Wednesday, November 21, 2012

'Tis the Season for Kimjang

Kimjang (김장): The Korean tradition of gathering together to make large quantities of kim chi just before the winter months.

This year, since we are living in a hanok with a big madang (courtyard), I figured it would be only appropriate to have our own kimjang, or kim chi making party. Traditionally, Korean families get together around this time of year and make huge quantities of kim chi. 20-30 heads of cabbage would be considered normal, but a large, extended family may come together and prepare 100-500 heads of kim chi to last throughout the winter.

I didn't plan to make nearly as much myself. We originally planned to buy 20 kilos of pre-preserved cabbage to make kim chi (about 10 heads of kim chi), but then a friend offered to bring some fresh cabbage from her parent's organic farm outside of Seoul. While this was a little more difficult, we decided it was the better option, and so Saturday night our friend showed up with a car full of 30 big heads of cabbage and about 10 radishes.

A lot of cabbages. And the white bag is full of radishes

We set straight away to preserving the cabbage for the next day's kimjang. My house became a fury of cabbages, leaves were flying everywhere as the cabbages were quartered, washed and placed in my bathtub which was full of salt water.

Expert cabbage chopper

My bathtub full of cabbages. Not sure what we would have done if we hadn't had a bathtub...

That was just the beginning, though. Next we preserved each individual cabbage by rubbing salt all over and between each leaf. We added them all to a bag and then added more salty water for them to soak overnight. In the end, though, we only wound up preserving 20 heads of cabbage. 30 would have been just, plain, too much.

Cabbage with lots of salt

First thing the next morning we headed out to Gyeongdong Market to buy our supplies for the event. We had no idea how much we were going to pay but we had our first shock at the price of garlic: 10,000 won for one kilo. The sticker shock continued, 30,000 won for 2.5 kilos of (Chinese) red pepper powder (if we had bought the Korean red pepper powder it would have been 20,000/ 500g), 10,000 won for a kilo of fermented shrimp, 6,000 for 500 g of oysters. It suddenly gave me an appreciation for how much Korean families spend to make/buy kim chi every year. And we didn't even have to buy the cabbage and radishes.

Buying lots of red pepper powder at the market

Most, but not all of the ingredients for the sauce

We brought all the supplies home and the friends started rolling through the door to help. It was time to prepare the ingredients for the kim chi sauce. We started with the green onions and moved our way through radishes, onions, garlic, ginger, and even some regional additions like sweet potato, carrot and sea weed. All these were added together along with red pepper powder in a big bowl and mixed to created a huge bowl of chunky, red, spicy sauce.

preparing spring onions

Shredding radishes and carrots

Chopping sweet potatoes

Chopping more radish

Having some fun while mixing the sauce

Close up of the sauce

As some of us prepared the sauce, others were out in the courtyard washing the salt off the cabbages to prepare them to be made into kim chi. 

Washing the salt off the cabbages

Finally, after nearly 3 hours of preparation, it was time to do the part everyone was waiting for. Turning the cabbage into kim chi. While it would have been better to do it outside, it was so chilly today that we kept working in the kitchen, despite the lack of space and the mess.  You must be very careful when adding the sauce to the kim chi, you need to make sure that each leaf has got enough sauce, and you need to make sure that there is enough sauce, even at the base of the cabbage.

Turning the cabbage into kim chi... 

And having a little fun too...

Despite having 20 heads of cabbage to add sauce to, this part of the afternoon seemed to fly by. Before we knew it, we had all 20 cabbages done. 

(Some of) the finished product

We added the finished product into various containers for folks to bring home and we put all of ours into a 항아리 (hangari) which most foreigners know as "kim chi pots". Actually we've had these pots for months and have used them for everything but kim chi,  but finally we were able to put them to use for their most well known use.

Hangari filled with kim chi

At long last, we were able to sit back and relax, and of course, what better way than with some bossam? Boiled pork wrapped in cabbage leaves (both fresh and preserved), spicy sauce, oysters and fermented shrimp. 

Bossam for dinner

While not everyone has the time/ energy/ budget/ space to do their own kimjang, everyone should try making their own kimchi, at least once. There's many recipes online both in English and Korean, but when it comes down to it, you need to follow your own taste buds. Each region and even each family has their own recipe, so there's no right or wrong. I will not use measurements here because it all depends on how much you make and your own taste.

The following ingredients are the most basic: 
  • Red pepper powder 고추가루
  • radish 무
  • rice porridge for thickening 찹쌀죽
  • garlic 마늘
  • ginger 생강
  • fermented shrimp* 새우젓
  • Anchovy sauce* 멸치액젓
*can be omitted for vegetarian kim chi

however we got creative and combined several family recipes by adding:
  • apple 사과
  • carrot 당근
  • sweet potato 고구마
  • sea weed  청각
  • green onion 쪽파
  • 'gat' (a green leafy vegetable) 갓

Have you ever made kim chi? What special ingredients did you add?

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