08 January 2010

Kimchi — salted, spiced cabbage from Korea

You probably wouldn't think of somebody in France making Korean food. Much less making the "pickled" or fermented, spiced raw cabbage dish called Kimchi or Kim Chee. But that's exactly what I've been doing.

It started when our friends Susan and Simon at Days on the Claise recently went back to Australia for Christmas. Their flight involved a long layover in Seoul, where Simon worked as a teacher years back. Then Jean of A Very Grand Pressigny mentioned that she had talked to them about the possibility of having a Kimchi dinner.

Kimchi in a tin that we bought at a grocery store in Paris

Earlier than that, through another blogger — Justin, an American who lives now in Paris — we heard about a restaurant serving both Japanese and Korean specialties in the Paris neighborhood where another friend has his apartment. We've been wanting to go have a meal there for a while now, but haven't had the opportunity. We had bought some little tins of Kimchi in Paris.

Ingredients in Korean, English, and — on a pasted-on label — French

So Kimchi, a food that we like and know from the days nearly 30 years ago when we lived in Washington DC, became an idea that I couldn't avoid — incontournable, comme on dit. I had to do something about it. Kimchi is cabbage, after all, and Walt and I both love cabbage, cooked or raw. And cabbage is plentiful and cheap right now in France. It's the season. Besides, cabbage is good for you.

Here's what my Kimchi ended up looking like. One cabbage
produced a good quantity.
It keeps for weeks or months
in the refrigerator, and improves over time.

I went to SuperU the other day to buy some other things, and I happened to notice big heads of Savoy cabbage — un chou pommé — on sale in the produce section for 90 eurocents apiece. That did it. We had all the other ingredients in the house. I had looked at recipes on the Internet and seen that I would need salt, sugar, garlic, ginger, onion, fish sauce, and red pepper flakes or paste. Check.

Savoy cabbage salted down and draining for 24 to 48 hours

I found a French recipe posted on a blog with the title « Kimchi maison » — home-made kimchi — as well as several recipes in English. The French one looked like the best candidate. Savoy cabbage wasn't really the kind of cabbage most of the recipes called for when it came to making kimchi, but it was what I found. Most recommend what is called chou chinois or Napa cabbbage.

Anyway, I had a project that was perfect for these cold, gray winter days. Needless to say, there aren't any Korean restaurants in Saint-Aignan, and I've never seen Kimchi in the supermarkets either. The French version of salted, fermented cabbage, of course, is choucroute — sauerkraut. I've never made that from scratch, but it would be another good project.

Here's a link to my second topic about making kimchi.


  1. I love kim chee although I never go to Korean restaurants. It's always served as an amuse bouche at my favorite Chinese restaurant in Berkeley and here I get it in Japanese restaurants on rue Sainte-Anne.

    I don't think I'd want jars and jars of it though. And isn't there a danger of it exploding as it continues to ferment?

  2. That is a brave thing to do but I guess when it is -2 C at 2 pm, why not! All fermented food is supposed to be heatlthy.

  3. I've never had Kimchi. I'm sure it's good, if YOU made it, Ken! I can't really imagine the taste.

    Ken, I could have sworn that you had made choucroute? But, then I googled, and found your former posts where you talked about buying the choucroute raw, but cooking it yourself -- so, you just hadn't ever actually done the salting and fermenting yourself?

    So, what will you eat the Kimchi with?


  4. david lebovitz makes kim chee ....check his blog for references

  5. Shelli, I'll keep an eye on it and listen for explosions. You might hear them as far away as Paris...

    Nadège, brave, I don't know. But we ate some at noon and it was very good.

    Judy, I've never made the actual choucroute but I used to be able to buy it "raw" at the market. Nowadays all they seem to sell is the choucroute already cooked in wine, and I'd rather do that myself. So maybe I'll have to salt down some cabbage and make my own.

    Melinda, thanks. David L. seems to have done about the same thing I've done. My kimchi has grated carrot in it, and as we know carrot improves everything.

  6. You really peaked my interest. I once lived next door to a Korean war bride and she taught me how to make Kimchi. It is much too long since I made it and now I am so hungry for it. When my brother was stationed in Korea with the Air Force, the Koreans buried it in the ground in jars to ferment. The smell can be..strong. Enjoy it.

  7. Your new header is just perfect. It makes me want to be there right now.
    On second thoughts, no not really but its beautiful to look at.

  8. Susan, I plan to do another post about Kimchi to describe how it is made. Stay tuned. Thanks for your comment.

  9. Tom wants to make Kimchi and your post probably will get him to do that.
    We have made saurkraut a few time, sometimes with green cabbage and sometimes with red. The red makes a very pretty dish. Just be sure the cabbage is very fresh. Otherwise it will spoil before it is done fermenting.

  10. Harriett, we really like the kimchi we made, some of which we probably ate before the fermentation was complete. We suffered no ill effects and really enjoyed the taste. The rest of the kimchi is down in the cellar in jars, fermenting I hope.

    I used Savoy cabbage (you know my first Illinois residence was in Savoy so I was pleased at the coincidence) and not Napa or Nappa cabbage. I salted it heavily and let it marinate for nearly 48 hours before rinsing in thoroughly. More in a future blog post.


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