Fermenting For Life

How do you cook without cooking? Add a new world of flavour to your repertoire with these simple fermentation techniques.
Mob Kitchen The Rules 1
Fuss free fermentation requires no rules. Give it a go.

I don’t think anything else had made such a big difference to my cooking as fermenting has. It wasn’t exactly a fall-off-your-chair epiphany but rather a process of joining the dots between kimchi, salt pickles, hot sauce, miso, fish sauce, realising what they had in common, and thinking yes! If all you know of fermentation is either its alternative health aspects or maybe the chef-scientists at Noma, perhaps it might seem a little daunting, beyond the home cook – but really it is incredibly easy, and its results are almost universally delicious. You don’t need to make any particular investment in equipment or expensive ingredients, either. It’s more a matter of rethinking the way you approach food.

Mob Kitchen Jar amongst chaos
Your kitchen might be in chaos but your fermented goods will work away beautifully in the corner.

I remember when I started exploring fermentation how strange it felt, turning all the usual rules of cooking on their head. You don’t really do anything to a ferment; you just set the scene for bacteria to do the work for you. It’s done at room temperature, without either cooking or refrigeration or any special equipment. This, though, is the appeal. Fermentation completely transforms the least prepossessing ingredients – a cabbage, some underripe tomatoes, a bucket of fish guts - as much or more so than cooking does, but quietly, by itself, in a jar on the kitchen counter.

Although we’ll look at the various techniques in more detail under each recipe, there are some fundamentals for fermenting vegetables which apply universally; to understand them it helps to know a bit about what’s actually happening in that jar. Although the term fermentation covers a number of different processes, when we talk about kimchi, sauerkraut, gherkins and the like we are talking about lactofermentation or wild fermentation, using naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria.

Mob Kitchen Connecting the dots2
Salt, liquid and acidity are all you need to bear in mind for the perfect ferment.

These microbes are found everywhere, on our skin and on our ingredients and so there is no need to add a starter culture of any kind to a vegetable ferment. What we do instead is create the right conditions for the lactic bacteria to flourish, rather than any other sort. They are more tolerant of salt than most, so we add this, and make sure the ferment is covered with water – unlike many bacteria, as well as yeasts and moulds, they can live without air.

Protected like this the bacteria feed on natural sugars and transform them into lactic acid, which gives ferments their particular tang as well as further preserving them, like the vinegar in a pickle. Salt, liquid, acidity – these are the three things to bear in mind when you ferment, trusting your senses as well as the recipe.

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