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Fermenting veggies: How restaurants can get started

fermented veggies
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Question:

I read your article on fermented vegetables with interest, but you didn’t actually say how to do it. I see them on menus but feel like I’m behind the trend on this one.

– Chef, Philadelphia

Answer:

Fermenting vegetables is one of those processes where, by taking a little bit of effort, you can completely change the impact of those ingredients on a plate, yielding complex flavor and some reputed health benefits. 

As I wrote when discussing the safety of these items, “fermentation happens when microorganisms such as bacteria or yeast (or a combination) eat the carbohydrates in food, yielding alcohols, acids, carbon dioxide, and heat. Many of our most beloved traditional foods—bread, beer, wine, tea, chocolate, pickles, kimchi, soy sauce, cheese, yogurt and miso, to name a few—have undergone this process.”

Some types of fermentation, such as beer brewing, require specialized equipment and ingredients, precise temperatures and a good deal of know-how to get the desired results. But in the case of fermented vegetables, you can mostly combine ingredients in the right ratio and let nature take its course.

There are many nuances to fermenting vegetables, including specialty starter cultures that can be ordered online, air locks for jarring and ideal salt ratios for particular vegetables. For a deep dive, I recommend Sandor Katz’s book “Wild Fermentation.” 

But to get started is very easy. Cut some vegetables to desired size and place them in a nonreactive container. Add a salt brine. Use a weight to keep the vegetables submerged. Cover with cheese cloth to allow gas to escape. Let them sit at room temperature to ferment before covering and moving them to refrigeration, where fermentation will slow considerably but flavor will still develop. Taste frequently to know if they are done to your liking. If you see any funky, unusual molds, discard. 

Norberto Piattoni, executive chef at Metta in Brooklyn, N.Y., ferments frequently and advises, “2.5% is the magic number. A 2.5% brine can ferment just about anything, though some vegetables work better than others. I think it works well for a lot of vegetables, but green beans, cabbage, cornichon, radish, turnip, peppers [and] green tomato are easy and very tasty [for someone getting started]. 

Please see the previous article on this topic to keep health codes top of mind. Consult with your local health department on how to ferment safely and in compliance with local regulations. Happy pickling!

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