You may have canned, or pickled, but have you…fermented? (It’s not as personal of a question as it sounds). Fermentation represents an age-old tradition of storing foods, and it also may impart critical health benefits. As long as you have the right equipment and the right preparation, you can make the perfect kimchi, sauerkraut, or any other fermented food made exactly to your family’s taste. And here’s the best part: It’s really super easy. It’s also pretty hands-off, so you can just assemble the ingredients, forget about it for a week, and then – ding! – it’s done!
We had a chance to learn a great deal about fermentation at a presentation last week by Chef Ernest Miller of Rancho La Merced Provisions, as hosted by our friends at Melissa’s Produce. Together, they helped us make the perfect pairing: fresh produce from Melissa’s, and fermentation equipment from RLM Provisions.
So what is fermentation? According to RLM Provisions, fermentation is the process through which various microorganisms convert the carbohydrates in food into byproducts like ethanol, acetic acid, lactic acid, carbon dioxide, and other permutations. During this process, the texture, flavor, aroma, nutrition, and appearance is transformed as well. The food is preserved for longer use – and fermented foods also are rich in beneficial bacteria for our digestive tracts.
Lacto-fermentation, the kind of fermentation we did, is an anaerobic process (without oxygen) while converting carbohydrates in plant materials to lactic acid. According to Chef Ernest, to do this kind of fermentation, all you need is water, salt, vegetables, and flavor. (If you do fruit, because of the large amount of naturally occurring sugar, you may wind up with an alcohol fermentation like hard apple cider.)
If you’re going to ferment, you should use only fresh, ripe produce; and you should only use pure salt (not table salt) because table salt may have additives like potassium iodide that could be anti-microbial or cloud the brine. For our first foray into fermentation, we used a 3% brine solution (one ounce of salt per one quart of water, plus one ounce of salt per every three pounds of vegetables) because the vegetables were already sliced. If we were using whole vegetables, we would have needed a 5% brine solution (1.6 ounces of salt per quart of water).
This particular recipe was for curtido, the Salvadoran fermented cabbage dish that is akin to kimchi. We used a mixture of chopped cabbage, carrots, onions, garlic, jalapeno pepper, and cumin seed (don’t use ground spices in brines; it will make them cloudy). We packed it all up in the special fermenter designed by Rancho La Merced Provisions, and then one week later – voila! Perfectly aromatic fermented cabbage.
If you’ve ever been to a pupusa stand, you’d recognize curtido as the topping that is served on top of the pupusa. But that’s certainly not the only way to eat it. How about piled on top of bratwurst, with mustard and horseradish sauce?
There’s a whole world of veggies to ferment, and this experiment is only just getting started. If you’re more interested in fermenting, and particularly if you’re in the Southern California area, check out RLM Provisions and fermentation expert Chef Ernest Miller.
Blogger disclosure: I did not receive compensation for this post. All opinions expressed are my own.