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Monday, July 13, 2015

Pucker Up

Goodness knows, I've pickled just about everything under the sun. Name it and I've pickled it.
Although  I gave up full blown pickling and canning a couple of years ago after putting up loads of pickles only to give every last jar away, I still dabble in the pickling biz. Nowadays, I keep vinegar-marinated summer cucumbers in the refrigerator all summer long and whip up small batches of quick pickled what-nots from time to time. Quick pickled red onions, carrots, okra, turnips, and radishes are great to have on hand when bright bites are needed for perky acidity. All in all, I've never met a pickle I didn't like or love. While my love for all things pickled is steadfast, my shameless lust for fermented stuff is unbounded. Merely thinking about the fabulous fermented funk of kimchi. saurkraut, injera bread, fish sauce, gouchujang, or anchovies, pounds my inner drums. To ferment or not to ferment? Sure, some of the heavy hitters (like fermented rotting fish) might be better left to the big guns, but some things are manageable enough to easily and safely throw together on a smaller scale.  Case in point? Half sour and full sour pickles. Unlike vinegar-based processed pickles, half and full sours are brined in a simple salt/water solution and left to stew in their own juices. When the natural sugars react with the salty brine, the lactic fermentation transforms the vegetables into lip pursing pucker-tastic jewels. Prio-biotic lacto-fermented treasures.

Half and Full Sour Pickles.
Simple pickles. There's no need to drag out a huge enamel canning pot, sterilize a drawer full of lids, dig for tongs, or search for funnels. Sour pickles are very basic. Cucumbers. Salt. Water. The most important thing might be the brining solution or the ratio of salt to water. Some folks swear by a lower ratio (3%) while others stand by a higher ratio (10%). I fall somewhere in the middle with a 5% ratio or 1 tablespoon salt per 1 cup water.

After slicing the blossom ends off of 1 pound smallish Stonehedge Farm kirby cucumbers, I thoroughly washed them in iced water before cramming them into a quart mason jar with 5 sprigs of fresh dill, 4 garlic cloves, 2 bay leaves, 2 tablespoons whole allspice seeds, 2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds, 2 tablespoons whole Tellicherry peppercorns, and 1 sliced Fresno hot pepper.

I dissolved 4 tablespoons of kosher salt in 4 cups of filtered water and filled the jar with enough brine to completely cover the cucumbers. Now, sticky uppy bits are not a great thing. The cucumbers must be covered and submerged in the brine for proper fermentation to occur. If not covered, the wrong kind of bacteria could take over. Not a good thing. I used a small demi-tasse saucer to weigh down the cucumbers and keep them submerged.

Gurgling living food needs to breathe.  If sealed too tightly, the gases from the fermentation have nowhere to go and could...well...explode. I've had my share of gaseous brined saurkraut mishaps. After  making sure the pickles were submerged in the brine, I covered the mouth of the jar with layers of cheesecloth and secured the cloth with a rubber band. Although hardly high tech, I knew the cheesecloth would keep the bad things out of the pickles while still allowing them to breath and let the gases escape.

Covered and banded, I nestled the quart mason jar into a bowl ( to catch whatever might bubble over) and placed the bowl/jar/cucumbers in a cool dark corner of the garage.

Here's the deal. The great thing about sour pickles is that the process is fairly quick. Saurkraut can take up to 6 weeks to ferment. Depending upon the desired level of rot, kimchi might take months. Half sour pickles might be ready to go in 5 or 6 days. Full sours hit their full pucker punch in about 2 weeks. The level of sourness is totally subjective. Tasting  along the way is key.

After 3 days, I peaked under the cheesecloth to see if anything was happening. With some bubbling action going on, I knew the pickles were off to a good start, so I slid them back into their little hide-away and left them alone.

After 8 days, the somewhat shrunken pickles bobbed away in the murky and cloudy brine. It wasn't pretty, but it was normal.  I snacked on a few pickles, covered the jar, and decided to let them go for another week. The full monty. Full sours.

After 15 days, I slid the pickles into the refrigerator to chill. Sour pickles can last for a month in the refrigerator before they start to soften. They're fantastic as snacks, piled onto fatty deli sandwiches, or served with anything  barbecued. I treated the pickles like big boy cornichons and tumbled  them onto a cutting board alongside bourbon-spiked chicken liver pate topped with snipped chives and extra virgin olive oil.


Pucker up.

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