Sorry for the delay, things have been crazy in the non-digital world. Things like graduation, packing up, saying goodbye, and moving to a new(ish) city. Those casual things in the oh-so-real world which detract from the safe confines of the blog-universe.
Although just barely so, I’m a bit more settled now then I was, though a deal less so then when I pulled together this kimchi jjigae two weeks ago. At that point, I had time for pickling and fermenting lessons, in addition to a soup-making drive. Never fear, more soups are to come, they’ll just be a little slow coming out over the next couple weeks. But you know my penchance for soup. They can’t stay away for too long…
A couple weeks ago, I got the lovely opportunity to partake in the bimonthly kimchi extravaganza at a roommate’s house. Here is the proof. As it turns out, kimchi is a thing made best without a recipe. A legacy of knowledge is really all you need. Casual, I know.
What goes into good kimchi? A flat of Napa cabbage to start, between 20 and 30 heads or so. Winter cabbage is best, but kimchi production waits for no season. After that, there’s the overgrown daikon-like radish with an intense acetic and peppery aftertaste, thinly sliced and mixed in with a ton of scallions. Grind together high-quality Korean red pepper flakes, smoky and crimson by the cupful, handfuls of ginger and garlic paste, a bit of the finest Korean salt, pounds of ground brine shrimp procured and smuggled across oceans from the kimchi-land, and a healthy dash or eight of fish sauce, and you’ve got a fire paste ready to be combined with the radish and then tenderly smeared between every leaf and in every crevasse of whole cabbage-halves that have spent the night stepping in salt-water, only to be rinsed clean.
Rinsing is essential I learnt that night, over the course of two hours. Meticulous rinsing is what really separates homemade kimchi from those store bought drums. Just the tiniest bit of dirt can really through a kink in a container of kimchi’s flavor, particularly the older it gets.
This being 2012, respectable kimchi production ends in a specialized kimchi-fridge produced by Samsung. This fridge ferments, chills, and stores kimchi indefinitely, or until there is no more kimchi to be had. Being an American, and in college, I was sent home with my own glass barrel which I left in a cool, dry place for three days before moving to an old beer fridge in the basement which has since turned into a kimchi fridge.
I’m addicted, it’s true.
But that ordeal, that glimpse into a world of fermentation and chili powder and a nation’s pickle, was really all for Jjigae. Kimchi jjigae, my absolute favorite Korean food. (Big claim, check in with me next week and I’ll have moved on to jap chae…) After you’ve got the kimchi, really everything else is easy. Jjigae is a fiery hot soup loaded with pork and little else if you’re following traditional recipes. It’s hot, flavorful, and deep, and really the best thing to slurp down when you have a bit of a head cold. Being atypical i.e. a newbie, I threw in some noodles, a bit of soy sauce, and a little honey to brighten the earthiness of the kimchi soup, but my instructions from my Korean kimchi-guide (my roommate’s mother) were to simply sear, sauté, and simmer. That’s all you need for a good jjigae.
After all, it’s all about the kimchi.
Recipe on the following page.