old rubber-gasket type jar that held the kimchi for well over a year.
10. Keep on the counter for 48 hours. This kick-starts the fermentation process, critical in the production of a good kimchi
12. After 48 hours, place in the refrigerator but do not open the jar … not yet.
13. Let the jar sit in the refrigerator for a minimum of four days before braving it.
14. You may now enjoy your kimchi, or if you are like me, you’ll try a little bit every month for a year and a half and compare the tastes. In my case, it got better over time. My final bowl was delicious.