Wednesday, January 14, 2015
The Unadulterated Joy of Home Fermentation
2014 was a banner year for Mary and me. It was the year we discovered the joy of fermenting your own foods. With that discovery, came an added benefit unsurpassed in its nutritional benefits. Fermented foods are absolutely chock-full of probiotics; these are jars of living food, nourishment for our bodies and souls. There is no greater satisfaction at mealtime then eating food you have grown, processed and put away. And, when you do those things together, it becomes soul food.
2014 was a banner year for our gardens as well, especially the cabbages. Bumper crops were the norm for red cabbage, Napa cabbage and the regular old green cabbage we planted. With all these cabbages and only so many CSA customers, we needed to come up with a way of preserving the cabbage bounty we had on hand. I have never been a big fan of sauerkraut (until we made our own – another story for later) and one can only make so much freezer coleslaw (an old family recipe of Mary’s), so the natural inclination was to make some kimchi.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish with origins dating back to the 12th century. It is basically a mixture of cabbage and an assortment of other vegetables like carrots, radishes, turnips and other root vegetables, fermented and all spiced up to give it a little (or a lot) of zing. Kimchi is a time-honored tradition in Korea with regional and family variations in infinite varieties. It can be fermented for a matter of days, weeks or months, depending on the vegetables used and the season in which it is to be consumed. Winter kimchi was meant to be consumed over the course of the long Korean winter so it was made to ferment slowly over a period of months. The kimchi made during the winter months was used as an addition to main course dishes like soups and stews. Spring and summer kimchi is a much lighter and a quicker ferment, so it is used as a side dish or in salads.
Our first kimchi was pretty simple. Napa cabbage, Daikon radish, chili powder, fish sauce, salt and Sriacha. We fermented the first batch in an old Red Wing 2-gallon crock with a weighted plate on top to keep out the bad bugs. The end result of that first batch was flat-out delicious! We allowed it to work about two weeks and put it into jars. We kept the jars loosely sealed in the basement so they could continue to work and age. It didn’t last long. We gave away a lot of it and ate even more. It became a side dish staple here at our house. Take my word for it, there few things better in life than a little dish of your own kimchi and a dark, malty beer to go with it! Since that time we have refined the recipe and have begun using authentic Korean hot red chili powder, salted fish sauce as well as more traditional Korean equipment.
As you will see over the next few days, this not a difficult process. You do not have to bury the pot in the back yard, nor does it stink up the house. It is simple, not a lot of work and anyone can do it. Just because we have chosen to use some specialized ingredients and equipment, it doesn’t mean you will need to do that. If you don’t have any crocks, you can use a food-grade plastic bucket with a fermentation lock and achieve the same results. We did a batch of sauerkraut in one of those buckets we obtained from one of our CSA clients in Decorah, IA – “From Grain to Glass”. I’m sure Brad and Amber would be happy to set you up and send you the equipment if you contact them with your needs.
Today is January 14th, 2015 and I sitting by the kitchen window watching and waiting for the UPS driver. He is bringing our 10 liter stoneware fermentation pot to us. I have been tracking the shipment ever since I ordered it. This morning at 6:07 AM it left Decorah for our house. Sure wish he delivered in alphabetical order – we’d have had it 2 hours ago! The recipe I will be using for this incredibly informative and entertaining series of blog posts is a basic recipe we found online. As we go through the processes on this batch, we will explain and illustrate each step along the way in an individual post for each step. If you would like to know more about home fermentation in general, I have posted several links and resources at the bottom of this first post.
Sandor Ellix Katz - “The Art of Fermentation” – An in-depth exploration of essential concepts and processes from around the world. Practical information on fermenting vegetables, fruits, grains, milk, beans, meats and more.
Kirsten K. Shockey and Christopher Shockey – “Fermented Vegetables” – Creative recipes for fermenting 64 vegetables and herbs in krauts, kimchis, brined pickles, chutneys, relishes and pastes. (A well-thought and greatly appreciated Christmas gift from our kids)
Lauryn Chun - “The Kimchi Cookbook – 60 Traditional and Modern Ways to Make Kimchi”
Phickle – Cultured Food Life – Cultures for Health