"I like to think of it as the Fisher-Price of kimchee," Sam Kim says of Skimchee, the spicy, fermented "Korean wonder-pickles" she makes as part of her Skimkim product line. "It's not too stinky, not too old or ripe. People hear stories about kimchee being buried for three months in the backyard. It can be intimidating and I try to make it as approachable as I can."
Part of that accessibility comes from playing with people's expectations about what they're going to find when they crack open a jar. Napa cabbage and daikon are the only vegetables Kim won't use, calling them "too regular—it's what everyone else is using." Instead, she chooses whatever is in season and looks good at the farmers' market, making a small batch each week. This means that sometimes Skimchee is Brussels sprouts; sometimes it's Asian pear, apple, and arugula; sometimes it's rutabaga and black radish. "I liken it to omakase," Kim says, "People have to trust me to choose what's best."
Produce that passes muster goes into a brine with Korean red pepper, garlic, ginger, and scallions and is aged from 7-10 days. Kim opts not to include the traditional fish element (often fish sauce, shrimp, or oysters) in order to allow vegetarians and vegans to partake, explaining that she doesn't "want to alienate anyone who could enjoy kimchee." Though she has to put 'best by' dates on the jars, Kim says that kimchee "never goes bad; it's constantly fermenting." Newer kimchee is crunchier and less spicy; the flavors intensify and it becomes more pungent as it ages.
On her blog, Kim delves into some of the science behind fermentation and the health benefits of eating fermented food in general. If you're looking to resurrect New Year's healthful-eating resolutions that have already fallen by the wayside, kimchee is a good ally to have on hand. Eat it out of the jar, stir it into rice and vegetables, or, since the Northern Hemisphere is deep in the throes of what Kim calls "the cooked kimchee season," use it to make kimchi jigae, a kimchee stew to which she recommends adding noodles for extra rib-sticking power.
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