T’ong Baechu Kimchi, Whole Cabbage Kimchi
Napa cabbage kimchi is synonymous with kimchi because three-quarters of all kimchi is made with this vegetable. Napa cabbage is similar to the Korean variety, choson baech’u. Its firm leaves and long shelf life make it ideal for making kimchi. When salted, Napa cabbages lose over 90 percent of their liquid, firming up the texture crisp, leaving their sweet flavor intact. When the spicy stuffing is added, fermentation begins. I follow the traditional method, but omit a few secondary flavor enhancers such as fresh oysters, live baby shrimp, Korean watercress, green seaweed, (chunggak). After all, the main ingredient, good and freshest Napa cabbage, is the most important.
Makes 6 quarts
About 1 hour to prepare and 2 days to mature at room temperature
5 pounds napa cabbage
2 cups coarse sea salt, plus additional if needed
3 tablespoons sweet rice flour
2 tablespoons saeu jeot (salted shrimp), finely chopped
1 cup gochu garu (medium kimchi grade), or to taste
5 fresh Korean red hot peppers, grated
1 pound mu (Korean radishes), peeled and cut into 3-inch matchsticks
1 fresh Korean red hot pepper, seeded, deribbed, and cut diagonally into thin strips
1 fresh Korean green hot pepper, seeded, deribbed, and cut diagonally into thin strips
2 large sweet green onions, or 4 green onions, white and pale part only, cut diagonally into thin
2 green onions, white and pale green part only, cut into thin 2-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, peeled and grated
6 walnut halves, finely chopped
2 ounces fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 large Korean pear or Asian pear, peeled and cut into 3-inch matchsticks
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 ounces mustard greens, cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
Wash the cabbage once and drain. Remove the tough outer leaves and reserve for later use. Trim off the very bottom of the cabbage, leaving enough of the root end intact to hold the cabbage together. On a cutting board, hold one cabbage the root end up with one hand and, with a sharp knife, slice the cabbage into halves lengthwise, halfway down. With both hands, split the cabbage. (In this way, the halves will divide cleanly.) If the cabbage is over-sized, the halves can be sliced lengthwise into quarters. Wash once more, but do not drain.
In a large (at least 6-quart capacity) nonreactive bowl, place the water drenched cabbage pieces and outer leaves. Arrange them in one layer with cut sides up. Sprinkle 1½-cup sea salt between the leaves. Dissolve the remaining ½-cup salt into 1-cup lukewarm water and sprinkle evenly over the cabbage. Let it sit for about 2 hours. Shift the cabbage every half hour for even salting. As the water is drawn out of the cabbage, the salt water will eventually cover all the pieces completely. The cabbage should be crunchy but a bit under salted. Rinse a couple times and drain on a colander. Set aside. Discard the salt water and reuse the bowl for stuffing.
To make the stuffing, in a small saucepan, dissolve the sweet rice flour in 2-cups water. Bring to a boil and decrease the heat to medium low. Gently cook for 2 minutes, until it becomes a thin paste, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Let cool a bit. In the large bowl, combine the sweet rice paste, saeu jeot, goch’u garu and freshly grated hot peppers. Mix well into a bright, deep red paste. Add the radishes and the pear. Toss them. Add the remaining ingredients and mix into a tomato-sauce-like consistency.
In the bowl with the stuffing, place all salted cabbages. Wearing rubber gloves, begin to work with one cabbage at a time. Starting with the outer leaves and working in, insert the stuffing between the leaves, smearing it generously on each leaf. Sprinkle an additional pinch of salt to each cabbage heart. Tightly press the leaves together to create a bundle, and transfer it into a 6-quart bowl. Repeat with the remaining cabbage pieces. Press down firmly on the bundles to pack well and remove trapped air bubbles. Use the reserved outer leaves and loose individual leaves to wipe up the remaining stuffing at the bottom and sides of the bowl; spread these leaves to cover the kimchi. Pack well. Add a little salt water to the pan and wipe well the remaining bits and pieces of stuffing at the sides of the bowl. Pour over the kimchi and pack in well. All must be immersed in liquid. Seal the bowl tightly with clinging plastic wrap and cover to keep it dark and cool.
Set aside at room temperature overnight. The next day, ladle some of the juice out of the bowl, taste, and adjust the saltiness by adding either salt or sugar to the kimchi. Let mature at room temperature for 2 days more. Prepare either 1 6-quart wide mouthed jar or 3 2-quart wide mouthed jars with screw top lids. (I find the smaller jars are easier to handle. They also keep the kimchi fresher, longer) Divide into the jars and pack all well. Be sure to leave at least 2-inch headspace each. Close the lids tight and double wrap in plastic wrap. Secure the neck with rubber bands to keep the kimchi tightly sealed. Transfer to the refrigerator to stop the fermentation. The kimchi will stay fresh for 3 months and even quite a bit longer.
Note: Salting secret. According to Korean old wives tales, adding a pinch of salt to the cabbage hearts at the last minute extracts more liquid to keep all immersed in liquid. If needed, be sure to add additional salt water, not plain water. This will present the top of the kimchi from becoming moldy and mushy.
Vegetarian recipe: Please refer to the following recipe. It is the vegetarian version of Whole Cabbage Kimchi.