Monday, April 28, 2008

Six Days Under the Mast

Traveling so much over the past few months, I haven’t been in one place long enough to begin any interesting, long term cooking projects. But, anticipating the move to Seattle, my mind has been abuzz with cooking ideas. And so, here I am, finally, in Seattle. My kitchen is slowly being stocked with equipment and ingredients. I’m getting comfortable in my surroundings and finding my groove. I have my sourdough starter from the summertime with me – still bubbly and alive, probably the most well traveled sourdough starter on the planet by now. But, I’ve been really itching to begin something new, to do some pickling, fermenting, canning – projects to fill my larder on the yacht.

Admittedly, I am one of the most impatient cooks on the planet but after making my sourdough starter this summer (and the subsequent loaves since), I’ve found there’s something deeply gratifying when time and patience are a main ingredient in a recipe. On most days, the fruits of my labor are devoured and forgotten within a moment of putting that days achievement on the plate; 3-hours of work, gone in one swallow. Preserving, pickling, fermenting, canning - these are not only ways of savoring an ingredient, but also the reward for the labor involved is stretched out over time and can be savored over days, weeks, months and sometimes years.

It’s been on my mind to make Kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage) for about a year now. I love Kimchi; the tongue tingling spice and that nearly addictive acidity makes me crave it fortnightly. I used to buy large jars of Kimchi at the Chinese grocery and just eat it as a snack (it’s meant to be a used as a condiment). But I am a timid cook, I have to start simple when I’m learning something new – and so I’ve had to do lots of reading before taking on this project. And Kimchi is to Korea, what Curry is to India – so there are as many recipes for Kimchi as there are Korean households in the world. Some recipes call for vinegar while others do not, some use salted anchovies or shrimp or Korean fish sauce. Some call for the cabbage to soak in salt-water brine, others say to layer the cabbage with salt for hours at a time. But, after reading through recipe upon recipe, I decided to create a hybrid of several – the final process being fairly straightforward, with a few embellishments – but resulting in something that I can honestly admit, is far superior to anything you’ll find in the store. Perhaps I can’t claim authenticity, as I didn’t pack my Kimchi in a clay pot and bury it in the backyard, but for the most part, I attempted to adhere to the basic principles – salting, chili powder and spices, and fermentation.

I started by brining my cabbage in a mixture of kosher salt and water, for 24 hours. I didn’t have Korean chili powder, but after some research I learned that Korean chili powder is fairly mild so I made a mixture of Mexican chili powder, “regular” chili powder and red chili flakes. After my cabbage was brined and drained, I tossed it with diakon radish, spring onions, fresh ginger and my chili blend. As I began to layer it in a lexan container, I thought that it might be nice to add some thin slices of lemon. I love cured lemons, so if anything, they might be good to cook with after they’ve cured. Slicing the lemons as thin as possible, I layered them between the cabbage, scallions and ginger; poured in some brine to cover, put a lid on the container, wrapped it up in tinfoil and found a cold corner of the basement to let it ferment for a week. After adding the brine to the spice mixture, I thought that it might not be salty enough, or spicy enough, or that it would lack that sour, acidic flavor that I so crave. I was nervous about the fermentation. Would it mold? Or worse, would I kill someone with some food borne illness?

After 6 days of fermentation, I was happily surprised by the result. It was spicy and salty – but not overly, and it had a bit of that nice sour quality as well. I think as it ferments longer, it will and probably can use to become sourer. But it’s quite good. The flavor of the oils from the lemon show through and spike the Kimchi with freshness and the lemons are really good to eat too. I’ll look forward to using the Kimchi with something – although as of yet, I am undecided as to what that something will be. The best way of eating Kimchi I have ever had was on top of raw oysters at Momfuko Noodle Bar in the East Village – and we do get nice oysters up here in Washington…

This week is looking to be pretty hectic. All of the crew has finally arrived to Seattle. Mr. Precious and his assistant will be here for three days as we pour through the final details of the interior of the yacht. All of the china, glassware, uniforms, furniture, etc. will be arriving on Thursday and the stewardesses will have their hands full inventorying, documenting, sorting, organizing and storing everything into the storage lockers to be held until the install in July. All my kitchen equipment has been arriving too - box, after box, after box, after box... Mrs. & Mr. X will be arriving at the end of the week and will be in town for four days. It will be their first time meeting the entire crew! I’ve arranged for a wine & truffle tasting for the bosses and crew here in Seattle one night, a chance for everyone to get to know one another, and then another night I’ll be doing a big dinner for everyone at the crew house. I'm sure I'll be making use of the kimchi then!

Korean Kimchi
(Adapted from the Joy of Pickling)

5 tablespoons kosher salt
8 cups water
I Head napa cabbage, cut into 2-inch squares
1 Lemon, sliced thin
1 bunch spring onions, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons mild chili powder
1 tablespoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon sugar

Makes about 1 Quart


prcrstn8 said...

Momofuku is no more - we tried to go there just last night and it's become a generic Japanese restaurant :(

prcrstn8 said...

My bad. It moved up the block and I couldn't find it. Did the hostess at Ko intentionally misdirect? Hmmm...

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