It’s no secret that kimchi plays a big role in everyday Korean life. Kimchi is popularly eaten as a banchan (반찬) or side dish during meals. That shouldn’t come as a surprise because it goes well with anything, especially with hot rice.
But kimchi isn’t popular because of its taste. There’s actually a lot that goes into making one of Korea’s most favorite side dishes.
Want to learn more about what makes Kimchi so special? Then, keep reading!
What’s Gimjang: Making Kimchi the Traditional Way
Kimchi is important to Koreans not just because it makes food taste better. Kimchi actually bonds families and communities together.
How, you ask? Well, they do it through Gimjang.
Gimjang or kimjang (김장) refers to the traditional way of making and sharing kimchi. During the winter, Koreans usually make a lot of kimchi. Gimjang typically lasts for several days and takes at least 6 months of preparation.
Did you know that they can use up to 100-400 cabbages? On top of that, Korean families often make a variety of kimchi. Examples of these are radish kimchi (kkadugi 깍두기), cucumber kimchi (oi kimchi 오이김치), and even kimchi with fermented seafood!
Also, you can’t have a feast without baechu kimchi (배추김치) or kimchi made with napa cabbage. It is a staple in Korean households, especially during winter.
Of course, it’s difficult to make that much kimchi on your own. Making kimchi takes a lot of work and time. That’s why families and communities come together to help each other out. Hence, that’s how Koreans practice gimjang.
But you don’t need a whole village to make kimchi. In fact, it’s possible to make kimchi in your own home!
Today, we’re going to try to make baechu or napa cabbage kimchi. It’s one of the most common kimchi available in restaurants and in Korean supermarkets.
Here’s what you need to know to get started.
The Main Ingredients to Make Kimchi
The trick to making good kimchi is to start by having good ingredients. By that, they need to be as fresh and as high quality as possible.
You can find these in Asian or Korean grocery stores and even at your local markets.
To prepare the cabbages, you’ll need:
- At least 2 (3-4 kg) napa cabbages, with thick outer leaves removed
- 16 cups of water (for brining)
- 1.5 cups Korean coarse sea salt (with bittern removed) or natural rock salt
- ½ cup cooking salt (for sprinkling to taste)
To make the kimchi seasoning/paste, you’ll need:
- 2 tbsp glutinous rice flour
- 2 cups of water
- 1.5 cups of Korean chili flakes (gochugaru)
- 540 grams of Korean or daikon radish, cut into thin pieces
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 3.5 tbsp Korean fish sauce
- 2 tbsp salted fermented seafood, minced. You can choose from fermented anchovies (myulchijeot 멸치젓), fermented shrimps (saewoojeot 새우젓), fermented yellow croaker (jokijeot 조기젓), and fermented sand lance (kkanarijeot 까나리젓).
- 90 grams of Korean chives
- 140 grams of carrots, cut into thin pieces
- ¼ cup minced garlic
- ½ tbsp minced ginger
- 2 tbsp raw sugar
- 75 grams of onion
This recipe makes seven servings, so feel free to add more depending on how much kimchi you want to make.
Now that you have what you need, we can get on to making kimchi!
Gimjang – Step by Step Guide to Making Kimchi
Step 0: (Optional) Call a Friend/Family Member
Tap a friend, family member, or even your pet to make kimchi with you!
Gimjang usually involves more than one person. So if you want to make kimchi the traditional way, get together with the people you love!
More hands mean you can also make more kimchi in less time, too.
Step 1: Prepare the cabbages
Before you can use your cabbages for kimchi, you need to brine them. Cut them into quarters and rinse in running water. Then, dissolve the salt in water placed in a large bowl.
Soak the cabbage one at a time before transferring onto a tray. Afterwards, get a pinch of cooking salt and rub over the thick part of the cabbage. Make sure to sprinkle salt over every leaf of the cabbage to maximize the flavor. Set saltwater aside.
Next, place the salted cabbages in a pot/bucket or in a food grade plastic bag. Pour the saltwater in and close the container. Set the cabbage aside for 6-8 hours to pickle.
Tip: We recommend using a large plastic bag as it makes turning the cabbages easier.
Note that the longer you leave it brining, the saltier the cabbage is going to be. Make sure to track the time.
Tip: You can also skip this step entirely and buy salted cabbages instead. Some Asian grocers or Korean supermarkets sell these. But, if you have an extra pair of hands to help, this step is definitely doable.
After soaking the kimchi, rinse the cabbages in running water. If you can, focus on the thick white part of the cabbage. Rinse any excess salt. Place in a coriander and drain for at least an hour.
Step 2: Make the kimchi paste
Prepare the glutinous rice paste by mixing the glutinous rice flour with water. Place in a saucepan and boil over medium heat for 5-8 minutes, until thick.
Afterwards, transfer to a medium-sized bowl and cool. Add Korean chili flakes and combine.
Next, prepare a large mixing bowl. Add the radish, fine sea salt, Korean fish sauce and fermented seafood. Let it sit for 10 minutes to keep the radish from getting too salty. Then, add Korean chives, carrots, minced garlic, minced ginger, sugar, and blended onion. Finally, add in the Korean chili flakes mixture.
Mix well until blended. Now, you have your kimchi paste!
Step 3: Stuffing the Cabbage
Place the salted cabbage on a tray or a flat surface. Insert about a tablespoon of the kimchi paste between each cabbage leaf. Feel free to add as much needed.
Tip: Start from the larger leaves and work your way up to the smaller leaves. This helps make the process easier.
After stuffing each cabbage layer, take the largest leaf and wrap it around the cabbage. This seals the kimchi paste in and will help make each layer more flavorful.
Repeat this step for the rest of the cabbages. Remember to keep the leaves as intact and as close to each other as possible. This helps keep the kimchi paste from spilling during storage.
Step 4: Storing and Fermenting the Kimchi
Transfer the kimchi into an airtight container. Pack the kimchi as tightly as possible inside the container.
Tip: Leave as little space as possible between the cabbages. Trust us, your kimchi is going to be bursting with flavor if you do this.
Leave at room temperature for 24 hours, then transfer to the refrigerator. Even better if you have a special kimchi fridge. These keep the kimchi fermenting at the most ideal temperature.
Now, you just need to let your kimchi ripen. It’s not known as a fermented food for nothing!
If you’re impatient, you can start eating once it’s chilled. But, it’s better to eat it after a few days or even weeks to let the flavors develop even more.
If someone tells you that you age like fine kimchi, you should see it as a compliment. Kimchi develops more umami and flavor the longer it stays fermenting! Although, you probably should ask if the person who said that to you just thinks of you as food.
Why Is Gimjang An Important Tradition In Korea?
Nowadays, it’s definitely a lot easier to get store bought kimchi. But there are still some who continue to make kimchi as well as practice Gimjang. And with good reason.
We already know that food tastes better when eaten with others. But to some Koreans, food made together with the people you love tastes a thousand times better.
Gimjang is an important cultural heritage. Kimchi created through gimjang reflects the relationship of the people who made it.
In a way, kimchi are like relationships. The longer you work on them and the more patience you have, the better they can be.
To Koreans, gimjang isn’t just about making good kimchi. It’s about connecting with each other. Bonding. Making memories.
Gimjang shows us how food connects us with the people around us. And its practice helps keep those connections alive.
I hope you enjoyed this article about Gimjang! This beautiful tradition is an important part of Korean culture and you know why now.