Salt Talk | General Food & Drink | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram
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For kimchi, sauerkraut, and vegetable pickles, a ceramic crock specially designed for the job will give the best results, but a large mason jar will also do fine. The principal difference is that the crock has weights to hold the vegetables under the surface of the brine—which prevents undesirable mold from forming—and has a special lid which holds a small amount of water to allow gases to escape during fermentation without allowing any contaminants in. A sterilized rock or zip-top plastic bag filled with water can serve as a weight if you’re going to use a glass jar, though you’ll need to leave the lid open a crack to let the gases escape. The only other piece of equipment you need is a simple digital kitchen scale that measures metric units. A normal brine concentration is in the four-to-five-percent salt range, and that is most easily achieved by dissolving forty to fifty grams of salt per liter of water (a liter of water weighs one kilogram; the metric system is way easier for this).

There are as many recipes for kimchi as there are Korean Grandmothers, but a mix of napa cabbage, carrot, and scallion with garlic, ginger, and hot red pepper makes possibly the single most addictive raw vegetable food in the world. The considerable pleasure to be had from eating it right out of the jar is equaled only by the satisfaction of having made it yourself. Change the mixture of vegetables, and you’ve got giardiniera for salads or pasta. A head or two of cabbage shredded and fermented either by itself or flavored with black pepper, caraway, and juniper berries makes a superlative sauerkraut for reubens (tempeh or pastrami) and grilled sausages of any kind.

These various foods, besides helping you develop a deeper relationship with your food, also bestow many benefits. The live cultures, vitamins, and fiber in raw fermented pickles are extremely beneficial to our bodies; they aid digestion, boost the immune system, and may even help prevent cancer. There’s a wealth of information available about the health benefits of fermented food. Sandor Katz, author of the cookbook cum polemic Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods (Chelsea Green, 2003), sums it up this way: “The data adds up to this: Fermentation makes food more nutritious.” Pickles are also a perfect companion to almost every savory dish—from a vegan lentil soup to a hunk of seared steak, they make everything taste better, exciting our palates. Having a couple of cured meats in the pantry means that we can use a few slices of guanciale or lardo to impart a deep, porky richness to a soup or a pot of beans without the calories or expense of putting a whole chop on the plate next to it. And if you have a smoker, homemade bacon is a life-changing experience. (If you don’t, you can still make pancetta, which is almost as good.)
As with canning, there are some safety concerns when salting food, especially meat. Most books call for using nitrite when curing meat to guard against botulism. It’s not always necessary, but thorough research is required. There are plenty of good books available with detailed procedures and recipes, and complete information about the conditions (anaerobic, protein-rich, nonacidic) in which harmful organisms can grow. Keeping ingredients, tools, and surfaces clean is always essential. Don’t let any of this dissuade you—the payoffs are huge, and wide-ranging; from a health, economic, and taste perspective, these simple, ancient techniques will elevate your experience as both a producer and consumer of food.

click to enlarge Slicing home-cured duck prosciutto and an assortment of other home-cured meats in Peter Barrett's kitchen. - JENNIFER MAY
  • Jennifer May
  • Slicing home-cured duck prosciutto and an assortment of other home-cured meats in Peter Barrett's kitchen.
click to enlarge Slicing home-cured duck prosciutto. Also shown: Guanciale (unsmoked Italian style bacon made of cured pork jowl); salt pork; and wrapped lardo (cured pork fat). Raw meats were all purchased at Fleisher’s Grass-Fed Meats in Kingston. - JENNIFER MAY
  • Jennifer May
  • Slicing home-cured duck prosciutto. Also shown: Guanciale (unsmoked Italian style bacon made of cured pork jowl); salt pork; and wrapped lardo (cured pork fat). Raw meats were all purchased at Fleisher’s Grass-Fed Meats in Kingston.
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