sour hot salty bitter stinky goodness

kimchee jarI love daikon radish, maybe too much because I tend to grow too much of them at once. It doesn’t help that I’m the only person in my family who eats them.

I think back to fond childhood memories of hot summer afternoons when my father would enjoy a turnip and a beer on the weekends while watching a Red Sox game on TV. He would peel the fist sized white and purple root in one long spiral strand, then eat it slice by slice, pulling the knife across the edge of the sphere, using his thumb as a stop. If I were quiet, he might hand me a slice every so often. This crunchy cool vegetable would taste the way green looked, then provide a little scorching pop in the sinuses and out the ears. The aftertaste was best: a lingering mustardy burn that would persist in the back of the throat, reinforced by the occasional burp.

When I grew old enough to handle a paring knife myself, and skilled enough to disrobe a turnip in a single spiral, I would try to recreate this experience, but was never satisfied with the taste of the turnips I found. They were more bitter than “bite-y” and could be soft, without the pleasant toothy snap-crunch I remembered. I also tried radishes which produced the crunch I was after, but were either too hot, or too bland, and didn’t offer the a-peel-ing size of a good Globe Turnip.
Daikon Radish
I had seen the enormous daikon radishes long before I tried them, but their foreignness and size intimidated me. When I finally got a round to trying a piece, I realized that I had rediscovered those childhood summer turnips: crunchy with just a pop of heat, followed by the long mellow after burn.

It follows that I will proceed to grow the food I like because fresher is always better, and you have more access to the variety of tastes and texture when you are choosing seed packets and not the finished product — and in the case of daikon radish, it’s not quite the volume king at American supermarkets. You’re lucky to even be able to find one kind, and there’s no telling how long it had sat on the shelf (or in a warehouse) before you arrived. The trouble with daikon is that a seed packet will plant a row about 20 feet long, of about 80 to 100 plants, and each one of those plants could grow a two foot long blank white root thicker than your forearm weighing a couple pounds. That’s a couple hundred pounds of daikon from a little packet of seeds.

One season I did a daikon trial for a local seed company and grew fifteen ten foot rows — that’s many hundreds of pounds of daikon. That’s too much, especially when that summer turnip experience will use up all of two or three roots for the summer. I tried cooking with daikon, and preparing it in different salads, and that helps, but uses maybe another two or three roots. That leaves about 75 roots to feed to our cows.

Until it hit me: kimchee. I love fresh daikon, and I love kim chee, which is cabbage and other vegetables pickled with salt, ginger, and red pepper. Why not substitute daikon for the cabbage, and then I’d be able to enjoy daikon all winter long?? So I went looking for a recipe.

I actually found a couple of daikon specific kimchee recipes out on the Internet, but one of them specified using soy sauce and sesame seeds (? not what I was used to tasting in Kimchee) and the other one had you add salted shrimp…so I fell back on a kimchee recipe I’d used before to make napa cabbage kimchee successfully.

Napa Kimchee, Frugal Gourmet by Jeff Smith

So many crazy stories have been told about Kimchee that many Americans are reluctant to try the dish. No, it is not buried in the ground in this country, and yes, it is delicious and much milder than you would expect. You can vary the spiciness by varying the amount of red pepper that you put into the dish. Wonderful stuff !!

6 lb Napa cabbage
3/4 c Korean pickling salt or
8 Scallions, finely chopped
Kosher salt
1 1/2 c Carrot, shredded
2 T Fresh ginger, grated
2 T Garlic, finely chopped
2 T Candied ginger
2 t Sugar
1/2 c Korean red pepper flakes
1 T Salt

Remove limp outer leaves from the cabbage. Quarter the cabbage lengthwise, then cut across the quarters into 1 1/2 inch-wide pieces. Put the cabbage in a very large bowl and add the pickling salt. Toss so the salt coats the cabbage evenly. Allow to stand for 30 minutes. Toss the cabbage a couple of times during that time. Rinse the cabbage with cold water and drain.

Toss with the remaining ingredients and pack into a large crock or covered pottery casserole. Add water to cover, about 3 cups. Allow to sit on the counter for 1 to 2 days. Store in the refrigerator, covered, in the crock or in individual glass jars.

Serve as a relish with any Korean dinner or use in cooking meat or soup dishes.

In mid-September I had 25 pounds of daikon to use (and plenty of containers), so I tripled this recipe, and sliced everything as thin as possible. I was suspicious about the rinsing off the salt making the salt level too low, thus spoiling my big batch of daikon kimchee so I “loosely” rinsed off the salt. And I didn’t have any candied ginger, so I just increased the amount of grated ginger by the same amount.daikon kimchiI packed it all nice and tight in glass jars, shut the lids, and left them down in our dirt floor basement, which hangs around 50 °F all year (down to 40 in Jan, up to 60 in August).

In late November I opened one jar up. It was REALLY salty, but tasty, and I found that if I rinsed off the slices it was pretty good, and still stinky tasty.

By late December it had really improved, getting that nice stinky-sour thing going, and I was enjoying a pinch of the Kimchee as an appetizer before most dinners. Also, the next jar wasn’t SO salty — that first one must have been less rinsed off to begin with. I found that a little bowl of kimchee was a terrific companion with a nice martini at the end of the day; very complimentary, and the martini mellowed out the fiery bite of the red pepper I used (“Matchbox” hot peppers, which are pretty high on the Scoville list).

A few weeks ago I dipped into the last, but biggest (one gallon) jar of daikon kimchee, and transferred a pile, without much juice, into a quart mason jar, which I left out on the counter at room temperature. After about two weeks this smaller, but warmer batch really got sour, sour the way I really like my pickles, so now I had the salty-hot-bitter-stinky AND the big sour all going at once. I’m in heaven.

To prove that I’m not a freak I brought along a sample when I visited some friends who also appreciate salty-sour, and they decided it was “addictive.” And I finally served some as it should be traditionally served, on top of rice as a side dish. It cut the intensity of the pickle, but certainly provided a meal that seemed more substantial than snacking on the straight stinky slices.

So this is now almost four months after preparing this batch, and only now is it just getting the way I like it. Meanwhile, all the recipes say that it’s ready in just a few days, or at the most a few weeks. Am I on to something? I wondered? So I dug into my McGee (page 294 of the second edition), which — naturally — had the answer. When I warmed it up, I started making sauerkraut. Following is his comparison of the two:

Fermented Cabbage Two Ways:

Sauerkraut Kimchee
Piece Size 1mm shreds small leaves and stems
Ing.s Other Than Cabbage and Salt none chilies, garlic, fish sauce
Fermentation Temp 64-76 °F / 18-24 °C 41-57 °F / 5-14 °C
Fermentation Time 1 – 6 weeks 1 – 3 weeks
Final Salt Content 1 – 2% 3%
Final acidity 1 – 1.5% 0.4 – 0.8%
Qualities Tart, aromatic Strong flavor, crunchy, “tingly”

It’s OK with me that what I’ve done is create a hybrid pickle, especially since I was able to turn 25 pounds of daikon into something so very good that has truly lasted me through the fall and winter, but I probably shouldn’t call it, strictly, Kimchee. I’m not sure what I should call it, but I will definitely make it again.



2 thoughts on “sour hot salty bitter stinky goodness

  1. You got something against salted shrimps? Kimchee comes in an endless variety and many recipes include shellfish, such as tiny little shrimps or raw oysters (I would guess the smaller the better).

    Also, one of my favorite cole slaw recipes starts with “brining” the cabbage with salt and brown sugar. It serves to draw water and some of the bitterness out of the cabbage, resulting in a crisp, clean, flavorful base for the slaw. After salting (and sugaring) the cabbage for an hour or so, you rinse it off — the salt has already served its purpose; it’s not there to make it salty as much as it’s there to brine.


  2. Nothing against salted shrimp — some of my best friends are salted shrimp! — but I wanted to try a simple direction for the first attempt, and if it turned out badly not wonder if I should have skipped the shrimp.

    After this success, I may make a batch with a little protein addition, which I’m sure gives it another level, an umami punch. I’ll think of this as I sprinkle my daikon seeds into the garden this year.

    While you’ve got the cabbage out, and salted, you might as well make some pot stickers, too!


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