Cubed Korean Radish Kimchi (Kkakdugi 깍두기)

Cubed Korean radish kimchi (Kkakdugi 깍두기) in a white square dish, with a pair of silver chopsticks.

Cubed Korean radish kimchi (Kkakdugi 깍두기)

Cubed Korean radish kimchi, known as kkakdugi 깍두기 in Korean, is a popular type of kimchi made with Korean radish, which is a variety of radish native to Korea known as “mu” 무or “joseonmu” 조선무 in Korean. Korean radish is often mistakenly referred to as daikon radish which is native to Japan (hence the Japanese name “daikon” 大根). Korean radish and daikon radish are both white color, however, Korean radish is shorter and rounder whereas daikon is distinctively long and cylindrical. Additionally, the upper portion of a Korean radish tends to have an unmistakable pale green tint whereas a daikon radish tends to be white all over. Korean radishes have a stronger taste and denser texture compared to daikon. While daikon radish can be used in place of Korean radish to make kkakdugi, for the more authentic outcome, stick to Korean radish.

There are no fixed recipes for kkakdugi; different families in Korea have different family recipes passed down from generation to generation and hence the taste of kkakdugi varies from family to family. Some families include fresh fruits such as apples and pears (instead of sugar), some add in fresh julienned red chilies, some add in sweet rice flour while some leave it out.

Good quality coarse sea salt (known as “gulg-eun sogeum” 굵은 소금) and good quality Korean red pepper flakes (known as “gochugaru” 고추가루 in Korean) are critical for a good quality radish kimchi. The brining process takes longer using coarse sea salt compared to fine particle salt and this results in a crunchier and more flavorful radish kimchi. Iodized table salt or salt with additives such as anti-caking agents are not recommended as the additives may interfere with the fermentation process. Korean red pepper flakes are milder than regular red pepper flakes. Adjust the quantity of chili flakes according to personal taste.

Since ancient times, the gochugaru along with other seasoning ingredients would be finely crushed in a Korean pestle and mortar known as “hakdok” 학독. For over two centuries, this organic, kitchen utensil has been used by the ancient Koreans to make their kimchi seasoning pastes. Nowadays, modern cooks turn to a food processor, however the traditional method of crushing the ingredients in a “hakdok” yields better results taste-wise and nutrition-wise, as the sheer speed of the food processor blades destroys the nutrients and flavor of the ingredients.

Traditionally, Koreans would make radish kimchi during the fall (October to November) since Koreans consider radishes harvested during this time as the most flavorful.

Large quantities of radish kimchi would be prepared in the fall and stored in traditional breathable earthen pottery known as “ong-gi” 옹기 which were then buried underground, thus maintaining the ong-gi and the contents inside it at a temperature that was higher than the freezing winter temperatures that prevailed during the winter months. This provided the optimal temperature for the fermentation and preservation of the radish kimchi thus providing a reliable supply of food during winter. Before the invention of mechanical refrigeration systems, this was the method Koreans depended on for food preservation.

It is accepted among Koreans that kimchi fermented according to this ancient and traditional method is the most flavoful and wholesome. Modern day recipes may accelerate the kimchi fermentation process by placing the kimchi at room temperature for a few days before transferring it to the fridge. However, a slower fermentation at the optimum temperature of around 32 – 35 °F or 0 – 1.5 °C, as was practised in the olden days would yield a tastier and healthier kimchi. A minimum of 20 days would be needed for the kimchi to fully ferment and the longer it ferments in this constant temperature the more flavorful it becomes.

Nowadays, households have switched from these traditional vessels to modern-day kitchen containers made with materials such as ceramic, glass and plastic. While these containers are functionally adequate, it is generally accepted that kimchi produced in an ong-gi is superior taste-wise and health-wise than those produced in such modern containers.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb Korean radish
  • 1 tablespoon sun dried coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 of a medium-sized Asian pear – skin peeled, roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 inch piece ginger
  • 4 stalks scallions (aka green onions) – chopped
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1/2 – 2/3 cup or as desired Korean hot pepper flakes

Method:

Wash the radish with water thoroughly and pat dry. Peel the radish if desired, however some Koreans leave the skin intact for its texture and nutrients.

Slice Korean radish into 3/4 inch discs.

Then cut the slices into 1/2 – 3/4 cubes. Be wary of cutting the cubes too small as the radish cubes shrink as they ferment.

Place the radish cubes into a glass bowl.

Sprinkle coarse sea salt and mix well using hands or wooden spoon.

Set aside for about 2-3 hours. Every 30 minutes or so, toss the radish cubes to ensure they are evenly salted.

After an hour, the radish will be sitting in a puddle of its own juice. Taste the radish, it should taste slightly saltier than acceptable. As the radish ferments, the saltiness will decrease while the sourness increases.

Drain this juice into a cup or small bowl.

Into a Korean pestle (“hakdok” 학독), finely crush ginger and garlic.

Add fish sauce and mix well.

Add Korean hot pepper flakes and mix thoroughly.

Add chopped Asian pear. Crush finely.

The mixture would resemble a thick paste. If it is too dry, add just enough of the radish juice drained earlier into this finely ground seasoning ingredients to form a thick, rich paste.

Mix thoroughly.

Add this thick seasoning paste to the radish cubes. Add chopped scallions.

Mix thoroughly preferably with hands (use gloves) or with a wooden spoon. Ensure all radish cubes are well coated with the seasoning, giving the radish cubes a juicy, rich and appetizing appearance.

Transfer the contents into an ong-gi or fermenting jar. Press down as tightly as possible to remove any air pockets between the radish cubes. Cover the lid.

It can be eaten fresh or fermented. To ferment, place the ong-gi in the fridge, ideally at a temperature of 32 – 35 °F or 0 – 1.5 °C. Allow to ferment for at least one week.

Serve cold as a side dish.

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