“I started eating kimchi when I was three years old,” says Melbourne restaurant Bistro K’s chef Jae Park as he rubs deep red chilli powder between cabbage leaves. Park moved to Australia four years ago and almost immediately missed his mother’s kimchi. “It’s a very simple recipe,” he says, “it just takes time.”
If you haven’t tried it already – it’s popping up everywhere these days, not just Korean restaurants – kimchi is a traditional Korean dish most commonly made from Chinese cabbage laced with chilli, doused in salt and left to soak in the flavour. There is no set way to make it; from white kimchi without chilli to fresh coastal kimchi with raw seafood, the variety is endless. Central Korean kimchi is deeply flavoured and heavily fermented, while some recipes don’t even use cabbage. “Most Australian restaurants use factory kimchi,” says Park, but he imports his own gochugaru chilli powder, chasing the taste of his mother’s recipe.
Although fermented cabbage hardly sounds delectable, kimchi is incredibly versatile. It can be featured as a side dish, in pancakes, in fried rice, in broths, braised with ribs, or to spice up a stir-fry. Before fridges, Koreans buried their kimchi in the cold winter earth and endured the chilly season with kimchi soups and stews.
Drop into your local Asian grocer and enter the curious, tangy world of kimchi.
Ingredients 3 large Chinese cabbage 100g pear 100g apple 100g brown onion 20g ginger 150g garlic 50g Korean dried anchovies or mulchi 10g dried seaweed or dasima 300ml fish sauce 400g gochugaru, Korean coarse chilli powder 500g daikon or white radish cut into two-inch matchsticks Garlic chives cut into 2-inch pieces Coarse sea salt
- Cut cabbage lengthways and soak in salty water for 10 minutes.
- Remove cabbage from water and rub each layer with coarse sea salt. Place in airtight container and leave for at least 6 hours.
- In a pot, combine 300ml of water with dried anchovies and seaweed. Bring to the boil and reduce for 30 minutes to make 200ml of anchovy stock.
- Fill sink with cold water and wash cabbage to remove salt. Drain, repeat and drain again.
- In a food processor, blend pear, apple, onion, ginger, garlic, anchovy stock and fish sauce until smooth. Pour into small bowl and add gochugaru, daikon and chives. Mix together by hand.
- Rub mixture into each layer of drained cabbage, coating evenly between the leaves.
- In an airtight container, press plastic wrap onto cabbage and secure lid. Let stand at room temperature for one to two days until cabbage is tangy and bubbling. Move to fridge and leave for up to six months. The longer it’s left, the stronger it tastes. Park recommends waiting at least a week.