Sandorkraut, or Sandor Ellix Katz, is a curious figure. A self-described “fermentation revivalist,” Katz has taken the foodie world by storm. He made 2009’s CHOW 13 for his food activism and promotion of fermentation to the point it’s been dubbed “the new bacon.” After hearing all the fermentation hype, purported health benefits, and preservation effects (let’s face it — if you like food, you will never have enough fridge space), fermentation seemed a worthy cause.
Thus, we focus on kimchi and kaktugi (spicy fermented radish), the high-fiber, spicy-sour Korean side dishes considered to be among the “world’s healthiest foods.” Katz’ “recipe” proved to be a loose framework to transform vegetable scraps into their pickled relatives — not a particularly high level of Korean kimchi authenticity. Instead, we start from a how-to video from Maangchi, a home cook who has developed a remarkable following for her recipes and YouTube videos.
Producing the kimchi and kaktugi seems far more daunting than it truly is. We’ve edited Maangchi’s recipe to reflect the stock of a local Korean grocery store, Kim’s Oriental Market of 689 Snelling Ave N, St. Paul. Out went the Asian chives, as did the fresh oysters; white radishes (which have a sweeter, milder flavor than their red-skinned cousins) and kochukaru (coarse red pepper flakes) are imperative and easy-to-find. If you’re not fortunate enough to have a nice stoneware crock, the poor man’s alternative will do — buy gallon-sized glass jars of pickles, dispose of their contents, and fill them with a solution of bleach and water for a few days to provide perfectly sized storage containers.
Kimchi and Kaktugi (Spicy Fermented Cabbage and Radishes)
Makes around two gallons (one of each kind)
2 heads of Napa cabbage
Kosher or pickling salt
3-3 ½ white radishes, peeled and diced into one-inch cubes
Rinse the cabbage to remove any dirt. Cut the cabbage in half; then cut in half again. In a large (preferably glass or stoneware, as they are nonreactive) bowl, sprinkle salt between each cabbage leaf, concentrating the salt at the base of the stalk. Pack the cabbages into the bowl and leave to sit for four hours, rotating the cabbage halfway through. Sprinkle the cubed radishes with ½ cup of salt and do the same — let them rest for four hours, mixing the radishes after two hours. Near the end of this four-hour salting period, prepare the paste (below).
1 c garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1-inch piece of ginger, minced
3 c water
½ c sweet rice flour (Mochiko) or regular all-purpose flour
¼ c sugar
1 c fish sauce
3-4 c coarsely ground hot pepper flakes (kochukaru) — buy these from a Korean market
7 green onions, coarsely sliced on the diagonal
Purée the garlic, onion, and ginger in a blender or food processor. Set aside. Heat the water and flour together, stirring constantly, until thick and softly boiling. Add the sugar and stir about a minute, or until it dissolves. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool. To the water-flour-sugar “porridge,” add the puréed garlic, onion, and ginger; stir in the fish sauce, hot pepper, and green onions. This constitutes the flavor paste for both the kimchi and kaktugi.
After the four hours of salting are up, wash the cabbage and radishes in a colander with water until they lose the slippery feeling and super-salty taste. Trim the hard base from the cabbage and chop crosswise into roughly bite-sized pieces. Mix the cabbage and half of the kimchi paste in a large bowl, coating each leaf evenly. Then pack the cabbage into a gallon-size jar (or crock, or other container). Do the same for the radishes with the remaining paste, and set the jars aside in an unobtrusive corner (room temperature or slightly cooler) for a day or two.
Here comes the tricky part: making adjustments. After a day or two, taste the kimchi and kaktugi to see if you like the flavor balance. Sometimes the mixture could use more fish sauce, or perhaps more pepper — use your intuition, and keep in mind that the flavor will continue to change. As time goes on, you’ll find that the smell becomes more pungent and the taste more acidic — this is a natural part of the fermentation process, and a desirable effect to achieve. Put the “finished” product in the refrigerator when you’re pleased with the sourness of the vegetables. You can eat your kimchi right away, though it should reach its peak flavor after about two weeks in the refrigerator. As long as it remains refrigerated, it should keep indefinitely.
After a couple of attempts, my kimchi has garnered praise from a few Korean friends, who say it can compete with the best of them! The simple process, as time-consuming as it seems, is well worth it.