My son and daughter-in-law brought eight friends from Portland last Saturday morning to help with the wine-grape harvest. By lunchtime, they had picked our whole little vineyard and crushed all the grapes. Right after lunch, they pressed the pinot gris and Müller-Thurgau.
Having planned to feed our helpers dinner as well as lunch, my husband and I now had to think of something else for them to do. Why not start a batch of kimchi? I had seven fat heads of Chinese cabbage waiting in the garden.
In short order the cabbages were trimmed, washed, and cut into squares. I mixed some brine, and we set the cabbage to soaking in three 4-gallon buckets, weighted with dinner plates.
“Is it time to bury the buckets now?” Ryan, who has lived in China and studied Asian cultures in college, knew about the old Korean custom of storing kimchi pots in the ground. But it wasn’t time for a burial. It was time to take the trimmings to the chickens, who excitedly tore the bug-eaten outer cabbage leaves to pieces.
None of our helpers spent the night, so I finished preparing the kimchi on my own the next morning. Because my scallions were sick with rust, I used garlic chives and leek tops instead. A food-processor-like attachment for my immersion blender quickly turned to paste a large ginger root and seven or eight heads of the juicy, sticky, fragrant garlic we harvested last July. I added paprika made from an assortment of sweet and hot peppers that I’d grown, dried, and ground last year. Finally, instead of adding salt to the drained cabbage, I used some Three Crabs fish sauce.
Here is my recipe for—
Big-Batch Cabbage Kimchi
24 pounds trimmed Chinese cabbage, cut into 2-inch squares
2 1/4 cups pickling salt
4 1/2 gallons water
1 1/2 pounds green onions, sliced thin
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 1/2 cups ground dried red pepper (not too hot)
1/4 cup Thai fish sauce
Put the cabbage into one or more nonreactive containers big enough to hold it all. In another container, dissolve the salt in the water (I did this in three parts in a stockpot). Pour the brine over the cabbage, and weight the cabbage in each container with a plate. Let the containers stand for about 12 hours.
Drain the cabbage, which will have considerably shrunk and softened; reserve the brine. With your hands, mix the cabbage with the remaining ingredients (I used my largest stockpot for this step). Pack the mixture into a crock with a capacity of at least 10 liters. Add enough of the reserved brine to cover the cabbage. Weight the cabbage, and cover the crock. Set the crock in a cool room.
Fermentation should begin within a day. If you have a Polish crock like mine, it will emit an occasional, audible burp. Start tasting the kimchi after two days. When it’s sour, put the crock into a refrigerator or other cool place. (This is the time to bury the crock in the ground, if that’s what you want to do. I just set my crock outside the back door, on the deck.)
Scoop out some kimchi whenever you want any, and then replace the weights. For a quick meal, fry a little pork (my husband’s smoked pork shoulder was fantastic for this purpose), add kimchi with a little of its brine, and cook until the kimchi is hot. Serve the mixture over rice. For kimchi soup, add pork or chicken stock along with the kimchi.