One year my cabbage crop was so abundant I got tired of making sauerkraut. I think I had canned ten dozen quarts of it, but I still had a few heads of cabbage left over. For whatever reason I happened to think about the Korean pickled cabbage product named Kim Chee. A bit of Internet searching to gain some knowledge about Kim Chee convinced me that it was worth trying to make, as it has a reputation for being very pungent with garlic and ginger and hot also due to the use of hot peppers.
Some recipes involve fermentation and some do not. I chose the latter way of making it. As usual, I sought a variety of recipes on the Internet, thought about the pros and cons of each, and then I put together my own recipe and tried it. Wow! It is potent stuff and very tasty. I tried it with a few friends and family and about six of us really liked it.
Kim Chee is a very potent tasting cabbage dish that is best served cold on a relish tray (or eaten out of a jar with a fork!). The mixture of fresh ginger, garlic, hot peppers(habaneros), sugar and vinegar is responsible for the pungent smell and flavor.
This recipe makes about nine pints of Kim Chee. You can keep the finished product in double Ziploc® freezer bags (double to avoid having the pungent smell get into other food products) in your refrigerator or you may simply store it in a jar in your refrigerator or you can can it or use your vacuum sealer. Canning is the best method in terms of a longer shelf life and canning makes it easy to give to friends and family as a gift. If you can it in pint jars, 10 minutes in a boiling water bath is fine. It has a shelf life of about two years if canned.
The second year that I made Kim Chee I decided to try vacuum sealing it in pint bags and simply refrigerating it to see how long it would remain fresh and safe. The short answer is that it was still great after six months and still edible after a year, but I decided the six month limit to be the best choice. In any event, vacuum sealing sure took a lot of the work out of processing, and it resulted in a better finished product because it wasn’t heated for any period of time as it was when I canned it. Even better, vacuum sealing followed by refrigeration made it very simple to give the Kim Chee as a gift to friends and family.
Enough background … Here is the recipe. It is easy and fun and open to whatever variations you might want to try after your first batch. That means you might want to try small batches by scaling down this recipe. I actually bought some Kim Chee a few years later just to compare it to my product. They were apparently similar in ingredients, the only ingredient differences being the commercial product used red pepper instead of hot peppers and it also contained some type of anchovy sauce, which mine does not. A taste test comparison caused me to drop the bottle of commercial stuff directly into the garbage can. Mine is vastly superior.
Two large heads of cabbage
1½ gallons of salt brine with a ratio of ½ cup of Kosher salt per quart of water
2 fresh habanero peppers (or use 4 hot cherry peppers instead of the habanero peppers for a milder Kim Chee)
2 fresh hot cherry peppers
2 medium size onions or one large onion, diced
½ tsp. of Cayenne (red) pepper
5 (or more) large fresh cloves of garlic, diced
3 tsp. of finely diced fresh ginger root
2 cups of white distilled vinegar
1 1/2 cups of sugar
Start with two large heads of regular cabbage. Cut the cabbages into strips about one inch by two inches and put the strips into a five gallon plastic (food grade) pail. You can buy suitable pails with lids at Home Depot® … in white, not colored plastic.
Add salt water to the pail (1/2 cup of coarse or Kosher salt per quart of water, well mixed until the salt is dissolved). You will need about one and one half gallons of the salt water to have enough to submerge the cabbage pieces under a weighted dinner plate. Do that, put the lid on and let the cabbage soak overnight.
Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the ingredients and store them in a double plastic Ziploc® freezer bag in your refrigerator or in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Be sure to wear latex or nitrile gloves while handling the hot peppers. Never touch your eyes or your genitals while working with hot peppers. If you must use the bathroom then discard the gloves first and wash your hands to be safe. Afterwards, put on a new pair of latex or nitrile gloves before resuming work with the hot peppers. Also, have a well-ventilated room to work in because fumes from habanero (and other) peppers can be so intense you can have trouble breathing.
Okay … clean and dice two habanero peppers (pieces about ¼ inch square), or instead, four red cherry peppers. Do the other two red cherry peppers (hot or mild ones) and the five cloves (or more) of fresh garlic. Peel the fresh ginger root and slice it crosswise very thinly to make three teaspoons of finely sliced ginger. Dice the slices of ginger. Dice two medium size onions. Put all these ingredients into a gallon Ziploc® freezer bag or into a one quart canning jar. Add the sugar and 2 cups of white distilled vinegar. Mix well and close the bag/screw on the lid, eliminating as much air as possible if you use a freezer bag. Then place the bag inside another gallon Ziploc® freezer bag and close it the same way. Refrigerate the mixture overnight, allowing it to marinate.
The next morning, drain the salt water from the cabbage, reserving a few cups of the salt water, but do not rinse the cabbage. Leave it in the five gallon pail. Then add the refrigerated marinated other ingredients to the cabbage. Wear latex or nitrile gloves and mix well by hand.
If you plan to can the Kim Chee, then prepare (sterilize) nine wide mouth pint jars with lids and inserts. Then stuff each jar tightly with the cabbage and the other ingredients. When all the jars are stuffed, then use the liquid from the pail to bring the liquid level in the canning jars up, evenly in all jars, to the proper level (the glass rim about ¾ of an inch below the top). Be sure to get rid of any air trapped inside the jar by pressing on the cabbage mixture after adding the liquid. If you run short of liquid, use some of the reserved salt water and top off the jars as necessary. Make sure that no Kim Chee mixture is above the glass rim/liquid. Clean the top rims of the jars and put on the inserts and screw the lids on securely. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for ten minutes. Then remove the jars and let them cool, rechecking the tightness of the lids before cooling. Jars of Kim Chee prepared this way are easily kept for one to two years in any storage cupboard, provided the jars seal as they are supposed to do after cooling from the boiling water bath. You will hear the lid centers pop down as the jars cool.
If you decide instead to store the Kim Chee directly in your refrigerator without canning, then pack it and the liquid tightly and evenly into two, one gallon Ziploc® freezer bags (or into large canning jars). Expel as much air as possible from each bag and seal the bag. Let it sit at room temperature for about two hours. The delay allows the cabbage to soften somewhat and absorb the flavors of the marinade. Then, open each bag a little and compress the mixture as much as possible and thus expel all air and then reseal each bag. Put each sealed bag inside another one gallon Ziploc® freezer bag. Expel the air and seal the second bag. Refrigerate the Kim Chee and use it within two months.
If you process the Kim Chee with a vacuum sealer as I do, simply refrigerate the finished product, and use it within six months. This is my preferred method. I also think smaller batches make more sense unless you are giving the Kim Chee to others as a gift. Similarly, small batches favor quick turnaround, which gives you more freedom to try recipe variations. Looking down the road, I expect to use a food preservation chemical, like sodium benzoate, along with pasteurizing and vacuum sealing to produce a product that can be stored in a pantry for up to year.
Do remember to serve Kim Chee chilled/cold, directly from the refrigerator. And don’t be put off if the first bite or two seems to be too potent. Just eat a few more pieces and you will become hooked on the stuff. It is easy to eat half a jarful without even realizing it.