How is Kimchi made?
You've probably heard Koreans say 'We have four distinct seasons'. You may also think 'Umm. Yeah, that's kind of a global norm?'
It's the kind of statement that makes sense if you've actually experienced sweltering heat of a Korean summer and the frigid depths of Korean winter.
I heard a theory that the reason Koreans have the expression (and general approach to life) of ?? ?? ('quickly quickly!') is because the seasons change so abruptly that you can easily get caught unprepared.
Sooooo anyway, what does this have to do with Kimchi?
Well, we mentioned in the last article that Kimchi was a way of preserving vegetables for consumption during the long winter months.
In the build up to winter, the preparation of kimchi was a communal event, involving relatives, neighbors, and enormous quantities of Korean cabbage.
Making kimchi is complicated, as you'd expect for something that has over 500 regional variations.
On a basic level, though, what you are doing is pickling vegetables (radish, cabbage, cucumber etc), and mixing them with other flavored ingredients such as chili pepper powder, garlic, scallion, ginger, and pickled seafood.
When the process is over, the idea is to seal the kimchi in a container, and let it ferment over a period of time.
The end result was stored underground in earthenware jars, where it could be kept at a steady temperature above freezing point, and protected from exposure to the air.
As you would expect with Koreans, the earthenware jars themselves were also part of the process, improving the taste and helping on the fermentation process (critical to the taste, amongst other things).
People don't bury the jars nowadays (although that would be awesome). But they do have fairly awesome refrigerators specifically designed to story kimchi.
Special how, you may ask?
Most refrigerators have a door at the front that opens outwards, but kimchi refrigerators - like their earthenware predecessors - open from the top. Cool, no?
It's not just nostalgia, the design is (and was) on purpose, in order to help minimize the outflow of cold air, and keep a stable temperature. Koreans think these things through.
This positioning is intended to help minimize the outflow of cold air, and keep the temperature inside the refrigerator stable.
But wait, what's going on in normal refrigerators? Isn't the temperature stable? Well, it is, but only because the cold air gets artificially circulated. This results in fruit and vegetables getting dried out.
A Kimchi refrigerator doesn't rely on the air, but relies on what is known as 'direct cooling'. This means that the actual surfaces of the storage area are used to do the cooling - and this means the food stays fresher longer.
Don't have a kimchi refrigerator and a troupe of neighbors and kimchi-experts?
You're in luck. Kimchi can be purchased from Asian grocery stores, and even at some of the larger supermarkets.
Depending on where you are, there is probably a Korean restaurant in your area - the people who run that place will likely have made it a priority to locate the best kimchi that you can get in that area.
This is a series of articles: and although we've covered a lot, we're just getting started.
So till next time, stay well, and eat your kimchi!