Sunday, 7 September 2014

Fermented Food: Pickles

I haven't written about fermented food since this kimchi post, but with the abundance of vegetables at the farmer's market over the last few months I've been fermenting things all summer long.  One of my favourite things to make at this time of year are lacto-fermented sour pickles.  If you get it right, they are crisp and sour, but with a much softer acidity than cucumbers pickled in vinegar.  A cold pickle from the fridge goes great with a beer on a hot summer day.  In fact, one of the highlights of my recent trip to Toronto was buying sour pickles-on-a-stick from this store in Kensington Market (you can take them next door and get a beer at Thirsty and Miserable)---I went back more than once!

The trouble with fermenting cucumbers is that they come into season just as the weather gets hot, and a warm start to fermentation is a sure way to end up with a mushy pickle.  Home brewers with fermentation fridges are at an advantage here: if you don't mind the small risk of cross-contamination, a fermentation fridge set at ale temperatures is a perfect place to get these going during the summer.

The process is fairly simple (I've included a recipe below): make a 5% brine solution ( i.e. 5g salt for every 100g water), add whatever spices and herbs you care for, then submerge the cucumbers (I weigh them down with a plastic bag full of brine) and allow them to ferment until you like how they taste. You have to be sure to trim the blossom end from the cucumbers, as this contains enzymes that will cause the cucumbers to begin to break down and become mushy.  Skimming the scum from the top of the brine can also help prevent molds from forming on top (I usually get a pellicle if I forget to skim every day, but I don't worry about it as long as its white).  I usually let my first batch sour fully before refrigerating it, which takes two to three weeks; for subsequent batches, when I already have pickles available, I'll often move them to the fridge after just a few days to let them ferment more slowly.  This way I have batches maturing all summer long.

The tricky thing is getting pickles that are fermented and sour, but not mushy and soft.  At first I tried to make pickles with cucumbers from a super market, but these almost always ended up soft.  I haven't had this problem since I started using cucumbers from the farmer's market, though this means I can only make pickles for a few weeks each summer.

Another trick people use to ensure crisp pickles is adding some source of tannins to the fermenting pickle.  Traditional sources include sour cherry leaves and oak leaves; the recipe below includes tea leaves for the same purpose.  One idea I didn't get to test this summer was using the oak cubes home brewers use to flavour beers.  This would surely add tannins to the brine, and perhaps provide an interesting flavour dimension to the pickles.  It might also be interesting to reuse the cubes in a beer afterwards---they'd be inoculated with the yeasts and lactic-acid bacteria from the ferment, so you'd have a semi-spontaneously inoculated beer!  I'll definitely try this at some point in the future.

Here's a recipe for something a little different from the typical dill-flavoured sours---the Lapsang Souchong gives the pickles a nice smoky flavour that I rather like.  It's from The Joy of Pickling:

Ingredients1 small fresh hot pepper (e.g. serrano) halved lengthwise
6 garlic cloves, sliced
2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns, crushed
2 teaspoons Lapsang Souchong tea leaves
2 quarts 3-to-5 ince pickling cucumbers, blossom ends removed
3 tablespoons pickling salt
1 quart water
Instructions:1. Put the hot pepper, garlic, peppercorns, and tea into a 2-quart jar.  Pack the cucumbers into the jar. Dissolve the salt in the water and cover the cucumbers with brine, leaving at least 1 1/2 inches head-space.  Push a quart-size freezer bag into the mouth of the ja, pour the remaining brine into the bag, and seal the bag. keep the jar at about room temperature, with a dish underneath if seeping brine might do some damage.
2. Within 3 days you should see tiny bubbles rising in the jar; this shows that fermentation is under way.  If scum appears at the top of the jar, skim it off and rinse the brine bag.  If so much brine bubbles out that the pickles aren't well covered, add some more brine in the same proportions of salt to water.
3. The pickles should be ready in 2 to 3 weeks; they will be sour and olive-green throughout.  If you plan to eat them within a few weeks, simply remove the brine bag, cap the jar, and store it in the refrigerator.  If you want the pickles to keep longer, strain off the brine into a saucepan, bring it to a boil, simmer it for 5 minutes, and let it cool.  Rinse the pickles in cold water, pack them into a clean jar (with fresh spices if you like), and cover them with the boiled and cooled brine before refrigerating them.

No comments:

Post a Comment