A growing trend among restaurateurs for the last few years has been in-house fermentation. Fermenting adds a nice flavor profile to some of your favorite veggies, turning them into tangy sides to go with your main entrees. The added health benefits to fermentation (contains healthy bacteria and aids digestion) is a great selling point for you to incorporate it into your menu. Not to mention, offering something “house-made” on your menu tends to catch the eye of diners.
Fermenting vegetables comes down to just a few ingredients: veggies, salt, water and any spices you want to use. For pickles, you simply dissolve the salt (pickling or kosher) in water to create a brine. You can chop, shred, slice or keep your veggies whole. Place your vegetables and spices in an airtight container or crock and fill with the brine. If you want to make a crunchy pickle, add a grape leaf or two to your jar. Grape leaves are rich in tannens, which inhibit the enzymes that make pickles soft. If using cucumbers, removing the blossom ends will help achieve the same effect, making grape leaves unnecessary.
You want to make sure your veggies stay submerged underneath the brine. Sometimes, placing a weight of some type onto the vegetables may be needed to keep them submerged. This is important, as the vegetables need to be kept in an anaerobic environment during the fermentation. Exposure to oxygen is a no-no, as that introduces the possibility of bad bacterial growth.
Fermentation can take a week, all the way up to a few months. How long to ferment depends on your tastes. It’s important to check on your fermentation, making sure there is no mold growth or spoilage-type smells. During your checks, you should also taste your veggies. Once they are to your taste, you can move to cold storage, which slows fermentation down almost to a crawl, so your pickles will retain the flavor you desire.
Sauerkraut and Kimchi
A slight variation from normal fermentation is when making sauerkraut. When fermenting cabbage, instead of mixing the salt and water, you will add salt directly to your shredded cabbage. From there, you want to massage the salt into your cabbage and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes. The goal is to draw out the cabbage’s natural juices, as they will create your brine. Lightly pounding with a wooden spoon or mallet will help draw the juices out as well. Once finished, you would add your cabbage to your vessel and ferment into sauerkraut.
Kimchi is quickly becoming one of the more popular side condiments for dishes. This spicy Korean staple is made the same way as sauerkraut. The differences are in the type of cabbage (typically bok choi or napa cabbage is used for kimchi; green or red cabbage for sauerkraut), the way the cabbage is prepared (sliced for kimchi; shredded for sauerkraut) and the additional goodies added to kimchi, such as ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes.
Looking to start your own fermentation projects? Click here for a huge list of recipes from the website Cultures for Health.
The site Maangchi has you covered if you want to try your hand at kimchi. Click here to check out their array of kimchi recipes.