Ask Chef Boy Ari
Kimchi Advice—the Good, the Bad and the Easy
Q: Dear Ari,
I want to try making kimchi. I was talking to someone who said they heard you let the Napa cabbage sit a little bit in the fridge or the garage first and let it break down and rot a little bit before making kimchi. Do you think there is any truth to this?
A: Kimchi Grasshopper,
I have, in my time, attempted my share of kimchi batches. Along the way I've done research and read many recipes, running the gamut from pretty darn easy to insanely complicated. And while there are some traditional techniques that are quite bucolic—such as fermenting your kimchi in a buried ceramic crock—I've never heard of this "pre-rotting" technique, which sounds to me like a crock of another sort.
If I squint my mind, I think I can see the logic behind your hot tip, which sounds like a rotten rumor to me. It goes something like this: Since kimchi is fermented cabbage, and fermented is basically the same thing as rotten or old, then doing a little pre-rotting just gets things rolling. Perhaps this is the logic of someone trying to put a positive spin on cabbage they let go bad. Who knows? But I can find no information to support this theory.
Of all the techniques I've tried, I'm almost embarrassed to admit the one that succeeds without fail—delivering stunning consistency and quality, and the easiest by far—is making a marinating sauce from NOH Korean Kim Chee Mix powder. Mixing your own sauce doesn't have to be rocket science, depending on the recipe—just be forewarned that many recipes require lengthy marination time. Whether you want to disassemble your head of Napa (or Chinese) cabbage leaf by leaf and massage your sauce into every fold, as some recipes call for, is up to you.
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