spicy silky fermented kim chi

IMG_7601I’ve been asked a few times to post a “normal” kim chi recipe, the ubiquitous kind at Korean restaurants, with napa cabbage and spicy sauce.  Your wish is my command.

The last time I made this recipe, I was teaching a demo on fermentation to the brand spankin’ new Master Food Preserver class of 2014, and I had the distinct pleasure of horrifying our eminent leader, Nellie Oehler of Dutch extraction, who likes her pickles sweet but still gamely tried a piece of my kim chi.  Her face reminded me that this is not a recipe for everyone.  But as she said, smiling as she grimaced, “I’ll try anything once!”  And so should we all.

I like this recipe because it retains the spiciness and color better and has a lovely silky texture, thanks to the porridge made of sweet rice powder that binds everything together. The porridge, I believe, is a style of the south.

I never hesitate to throw in seasonal vegetables: the last batch I made contained cubed tiny turnips and young daikon with their leaves from the farmers market (thanks, Groundwork Organics!) and strippings from the aging kale in my garden.  You might experiment with fresh new carrots, thinly sliced green garlic, garlic scapes, radishes…the list goes on.

If you’re a fan of kim chi or want to see more background on kim chi techniques, you might want to read my daikon cube kim chi and white kim chi with pear recipes, too.  Add some shiso pickle and salted cucumber slices with sesame seeds, and you’ll be well on your way to a fancy Korean banchan (set of kim chi dishes that accompany meals).

Spicy Silky Kim Chi

Yield: varies, about two quarts when finished.

  • 1 ½ lbs. white napa cabbage
  • 1 small Korean radish (“moo”) or enough daikon for 2-3 cups cubes
  • brine: 2 tablespoons salt plus 5 cups water
  • 3-4 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped ginger
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup Korean salted shrimp, minced*
  • 1/3 cup fine (vs. coarse) Korean red pepper powder (“gochu karu”)
  • porridge: 1/2 cup water plus 1 tablespoon sweet rice powder**
  • 1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1-2 cups shredded young kale, mustard, or turnip greens
  • 1 small Asian pear or green apple, thinly sliced into matchsticks

The night before you plan to make the kim chi, rinse and cut the cabbage into 2-inch square (no larger) pieces.  Peel and cut the radish into thinly sliced half-moons. Toss radish and cabbage, then add a brine made out the salt and water. Let mixture sit in bowl on counter for 8-12 hours.

Wash your hands, counter, and cooking equipment well. Drain the brine from the vegetables and prepare the kimchi souse and rice porridge.

For the porridge, add 1/2 cup of cold water to a saucepan, then add immediately the sweet rice powder. On medium low, whisk the powder into a solution, and cook for a few minutes, whisking constantly, to create a sauce the texture of paste. Let cool on the stove.

For the souse, make a paste in a food processor with the garlic, ginger, sugar and shrimp.

Mix the souse, porridge, and the red pepper powder into the cabbage and radish mixture well with your hands (you might want to use gloves if your hands are sensitive to spice), massaging spices into the cabbage.  Add a little bit of water to ensure everything is nice and pasty, and the souse covers the cubes.  Add the scallions, greens, and Asian pear slivers, and mix well.

Place the kim chi in a half-gallon or larger-sized glass jar that has been thoroughly cleaned and sterilized.  I use a 3L hinged jar without the rubber ring, so I can close the jar but not seal it.  It helps to use a canning funnel to get the stuff into the jar — you’ll get red pepper paste everywhere.

Let sit on the counter for about 2 days, mixing and pushing down the vegetables into the souse.  After it starts to bubble, let rest in the refrigerator for 5 days before eating.  You can actually eat the stuff at any point from right after you make it onward, but it tastes better after a few days.  It will keep in the refrigerator for a month or so, but the flavor will change over time.

*Purchase at an Asian grocery store like Sunrise, available in the refrigerated section. The shrimp should be tiny and bright pink and very salty.

**I use Mochiko, a Japanese brand, which is widely available, but you can buy it in bulk at Market of Choice.

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culinaria eugenius in london: facing heaven

My trip to London was all about Sichuan food.  Odd, I know, but I found not one but TWO Sichuan restaurants near the British Library, where I was locked to the desk for the week, and so I ate Sichuan no less than half a dozen times during the week.  Have you ever done that?  It’s incredibly self-indulgent to be able to try every single thing you wanted to try at a restaurant, knowing you’ll likely not be back to visit in a very long time, if ever.  So I did it.

Of course, I did sample some of the new British cuisine.  British food has undergone a SPECTACULAR renaissance.  This makes me have hope for Eugene.  I’ve been to the UK a handful of times in the past 15 years, and each time it gets better.  Still, I was dreading the week.  But the local food movement has swept London like The Great Fire of 1666, both originating in Pudding Lane.

Even train station dining has been infused with local goodness.  I bought my morning bread and delicious luncheon salad combos –minted pea and feta was the best — at Sourced Market at St. Pancras station.  Topped it off with a Scrumpy scotch egg (“Free-range SADDLEBACK pork, apple & sage – a timeless combination, Herefordshire in a handfull! …we dare you to resist!”) from the wildly successful Handmade Scotch Egg Company.  I took the dare and lost.

Best of all, London, still under the thrall of Fuchsia Dunlop’s wonderful Sichuan cookbook, Sichuan Cookery, has exploded with Sichuan restaurants.

The place at which I ate most often, Chilli Cool, is reviewed in the London Observer today.  Who says you need to turn to world-class urban centers to get your breaking cooking news, Eugeniuses?  (That’s a very flattering picture of the restaurant, by the way.  The window seat is mine!  I would look across the street at the pub serving jugs of Pimm’s.  The British Library is just a couple of blocks up the street, as the crow flies, in the middle of the photo.)  I’d recommend the place, as long as you don’t have your hopes up too high that you’ll be eating in a fancy place.  It’s small and humble.  The service is pointedly inattentive, and I found at least one “mistake” on the bill, but the prices are fantastic for London and food respectably good.

Without question, the best dish I had was a variation of the fried chicken with chiles dish I’ve blogged about before.  In fact, my blog may now feature the most pictures of this particular dish; that’s a claim to fame!  The Chilli Cool version verges from the Portland (and Dunlop) versions, as it adds cumin and a little sugar, both providing a slight graininess to the finished dish, and peanuts.   It’s an adaptation of a Mongol-influenced dish, lamb with cumin, that you’ll often see on other Chinese menus.  But with chiles.  They use real “facing heaven” chiles, too!

Facing heaven chiles (right) differ from our standard dried Chinese chiles (left) in just about every way.  The color is a deeper rust, and the flavor is deeper and slightly less spicy, too.  It tastes more like a gualillo than the bright, fruity iconic flavor of our dried Chinese chiles.

I’ve been looking for facing heaven chiles and real Sichuan broad bean paste for years now.  Greatly assisted by Kitchen Chick’s helpful guide to Sichuan ingredients, I have scoured Chinatowns in several cities to no avail.  My frustration seems widespread.  But finally, success!

Yes, that’s an authentic webcam shot of me in my hotel room, gloating dorkily.

I managed to find the chiles, as well as several varieties of Pixian spicy broad bean paste and other Sichuan ingredients, in a single supermarket in Chinatown, New Loon Moon on Gerrard Street, not to be confused with Loon Fung down the way.  I bought two of the last four packages available, so caveat emptor…move quickly or you might have to wait a while for the stock to be replenished.

As soon as I get my schedule under control and some canning done, I’ll start cooking again.  This has been a non-recipe food blog all summer.  This pains me, as you might imagine.  But when the cook can’t cook, the cook can’t develop recipes!  I hope to amend this very soon.

wearing o’ the green — wasabi tasting

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Yeah, I know, wrong culture. But a wasabi taste-test is just what the day needs, in the face of all that corned beef and cabbage. Not that I have anything against Irish food. Or even Irish-American food. I did my corned beef and cabbage, my colcannon, even my “Irish Reuben” (corned beef grilled on rye with Swiss and buttermilk coleslaw at McMenamin’s North Bank) already. So now it’s about working off my beef to the heels, and the best way to do that is with Japanese food.

So. You’ve always wondered if there are any differences in supermarket wasabi, you say? You are a much more savvy shopper than me. Sure, I knew that there was a difference between freshly grated wasabi, which I’ve eaten at nice sushi restaurants a few times, and the powdered stuff. I don’t eat the tubed stuff, so I can’t comment on that. Then I happened upon a description of the ingredients of the cheapest line of powdered wasabi in my Penzey’s spice catalog: horseradish, mustard, wasabi and tapioca starch. Tapioca starch? I noticed, too, that Penzey’s offered three “levels” of wasabi, with increasing natural-ness: chump wasabi, the cheapest, a blend with “pure Wasabi powder” and the same fillers as above, and the 100% wasabi stuff.

Clearly, this matter needed more investigating.

In a serious lapse of judgment a few weeks ago, we ran out of wasabi and I sent Retrogrouch off for an emergency run to the store. He ran to Market of Choice, which only stocks White People Wasabi in a fancy jar. How different could it be? Quite. I mixed it up, and it turned a foul dark olive green. It was made of 100% wasabi, which is unusual, so I thought the color reflected the lack of dye. So we tasted it and deemed it unsuitable, shoved it on a back shelf, and bought new powdered stuff from the Asian market for our next sushi round.

The list of ingredients in the Penzey’s catalog got me re-evaluatin’. We now had three kinds of powdered wasabi: Sushi Sonic (100% wasabi), Hime (available at Safeway, containing horseradish, mustard flour, cornstarch, corn flour, yellow no. 5 and blue no. 1) and Kaneku (available at our local Asian grocery store, Sunrise, containing horseradish, red pepper, ascorbic acid (as preservative), citric acid, blue no. 1 and yellow no. 5). Each of these had ingredients different enough to raise some questions. I assume that the “horseradish” in Hime and Kaneku is mis-translated wasabi, but who knows? It is notable that Kaneku has added acids, which could change the flavor, and red pepper. Hime, on the other hand, seems to contain too many corn products for my taste. All cost about the same, with Sushi Sonic just a shade more expensive.

I decided to do a taste test, putting each wasabi through a grueling run of three applications. First, tasting plain. Next, tasting on rice, smeared on the inside of a spicy tuna roll. Third, mixed in soy sauce as a dipping sauce for a sushi roll. Here are the results.

Plain

Sushi Sonic: awful dark olive color, chalky consistency. Pond algae, with overtones of seaweed with a slight wasabi kick. Fail.

Hime: brightest light green of the lot. Classic “wasabi” green. Taste was gritty, though, and much, much stronger than the Sushi Sonic.

Kaneku: pale light green. Slightly sweet. Smooth texture, a thousand times stronger than Hime. The red pepper actually does add punchitude. Can I taste the citric acid, too? Beware.

In Sushi Roll

Sushi Sonic: can’t taste it. Should have used more. Would that have meant more algae taste, though?

Hime: could taste the punch and the grittiness disappeared in the filling. Perfectly acceptable.

Kaneku: oh sweet mother of god. Too much. Cleared sinuses. Beware.

In Soy Sauce

Sushi Sonic: this makes a lovely addition to soy sauce! It was by far my favorite of the three, subtle and delicious. It actually enhanced the taste of the soy, not just made it spicy.

Hime/Kaneku: indistinguishable, added punch to soy sauce. Acceptable.

So, surprising results. I’d not suggest that you keep Sushi Sonic on hand for just adding to soy sauce, but it was nice to know it won’t go to waste. If I had a choice between Hime and Kaneku, I’d choose Kaneku, and tread lightly. I don’t like the preservatives in Kaneku, but since we use so little of the stuff in one sitting, it doesn’t matter that much to me.

I haven’t tried Penzey’s yet, but it will be interesting to see if the tapioca makes a less gritty filler than the cornstarch used by Hime, and if the lack of artificial colors/preservatives makes a difference. I’m guessing it might very well indeed. It’s worth noting that Penzey’s cheapest wasabi is a bit less expensive than Kaneku (K=$2.39 for an ounce and P-$1.99 for .9 oz.), but the price increases rapidly, at $3.59 for .9 oz. of the mid-level wasabi, and a whopping $13.59 for a .7 oz. jar of pure wasabi powder. But if it doesn’t taste like slime, it might be worth the cost for some.

the secret of spicy tuna rolls

dscf6619.jpgI’ve been a big fan of spicy tuna rolls for many years. They drove me crazy until I figured out the secret ingredient: sriracha hot sauce, the Thai stuff you see on the tables at Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants. Some of the upscale sushi places use the traditional Japanese hot spice mix called togarashi (7-spice powder), but more often than not, the red stuff is sriracha, which is widely available at Asian markets and even some chain grocery stores.

For sushi in Eugene, you really can only profitably eat at Sushi Domo, a neighborhood Japanese restaurant in town that is rather out of the way, unpromisingly tucked into a strip mall between a Wal-Mart and a Goodwill. The sushi, surprisingly, is good, not great, a solid B+ performance. That’s not bad for sushi in Eugene, to say nothing of Eugene restaurants in general. And the menu features something delicious and unusual, what they call a crunchy spicy tuna roll. Usually, I hate the fancy rolls because they are a mishmash of flavors, are either brushed in teriyaki sauce or topped with Japanese mayonnaise, one of the foulest concoctions ever. And I’ve had crunchy rolls elsewhere that were not as good, or, egads, crunchy because they are rolled in batter and deep-fried. But this crunchy roll was delish. The little crunchy bits of tempura batter were integrated into the spicy tuna, tiny and subtle, just adding a bit of texture.

dscf6058.jpgThe crucial thing for home sushi is to get the freshest fish possible. It’s best to go to a fishmonger. Don’t assume that all fresh tuna is sushi-grade (or more technically correct, sashimi-grade, since “sushi” refers to the seasoned rice). Also, please don’t put mayonnaise on sushi; some restaurants now skip a step and just glop some srirachi-flavored mayo on top of a tekka-maki or tuna roll. I don’t even like it in the sauce for spicy tuna rolls.

If you need a recipe for sushi rice or how to roll sushi, google is your friend.

Spicy Tuna Rolls

Serves: 4 with other sushi or appetizers

1/2 lb. Sashimi-grade tuna, raw (ask if you’re not sure of the grade)
1 t. sriracha
1 t. sesame oil (you may also add some chili oil for extra spice)
1 t. soy sauce
4 green onions, white parts only, finely chopped
a few good shakes of white pepper
salt to taste
optional and delicious: 1 T. tobiko (flying fish roe, available fresh or frozen)

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Cut tuna into 2-inch cubes for food processor. Add to food processor and pulse until chopped roughly. (The mix in the photo was processed a bit too much so it was paste-like, and that really ruins the texture.) Place fish into bowl and mix with other ingredients. Taste for spiciness and salt. Serve in rolls with avocado and/or cucumber.  Another alternative is to serve without rice: use thinly sliced cucumber wrapped around a bit of spicy tuna mixture, secured by a toothpick.