Stretch the seasons with pickled and fermented foods
Preserving and pickling show no sign of slowing down. The National Restaurant Association named housemade condiments and housemade pickles two of the top 20 trends in its 2017 “What’s Hot” list. Nostalgia accounts for some of the trends’ popularity, says Derek Stevens, chef-owner of Union Standard restaurant in Pittsburgh, but pickling and fermenting reflect other forces now impacting menus.
“It’s a cost-effective and efficient way to conserve local produce,” says Stevens. With the current focus on sourcing locally and cooking seasonally, he and other chefs are preserving local produce when it’s abundant and in season to have on hand for future meals.
The zero-waste movement is another motivator. Instead of discarding the stems, skins, leaves and ends of fruits and vegetables, chefs are turning them into pickles, relishes and chutneys. Additionally, pickling is a culinary tradition in such trending ethnic and regional cuisines as Korean, Indian, Japanese and Southern Appalachian.
At the 180-seat Union Standard, bread-and-butter pickles are a signature on charcuterie plates and other menu items. Stevens prepares them by the traditional canning method of boiling sliced cucumbers in a sweet-sour vinegar solution, transferring them to Mason jars and processing the filled jars in a boiling water bath to eliminate bacteria.
But natural fermentation is his choice for asparagus, green beans and other seasonal produce. “Fermentation allows the vegetables to retain their crispness,” says Stevens. For this technique, he submerges the cleaned veggies in a 5% salt brine solution and leaves the mixture at room temperature for five to seven days to ferment. “The salt works to kill off bacteria,” he says. In spring, dilly beans—fermented green beans—keep the kitchen busy; Stevens uses them to garnish bloody marys and martinis and to balance meats like wood-grilled pork with a bit of acidity. Come fall, red and green cabbage is fermented into sauerkraut to feature on winter menus.
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha (a fermented tea) have increased on menus, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor, with kimchi rising 23% year over year as an add-on to dishes. The spiced fermented cabbage tops sandwiches, tacos and burgers in addition to traditional Korean dishes.