Saturday, August 18, 2012

Kim Chee . . . or is it Kraut?

So, I was visiting a friend and told her about the Kim Chee that I learned to make at the Edible Alchemy Kim Chee class taught by the ever inspiring Andrea.  She wanted me to send her directions, and I figured that it would be more helpful to write it out on the blog so that any of my friends who are not part of the EA community can get to it as well.  For the record I cannot possibly put together as solid a description as what Andrea does in her playshop.  If you see a Kim Chee playshop go up on Dabble or the Edible Alchemy site TAKE IT!  This post might get you started, but it's just not the same.

Notes about the term "Kim Chee": So a more accurate term would be Kraut, but that isn't quite right either.  Kraut implies something specifically German, and the flavorings described will be kind of all over the place.  Traditional Kim Chee is made with fish sauce, and sake.  This process is much more like Saurkraut, only with more asian spices . . . or Indian spices . . . well ok so really whatever the hell you want to put in.

Equipment for "Kim Chee"

A large glass container.  This can be a wide mouth ball jar, or similarly large mouth glass jar, but if I'm making a truly large batch I prefer something more in the gallon size.  I use a large ball jar when I'm making german saurkraut because we don't go through it as quickly, but if I'm doing a more central Asian flavored kraut I pull out the big honkin glass jug I bought at Pier One for fermenting vegetables.

A "plate" or other flat surface that can fit inside the mouth of the fermenting jar referenced above.  This is important for weighting down everything.  For my large glass fermenting jug I use a medium sized ramekin for this purpose most of the time.  It's just large enough to put my weight into.

A weight.  This will be put on top of your flat "plate" to keep your vegetation under the liquid of the fermentation mixture.  For me this is usually a bottle or jar that is smaller than the mouth of my fermentation jug.  If I'm doign my big jug it's a mason jar filled with water, if I'm fermenting in a mason jar it's usually a 5 oz hot sauce jar filled with water.

A BIG bowl.  I can't emphasize this enough.  No matter how big you think your bowl is you probably need a bigger one unless you're just doing a ball jar size batch.  You need a lot of room to mix, but the vegetables will pack down into a much smaller space than you mixed them in.

A "smasher".  This can be a big spoon, or the handle of a whisk.  It needs to be broad enough to really be able to smash down your vegetation, and sturdy enough to handle a lot of force.  Wooden tools work well here.

Ingredients for Kim Chee

Vegetables, especially cabbage and it's decendants.  So the vegetation that can go into fermentations can vary a lot.  You want something hearty enough to handle the fermentation without completely breaking down, but as everything is going ot be raw you have a fair bit of leeway on this one.  I always use at least some straight up cabbage because it's incredibly cheap, good for you, and develops a lot of excellent flavor as it ferments.  I also almost always include carrots.  Beyond that I have used garlic ramps, onions, zucchini, kale, kolrabi greens, collard greens, garlic, beet greens, turnips, mustard greens, and a few other things that I don't remember at the moment.  I know other people who have used broccoli, cauliflower, beets, nappa cabbage, every other hearty green you can think of etc. etc. etc.  You can also add apple,  and other hearty fruits that give it a slightly sweet kick and change the makeup of the fermntation food quite a bit.  I have to say I am a particular fan of using apple and garam masala for fermentation.

Seasoning.  So here things get completely wacky.  You can use basically whatever you want.  Just remember to use A LOT OF IT.  What I have discovered is that the fermentation process subdues the flavors of the spices you put into your kim chee quite a bit.  If you taste your mixture of vegetables, salt and spices and it tastes about right you're not done adding spices because it will just taste like lacto ferment pickle when you're done and that's about it.  I would say the core spices to use here are hot pepper flake (kim chee traditional), mustard seed (saurkraut traditional) garlic, and maybe dill if you want a really old fashioned pickle taste.  Beyond that the sky is the limit.  I really like tumeric in my fermentation, and I'm planning on picking up some fresh tumeric for my next batch.  Ginger is absolutely amazing.  I did Recaito in my last batch, and when it was fresh it smelled and tasted a lot like salsa.  Unfortunately when it was done it tasted just kind of like lacto ferment.  Which was nice, but not as exciting as I'd hoped for.  So if you go the cilantro route, go completely fresh and use a whole bunch.  You can't really overdo it.  If anyone makes some of this and is really blown away by their spice combination please post in the comments, because I'm always looking for new inspiration for my ferments.

Salt.  So this is the magick ingredient.  Salt does two things, it creates an environment that is very pleasant for the wild lacto bacteria that live on the skin of the vegetables we're going to use and an environment that is very inhospitable to the bacteria we don't want to develop.  For a big bowl of vegetables that will fill 3+ large mason jars you want at least 3-4 Tbsp of salt, but really there's no magic amount of salt.   You just want the veg mix to taste incredibly salty, and for there to be enough salt to cause the vegetables to seep out their moisture.  That moisture should be all the pickling and fermentation liquid you need.

The Process:

So first you shred your vegetables.  I use a mandolin because it makes things go faster.  You can also just chop them roughly, or dice them into a fine relish.  This is entirely a matter of personal taste.  The one thing to remember here is the finer you chop it the easier it's going to be to squeeze all the liquid out.  If you want a really REALLY chunky ferment, like bordering on hunks of pickles kind of ferment you might need to add some water, and that brings some extra concerns to play, but I'll talk on that a little later.

Next you take your veg and put it into your huge bowl and add your salt and spices.  Again, remember go heavy on the spices.  While I've had some people point out that you can't take spices out once you put them in this is going to be a pickle.  It's a condiment to begin with.  If it's super hard core when it's finished, that just means you use it a bit more sparingly.  If it isn't flavorful when it's done then you're kind of bonked.  Once the spices and salt are added mix everything up.  The best tool for this is your hands.  You can impecably clean them, or you can wear gloves.  For me this depends on if I have a lot of spices in the mix like curry or straight up tumeric that will stain my hands.  If I do I use gloves, if not I go bare.

This step should cause the veg to become very moist as the salt begins to sap the moisture out of the vegetable matter.  You can make a point of squeezing your veg to help things along here.  If your veg is being very resilient to giving up it's water start to smash it in the bowl with your smasher, and if it still seems dry you probably need more salt.  Just keep adding salt until things start to moisten up.

Next you want to pack your mixture into your freshly cleaned glass fermentation jug.  Put a layer down and use your smashing device to really pack it down.  Then do another layer and smash, repeat until all your veg is packed in.  This process might take a while, but it's worth it.

Next set your plate or other large flat surface down on the top of your veg and put the weight on top of it.  Push down, a LOT. The goal here is the squeeze your liquid to the top of your vegetation.  You will need to also push any stray vegetation under the liquid that comes up during this process.  Vegetation that is exposed to the air, is vegetation that can develop off bacteria.  You want everything under your liquid.  Once you have pushed most of your liquid to the surface, and everyting is well covered put a towel on top of your mixture and leave it somewhere to ferment.  The towel will keep fruit flies, and dust and other unplesant things out of your kraut, while still allowing air in, which is necessary for the fermentation to happen.

After a couple days the fermentation should start.  Things will begin to smell a little funky, which is perfectly ok.  Funk is part of the process.  If you look down into your veg you should see bubbles start to develop within the first few days.  When this starts happening you will want to occasionally push down on your weight to get the bubbles to come to the surface.  Once every couple of days will do the trick.  After about a week you should start tasting your kraut.  When it tastes the way you want it to, move it to mason jars and put in the fridge.  Once you chill it the fermentation will slow down and you will be able to "capture" the flavor more or less where you want it.

A note on sterilization: So this is a wild fermentation, so despite what a lot of guides say I don't worry about fermenting things.  I wash all of my vegetables, and I always do a very fresh clean on my fermentation jug, but I don't go through a detailed sterilization process, because the vegetables aren't sterile and you leave them raw . . . so it's just not a sterile environemnt.  The whole point of kraut is to use wild bacteria and use the salt content to discriminate between the good and bad bacteria.  That said I make sure everything goes through a wash right before I use it.

A note on metal tools.  You really REALLY don't want metal to be in contact with your ferment while it's active because the fermentation produces acid and it will extract metal into the vegetables and taint the mixture.  So I avoid using mason jar lids for the flat surface that I put my weight on, because there is metal.  However, several guides online tell you to mix your vegetables in a non metal bowl.  I don't have any non metal bowls large enough to do kraut in, so I mix mine in stainless steel and I've never had any problems.  There is no acid until the bacteria has had a couple days to do it's work, so I can't think of a single sound scientific reason why doing your initial mixing in metal would be a problem.

A final note on MOLD!!!!!!!!  Mold terrifies a lot of people who do kraut. Do not worry about it.  For one thing you probably don't have mold on your mixture, especially if it's been fermenting for a while.  The liquid gets acidic because of the wild lacto bacteria doing their work, and members of kindom fungi really don't like acidic environements.  What you will probably develop on top of your kraut is a while foamy stiff mixture which can seem a bit like mold, but is really just part of the bacterial process.  A lot of guides say to scrape this off.  I won't lie, I've mixed it in before to absolutely 0 detrimental effect.  If I were doing a very long ferment, and I got a lot of it I would scrape it off.  Andrea who taught me how to make kraut said at one point she had a batch where the top inch or so got "moldy" and discolored and she just discarded the top inch of vegetables and the rest of the batch was absolutely amazing.  I completely and totally believe this to be true.  This is a live WILD fermentation.  Don't expect completely controlled conditions.

Oh right one more note on health benefits.  This stuff is absolutely amazing for your gut.  We need good bacteria in our digestive system.  I make a point of eating even more kraut then usual when I have an antibiotic forced on me . . . it happens, I hate it.  The kraut helps get things going again.  I like going the kraut route more than yogurt or even pro biotic pills because consumer fermented produces all have very limited strains of bacteria, and only go so far in terms of repopulating our digestive ecosystem, and make no mistake it's a complex ecosystem.  I like having some wild ferment mixed in there to round out the population.  I certainly still use pro biotics and yogurt, especially after an antibiotic cycle.  It makes a huge huge difference.

Uses for this stuff.  The sky is honestly the limit.  I love it on cheese sandwiches, as a topping on curry, in soups.  A lunch favorite around my house is to take two pieces of bread, and put shredded cheese on them, pop them in the toaster oven until they are very melty, and then take them out, add kraut and put them together into a sandwich.  The result is a perfect krauty grilled cheese.  The nice thing about adding the kraut at the end is you get all the best flavors of the nice melty cooked cheese, but since the kraut isn't sitting in the toaster oven, or in the sandwich on the grittle it isn't going to get super duper hot, and the raw enzymes from the vegetables and developed during the fermentation don't completely break down.  I like to get as many of those in my diet as possible.

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