So November is Kimjang season – the time to make cabbage kimchi. And it’s a huge job for my parents-in-law to make enough kimchi for the whole family for a year! (Or at least until spring) And this year we got involved too.
Further south in Korea, kimchi recipes can include more seafood products like raw fish or oysters, but my mother-in-law’s side of the family comes from Pyongan Province (now part of North Korea) and so she prefers to keep it simple with the basic ingredients of fish sauce and fermented shrimps.
Most of the hard work was already done by the time we sauntered up for the kimjang weekend. The first job was actually GROWING THE VEGETABLES…
All the vegetables used in this kimchi – moo-radish (daikon), napa cabbage, garlic, mustard leaves, spring onions, and chillies – were all grown on my parents-in-law’s farm. (Everything except the ginger) And it’s all organic. So they must have spent hours meticulously picking caterpillars out of cabbage leaves. The red chillies had been picked and dried and crushed into chilli powder well in advance.
The cabbage station was already set up with 50 heads of home-grown cabbages each one cut into quarters lengthways. The cabbages had been washed and salted and washed again. A big job.
Making the SOK 속 KIMCHI FILLING
My sister-in-law and her family arrived the day before us and got cracking slicing the moo-radishes. So by the time we arrived on Saturday morning there was a man-size plastic bath full of radish (cut julienne) ready.
At this point it was time for US to put the Marigold gloves on and start WORKING too.
For the yangneom spicy sauce ingredients, crushed ginger, crushed garlic, fermented shrimps, chilli powder, salt, fish sauce, maesil plum syrup, and some beef stock were all mixed together with the sliced radish into a thick, rich paste.
My mother-in-law was in charge of adding the ingredients while everyone else gathered around the bath and mixed the ingredients together all wearing elbow-length rubber gloves. I can’t give you any specific recipe measurements. After doing this every year for 50 years my mother-in-law just seems to know how much to add – another cup of chilli here or another handful of crushed garlic there until the radish tastes ‘right’ and very flavourful.
Getting the balance between too salty and not salty enough is tricky. But if the mix gets a bit too salty you can add more plum syrup – we used more than 2 litres here! Then ‘a big bag’ of leaf mustard (갓 gat) and sliced spring onions were added and mixed in thoroughly.
This is quite hard work since you have to get your arms right to the bottom of the bath under all the radish and turn it over to get the sauce up and mixed in properly.
Filling prepared it was time to get the cabbages.
A basket of cabbages was emptied into the middle of the ‘kimjang mat’ which looks like a small children’s paddling pool! Kimjang mats are now being advertised on the home shopping channels and online shopping malls like this one on Interpark.
My mother-in-law scooped a load of the radish filling out of the bath and onto the mat and with gloves on we had to spread thin layers of the filling in-between each layer of cabbage.
From this point there was much discussion about HOW MUCH filling to put in between each leaf. It was agreed that too much radish is bad. But that too little radish is also bad. But how much is too much? And how much is too little?
I must admit that I had been taking quite a relaxed approach to the filling procedure believing that I could hide my amateur cabbages amongst my mother-in-law’s professional ones. That was until some bright spark – I think it was MR KIM my own husband- suggested we each take home the kimchi that we made ourselves. The rationale being that this way no one could complain about anyone else’s cabbage filling technique.
And so it was agreed that my parents-in-law would keep theirs, my sister-in-law’s family would take theirs, and we would take ours. I had to sit up and take things more seriously at this point and Mr Kim may live to regret that suggestion! He’s very picky about kimchi.
When all the layers of cabbage are filled you have to ‘fold’ the cabbage in half and wrap one of the outer leaves around it to hold everything together.
It was a bit cold sitting outside and our hands got cold too handling the cabbages so we were wearing normal gloves under the plastic gloves!
Everyone was ready for break time…
For lunch there was pork and chicken wraps with cabbage leaves and kimchi filling. And SOJU of course.
After lunch it was back to work for the final furlong.
The last few cabbages were used to make gotcheori kimchi (겉절이) which is more like a kimchi salad. It’s not not left out to ferment and is best eaten quite quickly once it’s made. The leaves are ripped up by our gloved hands and mixed with more mustard leaves, garlic, ginger, and plum syrup.
So that was it. The kimchi was boxed up and ready to take home. It needs to be left out for a couple of days before being put in the kimchi fridge.
Then all that was left to do was hose down the the bowls and equipment and kimchi mat. And now we have enough kimchi for another year!
We were done and dusted by tea time and ready for a nap.
For more on kimchi, here’s a post I did on the 5 things I learned at the kimchi museum (yes, there is one)