A Jar is Born. Creating Killer Kimchi with Chef E.J. Jeong of Cham Korean Bistro. !iT Café. Los Angeles, CA.
My first homemade kimchi (with a little assist from Chef E.J. Jeong).
20 days ago I embarked on a magical journey of fermentation. It was alchemy, really, when you consider that the process began with plain old napa cabbage and (in just over 2 weeks) resulted in nothing short of kimchi gold.
The spice is right!
The sorcery starts when napa cabbage is brined. Rice powder paste fused with an amalgamation of green onion, Asian pears, garlic, chili powder, Fresno peppers, stinky anchovy sauce, even stinkier salted shrimp sauce, Korean chives, julienned Korean radish, fresh chopped shrimp and a few other choice ingredients, all combined to make the flavorful marinade that is so critical to lip-smackingly good kimchi.
Old school kimchi.
Chef E.J. Jeong schooled the kimchi-curious on how this ultimate Korean food can be made relatively easily at home. Glass jars were used instead of clay pots. Fermentation would take place in the fridge instead of under earth.
Chef E.J. Jeong droppin' the kimchi knowledge.
Her technique, though fairly easy to grasp, stresses the importance of coddling the kimchi and having patience with it. The stinky, salty, spicy mixture should be applied several times to the cabbage, inside and out, and the cabbage itself rotated every 2 hours for 6 hours. This ensures the flavors are well distributed in every fold and crevice — a kick and a stink with each bite.
Latex gloves were provided so we wouldn't get spicy hands. However, Chef Jeong explained that any Korean mother worth her kochujang would never be caught dead making kimchi with gloves. Your hands, you see, add the love, the unexplainable flavor.
Our kimchi making party was in a marginal way reflective of the massive kimchi making gathering in Korea where neighbors numbering in the hundreds would get together to make kimchi for a single family's winter supply. That's a lot of kimchi!
After laboring on my jar of kimchi (half of which Chef E.J. finessed), I took a snack break and chowed down on Cham Bistro's trio of delicate tofu pockets (spicy tuna, sautéed kimchi with candied anchovies, seaweed), ahi tuna "lollipop" with chimichurri sauce and roasted kale chips.
CHAMtails, the kimchi maker's best friend.
Ricardo Carrera-Lowe, Cham's Director of Operations, doubled up by playing mixologist and served some specialty CHAMtails made with Korean wild raspberry, sparkling wine and yuzu. There was also a tasty libation concocted of makgeolli (a Korean rice wine), pineapple, agave syrup and Sprite. I could only wonder if any of these boozy beverages paired with my custom kimchi.
Spiced, sealed, delivered!
Finally, my very own jar of kimchi was sealed and tagged with the strict instructions of not to eat until 20 days have past. Well, those days have finally come and gone. My patience was pushed to the brink and my reward for waiting sat in the fridge, fermenting still.
The mysterious little enzymes, lactic acids and bacteria called my jar their playground for roughly a fortnight. What they did in there exactly, I'm not sure. What I do know is that they were conspiring on something tasty. I was so excited for this 20th day that as soon as my alarm rang on my iPhone, I sprang from my bed and headed straight for the fridge. It would be kimchi and coffee for breakfast this fine morning. Maybe some Zantac for dessert.
Opening the kimchi jar was like releasing a benevolent genie of goodness...and stinkiness. The bouquet of smells — pungent, spicy and distinctly kimchi — wafted through my nostrils and tickled the back of my mouth making me salivate like an inbred bulldog. I lingered in this moment. The best part of waking up is kimchi on your plate.
I yanked out the small head of fermented napa and savagely ripped a leaf off with my teeth. The deafening crunch was startling. I didn't expect such confident texture after 20 days of festering in its own juices. 20 days of constant flavoring, though, made this humble vegetable into an object of worship. The fusion of flavors, fermentation, homemade TLC and, not to mention, the wonderful gang of anchovies and shrimp ingredients lit up my taste buds like the Fourth of July. The deliciousness was profoundly deep. The savoriness, spiciness and stinkiness achieved their maximum greatness. It all goes south from here. But, of course, going south in the winter can actually be a good thing especially if it's kimchi.
CHAM Korean Bistro
851 Cordova Street
Pasadena, CA 91101
(Kimchi making event is occasionally scheduled. Kimchi event is also NOT held at CHAM Korean Bistro. Call for details.)