Everything tastes better pickled. This is a mantra I’ve lived by since I was a child, when I’d watch my grandmother pickle cabbage, beetroot and chillies in large oak barrels in her basement. And yet, I’ve never gone to the trouble of finding out how it all works. Deciding to change that, I head to Little Duck – The Picklery, where the nose-wrinkling aroma of pickled cabbage is all-consuming from the moment I walk in, and the table is littered with lemons, vinegars and Turkish sour plums.
Chef Thom Eagle heads up the two-hour Fermenting & Pickling Workshop, where the aim is to create your own jar of daikon kimchi. He starts with an introduction to fermentation — the preservation of raw food using cultivated bacteria, the simplest form of which is acidification. “Basically, if you pour salt into a jar and throw in some vegetables, 99% of the time you’ll get something delicious,” Thom says. He then passes round two plates of sauerkraut for us to try — the first made in the last hour, the second two months ago. In the latter, the lactic acid bacteria has transformed the mundane white cabbage into a piquant, flavourful treat, and I gobble up more than my share. Generally, the vegetable can be eaten at any stage of the fermentation process, Thom explains, although it’s often better to wait. Most vegetables release their own juices when pressed, and salt is added to preserve flavour, texture and shelf life. The most common problem during fermentation, he says, is the yeast forming a layer inside the jar — but this can easily be removed. And Thom has never encountered a case of food poisoning from eating fermented veg.
Next, we try fermented carrot with nigella seeds, fresh turmeric and ginger, followed by celeriac and apple with mustard seeds. As we move on to pickling, Thom eulogises about his upcoming trip to Georgia, a country awash with pickles — from walnuts to bladdernut — where he hopes to learn more about pickling decorum. Unlike fermenting, pickling requires the addition of vinegar for acidity, but it produces a similarly complex flavour at the end.
I make my kimchi using a surprisingly easy fermentation process, starting by placing sliced daikon into a bowl (premixed with salt and sugar and left to produce water overnight). I add garlic, ginger, soy sauce, fish sauce and Korean red pepper, with quantities left to my discretion (hello half a jar of garlic). I mix it all together with my hands and cram as much as I can into a rubber-sealed jar.
It can be left for up to two weeks, but I can’t resist, and open the jar after two days. The kimchi is pungent, crunchy, and accompanies my chicken noodle stir-fry perfectly. If only I’d made a barrel-load.
The two-hour Fermenting & Pickling Workshop costs £65 per person.
Published in Issue 3 of National Geographic Traveller Food.