Mark’s parents lived in Korea for a couple of years just before he was born so it is no surprise that it is through him and his family that I first fell in love with Korean food. When Mark and I were living in Baltimore and his parents were an hour north of us, near the Delaware border, we’d often meet at a Korean restaurant halfway between us. Now that Mark’s family has moved to Charleston, SC (where there are apparently no Asian grocery stores, a fact I find perplexing and upsetting), we live in a part of Northern Virginia that has a huge number of Korean restaurants and grocery stores, which I find reassuring and great. I honestly don’t think I can live further than 10 minutes from a Korean grocery store.

I will soon have to put up a tutorial on my favorite Korean dish, dolsot bibimbap, but today I bring you instructions on making a food even more important: the ubiquitous kimchi. Kimchi is often, but not always, made with fish sauce. Although cabbage kimchi is the best-known in America, there are many different kinds, including radish and cucumber kimchi. I usually stick to making cabbage kimchi, although I think I may start branching out. The mysterious ingredient I posted earlier in the week was Korean chili pepper flakes.

Kimchi originated when Koreans of long ago – as many as 3,000 years ago – learned how to ferment vegetables to in order to prolong storage time. Special pots of the prepared vegetables would be buried underground to regulate the temperature (thus controling the rate of fermentation), a marker placed in the ground to facilitate location of them after snowfalls. Many modern Koreans have special kimchi refrigerators instead: they sell them at Super H, one of my favorite haunts, for hundreds of dollars. You absolutely do not need a special refrigerator or even pot to make kimchi. I bought a kimchi pot when Mark was going through one of his kimchi phases: he’d eat bowls-full at a time morning, noon, and night and even a gallon-sized jar didn’t hold a week’s worth of kimchi. Before I bought the kimchi pot, I used a huge gallon-sized pickle jar that I recycled during Mark’s earlier dill pickle phase. If you have something like that, great. If not, you can use four quart-sized jars instead, and then you can share a jar or two with a friend if you don’t happen to eat as much kimchi as we do.


1 head Napa cabbage
1/3 cup kosher salt
1 bundle mustard greens (optional)
1 daikon, shredded (optional)
1 large or two medium carrots, shredded (optional)
1 bunch scallions, cut into 1″ pieces
1 head garlic, pressed or minced (I recommend pressing in order to exude the juices)
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated on a microplane grater or minced
1/2 cup Korean chili pepper: go out of your way to find Korean chili pepper as it tastes different than others, but you can use either flakes, coarse, or fine
1/4 cup soy sauce

Remove any unappetizing-looking outer layers from the cabbage, then cut it in half.

Remove the core from each half.

It happens that the prepared kimchi I find that is fish-free is often “whole cabbage” kimchi, which means I have to cut it into bite-sized pieces before serving, which irritates me. So I find one of the benefits of making my own is I can cut it to size before it’s marinated. Although you have to do some preparatory chopping, you also save yourself time later when you can just stir the marinade into the chopped cabbage instead of painstakingly coating each cabbage leaf with it. So I therefore cut each half into half again so I have quarters.

Then I cut each quarter into bite-sized pieces. Place a sieve into the kitchen sink (or a large bowl if you need to keep your sink free) and put the chopped cabbage in it as you go along. Periodically sprinkle some of the kosher salt over the cabbage pieces and toss thoroughly.

Most techniques I’ve seen instruct you to soak the cabbage in salted water for one to four hours, however, I like the technique I saw in this article (although I don’t particularly care for the rest of the recipe): place a weight on the rinsed, salted cabbage and wait 24-48 hours. It takes longer, but you end up with nice crisp, dry cabbage. As the article suggested, I use a large Ziploc bag filled with water:

Meanwhile, make the paste. Take the mustard greens, if using, …

… and chop.

Grate the carrot, if using …

… as well as the daikon.

Then take your scallions …

… and chop into 1″ pieces. I start off shorter at the white part and make larger lengths as I get to the tips.

Press or mince the garlic:

And grate the ginger. Place all of these ingredients into a large bowl.

Measure the chili flakes …

… and add to the bowl along with the soy sauce. Mix everything together.

Place into a jar until the cabbage is ready.

When the cabbage is ready, place it into your kimchi pot, a gallon-sized jar, or if you are using four quart jars, a large bowl (it’ll be easier to mix everything together at one time and then divide amongst the jars). Then add your paste ingredients.

Mix everything up very well.

Divide amongst the four jars if using quart jars. If using any type of jar with a lid that screws tightly, be careful not to pack the kimchi in too tightly, and leave some room at the top of the jar. It may bubble up as it ferments. I once filled a jar too full and woke up in one morning to find kimchi juice spilling all over my kitchen counter. Which is another reason I talked myself into buying a kimchi pot.

Set the jar or pot aside for a few days. I generally give it three days. It will look like this when it’s ready:

If you used a pot, transfer to clean jars. Otherwise, simply move your jars to the refrigerator.

I keep reading that kimchi is good for about 3 weeks, and after that it becomes too strong and you’ll only want to use it in soups and other cooked dishes, but I haven’t really found that to be the case. Of course, we both really like kimchi, so maybe the stronger taste doesn’t bother us. Frankly, I have a hard time keeping kimchi around for three weeks because Mark turns into a kimchi monster. I do make a lot of kimchi ramen though. You can also eat the kimchi before it ferments, although it will really be more a salad in its pre-fermented state.

Serve with anything. Particularly Korean food.

My mother-in-law said my kimchi is very good, and as her time living there qualifies her as an expert on the matter in my opinion, I was very flattered. Of course, my mother-in-law is the greatest mother-in-law ever and tells me everything I cook is very good, which can’t possibly be true, so you’ll have to make it for yourself and form your own opinion. Mark really does eat it by the bowl-full, though, so it can’t be too bad. (He’s also never gotten bird flu. Coincidence? I think not.)

On the subject of fermenting things, in bread baking, there is a technique in which you use a pâte fermentée, which is a starter dough that ferments for a few days before the rest of the dough is prepared. Because it seems I am always fermenting something, be it kimchi or bread or whatever else, I suggested to my friends that Renae Fermentée might be a good nickname for me. However, like Rimmer from Red Dwarf, I found that people don’t usually glom onto nicknames you choose for yourself, and the friends seem to be sticking with a resurrected nickname that was bestowed upon me in high school: Rogna Pasta. Which is fine. At least I’m not Ace-hole. But I still think that if I ever record an album, I’ll use the stage name Renae Fermentée.


  1. mary Said,

    July 18, 2008 @ 9:55 pm

    Hi, I enjoyed reading your story,I’m an american and I love kimchi.I sometime think I eat too much,I worry about the salt.I heard that sea salt is not so bad for you,I have blood pressure issues.what is a normal serving with two meals a day?

  2. mary Said,

    July 18, 2008 @ 9:56 pm

    Thank You!

  3. renae Said,

    July 19, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

    Hi Mary,

    I don’t know what a “normal serving” is, but I usually eat maybe 1/4 cup or so with a meal? It’s certainly not a low-sodium food. I don’t think you are going to find any commercial low-sodium kimchis, but the benefit of making it yourself is you can control the amount of sodium. The kosher salt called for is slightly lower in sodium than table salt. I try to use as little salt as I can get away with, but of course you have to use enough so that you are preserving the cabbage. You can rinse the cabbage very well to remove as much salt as you can after it’s rested. Another thing you could do is use low-sodium soy sauce, or, better yet, eliminate the soy sauce altogether. I would try substituting kombu dashi (I explain how to make it in another post; you can search for dashi). In fact, I might even try using dashi next tme. I think if you rinse the salt off the cabbage very well and skip the soy sauce (and watch the sodium content of other foods you are eating), although it still might not qualify as a low-sodium food, you can probably enjoy it in moderation. It does have a lot of benefits that you can also weigh against the one drawback, which is that it’s pretty much always going to contain salt.

    Good luck!

  4. mary Said,

    August 8, 2008 @ 1:20 am

    Thank You! Renae

  5. SteveB Said,

    August 13, 2008 @ 12:01 pm

    Renae, I can’t believe I’ve found someone else who makes and eats their own kimchi! I’ve been making mine for quite some time and was never really able to nail down the flavor I was looking for. I then discovered a Korean grocery store a not-so-short ride from where I live and was able to get authentic Korean chili flakes and fish sauce. It was worth the ride. That did the trick!
    P.S. – I love the kimchi pot. I’ll have to get one on my next trip to the Korean grocery store.

  6. Tamara Said,

    November 11, 2008 @ 3:28 pm

    Hi Renae,

    I’ve been excited about the chance to try this recipe for awhile…I don’t have a kimchi pot but I did manage to get some traditional red pepper flakes at a Korean market I found in Durham. Unfortunately, after checking my kimchi after about 2 days, I found it was moldy. 🙁 I was very disappointed. The carrot/paste mixture seemed to be molding the most. Obviously I did something wrong. Hopefully this will not turn me off from trying it again. Did I miss something in the tutorial maybe?


  7. renae Said,

    November 11, 2008 @ 7:08 pm

    Hi Tamara,

    I’ve been fortunate enough to never have encountered mold, but I guess my first question would be if you used enough salt. If the cabbage, which got the salt treatment, isn’t moldy but the other stuff is, I’d guess maybe you didn’t end up with enough brine? How liquid-y is it? Usually when I mix it up and stick it into the pot, it doesn’t seem very wet, but by the first day, the water from the cabbage has extruded and mixed with the paste and it’s become sort of gloppy. As long as everything remains submerged in this “glop”, it shouldn’t mold, but if the mixture is still pretty dry after 12-24 hours, you may want to add a little bit of water and/or soy sauce and mix it in all around. By that time it should really be at the consistency you’d expect it to be when you eat it: if it’s still more like a salad, I think it’s not wet enough, and possibly that would cause it to mold. Exposure to air would also be a bad thing. You don’t need to keep the lid on tightly, but the top of the container should be completely covered.

    If you think the problem was the mixture wasn’t wet enough to make enough brine, you might want to give the cabbage a salt water bath for 2-4 hours instead of “dry salting” it like I did in the tutorial. That way, when you remove the cabbage from the water, a lot of water will still be clinging to it and it will better mix with the paste.

    I’m sorry it didn’t turn out the first time! If you make it again, let me know how it goes.

  8. Judy Said,

    March 13, 2009 @ 9:37 pm

    Hi, I am making Kimchi and I dont have fish sauce. I am going to make it with out it and hope that it taste alright. I like ur site cuz u dont have fishsauce also but how come u dont rinse the salt off the cabbage? wont it be too salty. and plus the soy sauce also. i have no clue. im chinese no one is helping me T..T =] please respond T..T im making it soon

  9. renae Said,

    March 15, 2009 @ 10:56 am

    Hi Judy,

    You need to maintain at least some of the salt to form the brine that preserves the kimchi. I’m somewhat sensitive to saltiness – I often cut back on the soy sauce called for in recipes because it’s too salty – and I’ve never noticed a too-salty taste to this recipe. If you are worried about it, I’d soak the cabbage in brine (add the salt to enough water to completely soak the cabbage) for 4 hours. Enough of the salt will be absorbed by the cabbage to preserve it, but not all of it. When I make it the way described above, I probably do shake off any excess salt when I transfer from the colander to the kimchi pot. Good luck!

  10. kylysquirrel Said,

    April 1, 2009 @ 2:51 am

    I tried to make the daikon kimchi, but it seems to salty. I blotted the daikon to get as much salt and water away from the daikon, but maybe I should’ve rinsed it with water too? Any ideas?

  11. renae Said,

    April 1, 2009 @ 10:57 am

    Kylysquirrel, how much daikon and how much salt did you use? It probably will taste fairly salty before you let it ferment, though yes, if you accidentally dumped too much salt on it when mixing it, you could just rinse it off. You wouldn’t want to rinse it all off though.

  12. Dan Said,

    June 21, 2009 @ 12:23 am

    Hi Renae,

    I am a huge kimchi fan and have made it before but it never feels right because I don’t have a kimchi pot. Your’s is really beautiful and I wonder if you know where i might be able to buy one like it. Internet searches have proved fruitless and I haven’t seen any at the local asian markets.

    Thanks so much,


  13. bani Said,

    September 8, 2009 @ 1:56 am

    thank you so much. ill try to do it later. 🙂

  14. Shawn Said,

    January 11, 2010 @ 1:43 pm


    What you need is a fermentation pot/crock. I bought mine from but they are also available at and Just do a search for fermenting crock or fermenting pot and you should find one that will fit your needs. It can also be used to make traditional sauerkraut or any other fermented vegetable of your choice.

    I hope that helps,
    (I own a gourmet food business and I take pride in making many different foods in their traditional manner.)

  15. Shawn Said,

    January 22, 2010 @ 12:14 am

    I would also like to encourage people to try fermenting any of their favorite vegetables. You can do this in small batches and with very little investment. Purchase a small jar with a plastic lid and purchase an S-shaped fermentation bubbler (lock) from a homebrewing supply store…(approx. cost $1-2). Drill a hole just large enough to allow the lock to slip in and glue it in place. Congratulations… you now have a fermenter and you’ve paid less than $10.
    When you speak of me…. speak well.

  16. kittee Said,

    March 4, 2010 @ 1:27 am

    i’ve saved a million vegan kimchi recipes online, but made yours today–it looked just like what i wanted. i used a combo of nappa cabbage, and this gorgeous curly leaved purple and green one–not as tight as a reg head of green cabbage. i also used 2 carrots, 1 daikon a bunch of green onions and no mustard. my kimchi is on the dry side. i’m just worried that it won’t get juicier in the next couple of days while it ferments. was your dry at first, too? i saw some recipes add vinegar and water to theirs, but water seems just wrong.


  17. renae Said,

    March 4, 2010 @ 8:30 am

    Hi Kittee, Mine is sometimes a little dry and it does get a bit juicier, I suppose as the salt in the soy sauce draws more water out of the cabbage. If it’s really dry – and I’ve dried the cabbage particularly well – I actually would just add water (I’ve done it before), on the assumption that it’s water you’d be pulling out of the cabbage to make it juicier anyway. I think if you salt the cabbage like I do in this post, instead of soaking it, it does tend to end up a bit dry. If you’d soaked it, some water would still be clinging to the cabbage when you put it in the pot, which would make it juicier, so for that reason, too, it makes sense to just add water. I wouldn’t use vinegar.

  18. kittee Said,

    March 4, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

    thanks, renae. i’ll see how it is today.

  19. Claudette Picard Said,

    April 18, 2010 @ 3:57 am

    Hello Renae,

    Further to Dan’s posting of June 21 2009, I also want a kimchi jar like yours.Would you be so kind to tell me where I can purchase it?

  20. renae Said,

    April 18, 2010 @ 8:23 am

    Hi Claudette, I got mine in a Korean grocery store. I’ve never seen them for sale on the internet, although I’ve never really looked either. If you have a Korean grocery nearby, they should sell them.

  21. Claudette Picard Said,

    April 19, 2010 @ 12:10 am

    Thanks.I will try.

  22. EP Said,

    April 20, 2010 @ 1:02 pm

    Hi! Just wanted to say I’ve used your recipe a couple of times now to make kimchi and it’s super awesome 🙂

  23. Talkspot Said,

    September 15, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

    Very good article! Great step-by-step tutorial – esp for people like myself who feel completely alienated from the kitchen and rather intimidated by it! 😉

  24. steven Said,

    May 31, 2011 @ 7:31 am

    I bought a Kimchi pot today in Korea and plan to make my own. My question is I know the lid is not sealed air tight. Traditional Kimchi pots I think are placed under the ground in the winter time? Do they not worrry about insect getting inside the pot? Just curios..

  25. Kate Said,

    July 14, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

    Hi there, I am in the midst of my first kimchi batch. So far, it has fermented in the basement for 48 hours and not all the cabbage is covered by liquid–I would say about half is. Is this troublesome? Should I add some water? I don’t see any mold at this stage. So far, I haven’t found a definitive answer online.

    Your help is appreciated.


  26. renae Said,

    July 14, 2011 @ 2:51 pm

    HI Kate, I would say you should open it up and try packing the cabbage down a bit and see if that helps cover it up. If it’s still pretty dry, I would add some water or maybe weak brine (water with a little salt). I hope that helps!

  27. jane klemm Said,

    August 20, 2011 @ 10:59 pm

    hi.i bought a kimchi pot while visiting my son who was stationed in korea. unfortunately it was broken in shipping. is there any place in u.s where i can buy areplacement that you know of? would really love to replace it. thank you.jane

  28. renae Said,

    August 21, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

    Hi Jane, are there any Korean grocery stores located near you? That is the only place I’ve seen them.

  29. Steph Said,

    August 24, 2011 @ 8:58 am

    Hi, where did you purchase your kimchi jar?

  30. renae Said,

    August 24, 2011 @ 9:19 am

    Hi Steph, I got mine at my local Super H (H Mart).


    February 10, 2012 @ 11:02 am

    One of the best natural starters for kim chi is whey from making cheese or buttermilk or even from yogurt. For a gallon you only need a few tablespoons. This acidity keeps down unwanted bacteria by making the whole mix acidic an starts the natural ferment. Altho it may not be needed, we always use it. We have been making kimchi for 40 years, my wife even longer.

  32. Audrey Said,

    April 28, 2012 @ 10:15 pm

    I made some kimchi and it looks amazing. I fermented it in a gallon glass jar, but when I transferred it to smaller jars to fit in my fridge, there wasn’t enough brine – there was plenty in the large jar. Do I just put it in the fridge the way it is, or would you add more brine at this point? What would you suggest for brine? More of everything or just salt water? I don’t want it to be too salty.

  33. renae Said,

    April 30, 2012 @ 9:28 pm

    Audrey, if you can’t make enough brine by just squishing the kimchi and it’s fairly wet, I would add just a little water to top it off. If you feel like you have to add a lot of water, then I would add a little salt to it to keep it salty enough to prevent spoilage. But if you had plenty of brine in the large jar, I think you can get by with just adding a little water to the smaller jars to keep it moist.

  34. Paul Pellicano Said,

    July 26, 2015 @ 3:05 pm

    Hi, my question is where did you find the traditional type kimchi pot. I’ve done many searches and cannot find anybody who sells them?

  35. renae Said,

    July 26, 2015 @ 3:39 pm

    Hi Paul, I bought my kimchi pot locally at a Korean grocery store chain: H-Mart.

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