Do you remember the Kimchi chronicles? Last June I made three batches of kimchi. It was a fun and informative experiment, and I greater understanding of kimchi as a type or class of pickle, and also some understanding of what I like and why.
One of my goals had been to explore how the kimchi would hold up to aging. Although my kimchi has been in the refrigerator it has still continued to ferment and age, and although 4 months would not be considered particularly old for aged kimchi, it seemed like a good time for a comparison. Pictured below is a small sample of each of the three batches of kimchi, taken yesterday morning.
The samples are small primarily because this was all that remained of what I had called Kimchi 1, or the kimchi made using David Chang's recipe in Momofuku,. Notice that the kimchi has become less vibrant, but the batches are still distinguishable. In the photo above, the kimchi at the top left is the batch called Kimchi 2, made from the formula used in Koreatown, and the bowl at the bottom of the photo is Kimchi 1. Below is the comparison photo of the two batches taken last June, Kimchi 1 on the right, Kimchi 2 on the left.
In June, I much preferred the Kimchi 1 version, which I found far more complex and layered. I also liked its bright almost bubbliness on the tongue as it aged, which is a characteristic of a particular stage in the kimchi process. By comparison Kimchi 2 was softer with a taste that I thought bordered on bland, but which I described as comforting. At that stage, I was not convinced that Kimchi 2 was worth the work involved, but I was willing to wait and see.
The aging process has changed my perceptions. David Chang's kimchi has not aged particularly well to my taste. It is not bad, it is good even, but as it has aged it has developed a metallic edge, and a bit of a burr of sharpness and heat, that doesn't burn the mouth, but which seem to lodge itself in the back of the nasal passage and almost grate on the sinuses. It is not bad, but it is not particularly pleasant. This does not in any way lessen my love for this type of kimchi. David Change himself, in the book, states that he likes this kimchi best when it is young and vibrant and still a bit bubbly on the tongue. It is easily made in small batches that can be easily consumed while the kimchi is still in its prime.
Kimchi 2 however has proven to rise above expectation. What was boring before is now considerably more interesting. I would still describe the flavors as soft, but they are a bit more pungent, actually brighter with age and far more interesting. I feel myself smiling with each bite as the flavors of pepper, cabbage, and ginger dance across my tongue, identifiable but not harsh and without burning. This kimchi did not begin to come into its own until it was 2 months old, and it continues to improve. Now I know that I will make it again, although I can see that no two batches are ever alike no recipe a guaranteed formula, more of a rough guideline. The next time I make this however, I shall age it longer at room temperature; this will surely hasten the process and probably change the profile of the kimchi, but I am eager to explore the possibilities.
The third Kimchi above is the red cabbage kimchi called Kimchi 3. It is far less vibrant in color than the original batch, but it is still fabulously complex and subtle and interesting. It still tempts me to want more each time I eat it, and it still seems to bridge cultural expectations blending well with both Western and Asian flavors. It may be my favorite, but at this point I am not willing to abandon the other formulas. I will probably set aside some of Kimchi 2, so that I am certain that I will have some to compare at the six-month mark. I know there is enough of Kimchi 3 already, as it was the biggest batch. And of course I will make more of Kimchi 1 to use young, as a vibrant, spicy condiment.
Expect an update in late December.