From the back yard garden, kale and radicchio that’s finally forming heads (planted last fall).
With fermented Jimmy Nardello pepper paste…
A excellent, relatively quick dinner– Grilled steak, onions, and peppers. A fiery, fruity salsa made from grilled/blistered rocoto peppers, olive oil, lime juice, and salt. And tortillas also cooked on the grill as an experiment….
Starting each tortilla on a cast iron skillet for a minute gave it a skin on the bottom that prevented the soft masa from drooping down through the grating– then I transferred each tortilla to the grill, making it easy to quickly cook 4-6 in parallel.
Another winter weekend, another bout of citrus preserving.
First, citrus peels rubbed in sugar to extract oils and make an oleo saccharum, my favorite way to get flavor out of citrus. I tried both bergamot from Monterey Market and a mystery pomelo/citron hybrid(?) citrus from someone in our neighborhood. I was lazy about my usual careful cutting out of all pith inside the rind of the pomelo/citron since it didn’t taste especially bitter.
I also wanted to try making black lemons / black limes— both whole meyer lemons and bearss limes from the back yard trees, boiled in very salty water for 10 minutes, then put in a dehydrator whole for 3 days (rather than sun-drying them over a month as would be more traditional– our rainy Oakland winter wasn’t cooperating).
The result, surprisingly, was very dry (almost brittle) limes and lemons with glossy black interiors and a slightly funky taste– it will be interesting to see if they are dry enough to truly keep without spoiling and add flavor to stews and cous cous…
Someone else gifted me some red and yellow rocoto peppers (capsicum pubescens), which were extremely hot but with a bit of fruitiness like a habanero. I dehydrated a few trays of them to grind into chili powder and filled another jar with them and a 4% sea salt solution, garlic, and mustard seed to see how they ferment:
The end result (including some whole limes packed in salt to make preserved limes, and a bergamot-rice vinegar shrub made from the oleo saccharum)–
Not shown, a “pomelocello” made with the pomelo/citron oleo saccharum, the juice, and cheap vodka.
Not bad for a weekend’s work. The dried rocoto pepper powder has already become a good go-to for chili, beans, and stew, and the bergamot-rice vinegar shrub makes a great non-alcoholic cocktail diluted about 1:6 with sparkling water.
This batch of sauerkraut turned out especially good:
I cut two heads each of savoy and red cabbage into long narrow strips, then sprinkled them generously with sea salt, let them rest, then kneaded them until juice was coming out and they were turning translucent. I added a decent amount of caraway seed and a handful of dried juniper berries, covered it with a few spare cabbage leaves, and weight them down with some ceramic weights– pushing the cabbage down into its own liquids. Then I just let it lacto-ferment in a crock on the counter for 3 or 4 weeks, tasting periodically.
The result was a moderately sour bright maroon kraut that still had some good crunch… I moved it to the fridge to slow further fermentation.
So far it’s gone especially well with sausages and mustard, or with home-smoked brisket and fermented thai chilies on a taco…
My third, fourth, and fifth batches of fermented hot sauce:
Two of them started as ways to preserve two bushes worth of green cayennes and Thai chiles (chilis? chilies?) from a back yard raised bed that got a later start in the season so didn’t turn red before the weather turned cool:
I packed a jar full of green chiles with some mustard seed and garlic cloves in a 4% salt brine and let ferment for about a month at 60 degrees, then skimming off mold or anything floating on the surface, straining, tasting, and pureeing with some of the reserved probiotic brine to make a tangy, slightly umami hot sauce (no vinegar added). The cayenne in particular has more going on than just “hot”.
I do want to figure out a better blending / straining technique for the times I want a thin hot sauce that’s less like a chile paste.
After reading an essay about Tabasco sauce, getting a Sander Katz book as a present, and taking a class at Preserved Oakland, fermented hot sauce was on my mind, and I like how my first batch (a blend of 4-6 week fermented jalapenos, Jimmy Nardello sweet peppers, garlic, and spices) turned out. In photos:
Jimmy Nardellos submerged in an 4-5% concentration sea salt brine with a few hot thai chilis, garlic cloves, black peppercorns, corianted seed, and brown mustard seed:
Jalapenos, a few cayennes, and garlic and peppercorns submerged in brine:
I left some peppers at room temperature for a few weeks, but also put some peppers in one of my temperature-controlled “fermentation fridges” (a mini-fridge retrofitted with a temperature controller, allowing me to hold it at 55-60F for a slow, long, 4-6 week fermentation even during warm weather). Also shown: a hard cider aging:
Blending the various peppers and garlic and a bit of the drained now-probiotic / live cultures brine to make a fermented chili paste (or in a few cases, to strain to make a thinner hot sauce):
My understanding in more detail:
Traditionally, many cultures’ hot sauces were made through lacto-fermentation, the same general process behind sauerkraut, kimchi, half-sour pickles, and other live-cultured foods. Rather that using vinegar, this involves packing vegetables and spices in a salt brine, and letting a series of wild bacteria (most commonly from the skins of the vegetables) multiple and progressively transform the food and environment over the course of weeks to a few months.
There are good and bad bacteria (and molds and other undesirable microorganisms), so the name of the game is all about creating environments (salinity, acidity, oxygen or lack of oxygen) that favor the growth of the desired microorganisms and shut down the undesirables.
There are plenty of books about this so I won’t recap all the details here, but I’ve always found it fascinating. There’s not just one bacteria involved– one bacteria may thrive in a salty but neutral-pH environment and as it multiplies lowers the pH of the environment, making it more hospitable to a new bacteria that will then start to multiply and further lower the pH (shutting down the previous bacteria).
These intermediate modest-pH fermentation steps may produce strong, funky, and occasionally unpleasant smells that make you think it’s spoiling (mine did for about two weeks but then faded as fermentation progressed), and white cloudy yeasts and slimy fluids may also form from this complex colony of microorganisms. It takes some effort to get past a reflexive disgust– but given the right time and environment and vegetables well-submerged under the brine away from surface mold, these fermentations generally all end up dominated by lactobacillus, an especially low-pH-tolerant bacteria that defines lacto-fermentation and the particular (good-tasting) fermented vegetable tang. This web page has a more detailed step by step of the phases of fermentation and the microorganisms involved, and highlights how lactic acid bacteria are only present in small amounts on vegetables, but through this progressive environment change are favored to multiple and eventually take over.
There are a number of ingredients that also help prevent formation of mold and preserve the sauce, including traditionally spicy ingredients (garlic, hot peppers) as well as juniper berries and grape leaves– so fermenting hot peppers should be a bit easier than some other vegetables.
I took the approach of submerging peppers in a salt brine of about 4-5% (for every quart of water I used 2.5 Tbsp of a mix of coarse sea salt and a Japanese “moon salt” (also presumably a sea salt), but this is based on an estimated conversion between volume and mass— for future fermentations I used a scale to weigh out 4% salt).
I went through this roller coaster of smells, textures, and appearance on the first two batches of peppers– at 2-3 weeks they smelled fairly unpleasant, and I had to skim off some significant surface scum (mold?) on the room-temperature bottles (this seemed to be somewhat less of a problem for the ones in the 60F fridge). But after 4 weeks the smell had mellowed out, and at five weeks when I took off the weights and extracted the peppers they had a intense but pleasant kick of funky fermented tang, and made a good hot sauce when blended with the fermented jalapenos and garlic. I kept this hot sauce in the regular fridge after this to slow down any further fermentation.
During much of our late-2015 Mexico City trip I was eating tacos and street food, but we also had some really excellent sit-down restaurant meals. The ones that stand out most are:
We knew from the beginning we’d have to come here for an extended small-bites tasting menu.
Looking at my phone, I apparently emailed myself some notes later that evening when back in our B&B because I couldn’t stop thinking about the meal (what a dork), so I’ll just copy them in here:
This was A+ seafood, in a bustling, social, cheerful dining room where there were many large groups, with people showing up to join friends at dinner mid-way through a meal and ordering rounds of small and large plates.
The highlight was a whole red snapper ‘Contramar style’– grilled and split open, half covered with an amazing parsley butter, and half with a red sauce I don’t remember the details of. Accompanied with tortillas, picked onions and peppers, escabeche, and a great jalapeno sauce.
The ceviche was also excellent.
This was about twice as much food as we could eat– we should have invited our other two friends who were in town. But getting the snapper with parsley butter was definitely worth it.
Ojo de Agua was a great low-key pit stop when feeling dehydrated, overheated, or tired from walking the city– there are several locations around the city including on a little park in Hipodromo and they serve revitalizing agua frescas including an amazing coconut milk (they also sell coconut water, but the coconut milk was especially creamy, rich, and rehydrating) and some decent breakfast chilaquiles with avocado.
Just nearby, the cafe Maque served a great breakfast– I loved the chilaquiles divorcados (half and half green chile verde and red salsas — probably my favorite of the trip) and the fresh biscuit with cheese and honey.
I had a great crispy, tender lamb and a hibiscus-mezcal sorbet at Merotoro.
Finally, at El Cardenal we had a good poblano mole chicken breast (though next time I visit I want to explore mole more broadly– a friend recommended Fonda Mi Lupita for mole and I never made it there). El Cardenal was especially notable for excellent tortillas (perhaps freshly-nixtamalized corn?)