Pungent, compelling smelling ingredients are part of the magic of many Asian dishes. The problem comes when they get too stinky. Case in point is over-ripened, “mature” kimchi. It tastes great in dumpling fillings, fried rice, and tofu hot pots, but how do you live with it in your kitchen?
I recently had a jar of over-the-hill kimchi spew its brining liquid all over my apron, right before I was suppose to teach a cooking class. Its volcanic action continued for about 5 minutes after sitting with the lid off. I changed to a clean apron and explained the smell to students as they filed into the room. Thank gawd that the dish we made (Korean mandu filled with tofu and a smidgen of kimchi) turned out well.
Then there was this bag of Trader Joe’s kimchi in my fridge. Despite the July 2012 expiration date, the kimchi looked like it was about to pop last week. Kimchi knows no time boundaries.
Barring a dedicated kimchi refrigerator that keeps the stuff at near freezing temps (I don’t eat enough to justify the cost) or an airtight kimchi container (I own one but didn’t have fridge space for it), I opted for plastic bags. I decided to experiment with:
1) Putting the Trader Joe’s bag inside a zip-top plastic bag, thereby effectively double bagging the kimchi.
2) Sliding some kimchi into a Japanese kimchi deodorizing bag (pictured at the top), which I’d bought at Daiso, a chain of Japanese 100 Yen ($1.20 USD) stores.
The kimchi bag claims to have some kind of ceramic in the plastic that helps to “decompose bad odors”, particularly of fish, meat, eggs and onions – though the front highlights kimchi in text and photography. The back of the packaging is pretty clear about the bag's wondrous capabilities:
After a couple of hours, I sniffed and there was a faint kimchi aroma through both the Japanese bag and the zip-top plastic bag.
The next morning, we opened the fridge and eeew, the kimchi smell was pretty strong. I did the sniff test. It was the Japanese deodorizing bag that leaked the stinkiness most. I stuck it into the zip-top bag and returned for another sniff test an hour later. The smell was gone from the fridge.
My lesson learned for dealing with stinky kimchi in this instance? Just double bag it in a zip-top bag. When I’ve had a lot of kimchi (thanks to a very generous friend, Yun Ho), I put it all into an airtight glass or plastic container and kept it refrigerated.
Korean markets sell dedicated kimchi containers of varying sizes but I find that what I have around the house works just fine. On the Maangchi Korean food site, people suggested putting a dish of ground up coffee beans in the fridge to suck up the smell; replace the coffee every few weeks.
I hoped that the deodorizing bags would work well but no cigar, folks. On the other hand, zip-top bags are fabulous and handy. Keeping the stinky smell of food ingredients can be challenging. If you have tips, don't keep them to yourself.