The Skinny on Fermentation: Kimchi

{Thanks to Jesse Frost of Rough Draft Farmstead for further educating us on the miraculous process of fermentation. In this month’s installment, he’s giving us the step-by-step on making kimchi. By the way, Hannah and Jesse have reached the fundraising goal for their farm, but there’s still a few days left to pledge some money and get some of their cool incentives!}

Kimchi is a deeply ingrained cultural and dietary necessity in Korea—the national dish in both the North and South in fact—and one of my favorite experiences with living foods. It’s a spicy mix of pickled vegetables—predominantly cabbage—with a dizzying array of regional variations. If you live near an ocean, fish are commonly a part of the dish; if you are more land-locked, your kimchi is likely to be more vegetable-based or contain things like beef broth. In other words, kimchi is often simply a fermented version of cabbage and whatever else can be found at the nearby market.

In the spirit of that, below are some guidelines to making a basic kimchi which can be sourced locally here in Kentucky. The idea is to create something simple, fermented and spicy you can put into your stews and serve with your roasts this winter. In a season when most of our food is heavy and rich, the digestive system digs a little spicy kraut to help liven things up a bit.

What You’ll Need:

Makes 1-2 quarts

1 very large napa cabbage (and/or red cabbage if available—optional but a colorful touch)

1 small daikon radish

1 large salad turnip

1 or 2 carrots

4 sweet peppers

2 hot peppers (or 2-4 tablespoons hot sauce)

1 ounce fresh ginger (Get KY-grown fresh ginger right now from Au Naturel Farm or Casey County Organics—check availability at Marksbury Farm, Good Foods, SKY Farmers Market, and Grasshoppers Distribution)

2 cloves fresh garlic

Salt (you’ll need several tablespoons of either real, kosher, or sea salt)

Water—not tap (Tap water often contains chlorides which will inhibit the fermentation.)

1 gallon jar, crock, or non-reactive vessel

Mason jars for storage

This ingredients list is a basic ratio: for every large head of cabbage, use 1 turnip, 2 hot pepper, etc. and it will make roughly 2 quarts. Also, when buying vegetables for your ferment, try to buy organic (or at least non-sprayed) produce. Sprayed veggies might hurt the fermentation or flavor. And if you can’t find, say, daikons, don’t sweat it—get what you can or substitute with something similar.

Start by rinsing the cabbage, turnips, carrots, and radish and cutting them into bite-sized chunks to place in your vessel. In a water pitcher or something like it, stir 7 tablespoons of salt into 1/2 gallon of water until dissolved. Pour mixture over the cut veggies and make sure they’re entirely under the brine. Place small plate over veggies to keep submerged best you can. Cover container with cloth and let veggies sit in brine for several hours—at least two, no more than 24, otherwise fermentation might start early (though I’ve seen recipes where they brine for several days also, so just whatever works for you).


When ready, drain brine into separate container and set aside. Taste the veggies to see if they’re too salty for your liking. They should be a little salty, but if it’s unbearable just rinse them a few times in regular water. If it’s not salty enough, add a couple pinches overtop the veggies. Cut sweet peppers and mix into brined veggies by hand.

In a blender or food-processor, mince the de-stemmed and seeded hot peppers, peeled ginger and peeled garlic. Don’t handle—will burn! You don’t have to add anything else at this stage, but some people add fish sauce and I personally added a few tablespoons of my fermented tomatoes to take the place of the traditional fish sauce in my last batch.

Now start to fill mason jars with your brined veggies one handful at a time. After each handful or so, pack the veggies down hard for a minute with something blunt—this will help release juices. Then after each packing, add a thin layer of the blended flavoring and pack another handful. When your liquid or veggies get an inch from the top, stop! If it didn’t create enough liquid during the packing, add a little of the brine you set aside to keep the veggies submerged, but again, not more than an inch from the top or it will spill out during fermentation.

Once your jars are packed, place a lid loosely on top. For the next few days you’re going to have to make sure the pressure gets released by lifting the lid because fermentation will start spontaneously and vigorously. Once it has bubbled for a day (approximately 3-4 days after packing), place a small piece of plastic between lid and brine to keep the metal from tainting the kimchi, tighten lid, and store in either cool place or refrigerate. I like to wait a week or so to let it settle before I eat, but feel free to start digging in anytime! It should stay good all winter.

Some interesting and common variations are to add fruit such as apples, pears, or raisins after brining. You can always add other herbs or vegetables, as well—especially root veggies—though some leafy greens can get mushy, so maybe just stick to cabbage there. I particularly enjoy using the excess brine for marinades or brining poultry also—ideal for Thanksgiving birds.

A few closing if’s: if a white film or mold starts to form on the top, gently remove it. It won’t hurt you or the kimchi. If at anytime there is discoloration or browning, simply scrape off that layer until the color returns to normal. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask—we’ll trouble shoot them together! Also, as always, if you have a kimchi or spicy kraut recipe of your own, we’d love to hear it!


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Author:Jesse Frost

Although born in Colorado, Jesse spent his formative years in Richmond, Kentucky. After high school he received an opportunity to cook at Le Relais Restaurant in Louisville under Chef Daniel Stage where he spent two years learning the importance of local produce before moving to New York City. While there, Jesse found himself managing a small wine shop in lower Manhattan. Specializing predominantly in organic, biodynamic, and sustainably-produced wines, he discovered a fondness for natural fermentation and farming. After four years, he left the city and returned to Kentucky. A two-season internship at a small farm in Southern Kentucky called Bugtussle introduced him to farming, his first ferments, and a wonderful lady. He now runs Rough Draft Farmstead with his wife Hannah in Danville, and you can read their blog and follow their story at Jesse is also available for speaking engagements and seminars on gardening, starting small farms, and fermentation.

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