At this time of the year I yearn my mother’s pickled hakusai, Chinese cabbage. It has lactic acid tinged, sweet and salty flavor. It is amusingly crunchy and it is d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s. So, these days I roam Greenmarket to find the best and largest head of organic Chinese cabbage. My mother pickled about two dozen heads of cabbage at the end of each year, all of which weighed about 5 pounds. Washing cabbage one after another in ice cold water turned her hands red like a boiled lobster. Transferring dried cabbage into two wooden pickling barrels while sprinkling just the right amount of sea salt over each cabbage pieces required much labor and time. How she could place a heavy boulders on top of each pickling barrels was beyond my imagination. My mother did it because she loved to see our happy face while we were eating her pickles. She loved to hear our repeated compliments over the table. I am very blessed that I am a child of my mother.
After purchasing two large head of Chinese cabbage at Greenmarket three weeks ago (each weighed only 3.5 pounds), I followed my mother’s recipe. Here are some instructions and tips.
1. Cut the head of Chinese cabbage into quarters. Rinse them four to five times in a large bowl of pooled cold water with cold tap water running into it. Each time change the water.
2. Drain the cabbage and dry them in a large, flat surface for whole day or two. My mother put the drained cabbage out on the veranda and exposed to cold, dry winter air. Unable to leave the food items in Manhattan outdoor air I just leave them inside the kitchen, even though I know that my mother’s way is the best. This drying process concentrates the flavor of the cabbage.
3. Weigh the cabbage and have 3% of sea salt to the weight of the cabbage in a small bowl.
4. Sprinkle the salt to each cabbage piece and place it in a large pickling pot. Repeat the process until all cabbage is gone. At the end the sea salt in a bowl should be all used up. Add handful Japanese dried red pepper on top of the cabbage.
5. Cover the surface of the cabbage with a heavy-duty plastic wrap. Place a flat plate which is about 1-inch smaller than the diameter of the pickling pot. Place a heavy pickling stone on top of the plate. Keep the pickling pot in a very cold place or store it in the refrigerator. In about 2 days water comes up and barely covers the cabbage pieces. From here you count about 2 weeks. In 2 weeks you have really delicious pickled Chinese cabbage.