Friday, September 7, 2012

Jalapeno Escabeche and The Magic of Lacto-Fermentation

If you love the pickled jalapenos that many Mexican restaurants serve as much as I do, you'll be delighted to learn just how easy it is to whip them up through the miracle of lactic acid fermentation, also known as lacto-fermentation.

Fermentation is a natural process in which microorganisms such as bacteria convert sugars or carbohydrates in food into delicious byproducts of fermentation.  Wine is grape juice fermented into alcohol.  In lacto-fermented jalapeno escabeche, carbohydrates are fermented by lactobacilli bacteria into lactic acid which gives the peppers a tart and delicious pickle-like quality.

Lactobacilli are everywhere making lacto-fermentation super easy.  All you have to do is create an environment where lactobacilli will thrive while inhibiting the growth of less desirable bacteria.  And all this takes is a little salt and removing the oxygen.

Lactobacilli prefer a slightly saltier environment than many other bacteria.  However, too much salt is not good, so be sure to use the amount of salt called for in the recipe.  Lactobacilli don't like oxygen either, so keeping your fermenting peppers submerged in the brine prevents exposure to oxygen and promotes the fermentation process.

Fermentation works best in temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees F - too warm and the peppers might lose their crunch; too cool and the fermentation process slows or comes to a stop.  I fermented my peppers on my counter for two weeks.  Now they'll keep in the fridge for six month or longer.

To make lacto-fermented jalapeno escabeche:

1.  Make a brine by dissolving 1.6 oz of kosher or pickling salt in 1 qt of filtered or non-chlorinated water.

2.  Prepare enough jalapenos, carrots, and onions to fill a clean 1 qt glass jar with a lid about 2/3 to 3/4 full.  Wash the vegetables.  Slice the onions.  Peel and slice the carrots.  And slice, halve, or leave whole the jalapenos, you're choice.

3.  Put the veggies in the jar.  Cover completely with the brine.  Weight down the veggies so they stay completely submerged.  You can do this with a small plastic bag filled with brine or a small glass jar that fits inside your larger jar, also filled with brine.

4.  Close the jar and set it on the counter for 2 weeks.  Then remove the weight and store the escabeche in the fridge.

A few fermentation tips:
Use non-reactive equipment in good condition.  Scratched and damaged equipment may harbor undesirable bacteria that could spoil your fermentation.  Glass, stoneware, and stainless steel are all good choices.  Copper, brass, and iron react with acids or salts and cause off flavors.

Don't use iodized table salt, as iodine is an anti-microbial and will likely inhibit your fermentation.

Use fresh produce.  Older veggies have tougher skins which may resist fermentation; and spoiled produce already contains undesirable bacteria that may ruin your fermentation.

Feel free to add whole spices such as peppercorns, bay leaves, or rosemary sprigs for additional flavor, but avoid ground spices as they may make the brine cloudy or result in strange color changes.

Some lacto-fermentation recipes call for the addition of a teaspoon or two of whey, which you can get by draining off of yogurt.  This is fine, but not necessary.  Your veggies will ferment with or without whey. The juice from a live-culture sauerkraut will work just as well as whey, if you want to kick-start your fermentation.

Today's bounty included:

From Jaime Farms:  Romaine lettuce, basil, and cilantro;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Patty pan squash, cucumbers, baby swiss chard, tomatillos, fresh garbanzos, mixed peppers, and yellow corn;

From K and K Ranch:  Gala apples and Thompson grapes;

From Shear Rock Farms:  Heirloom tomatoes; and

From Weiser Family Farms:  French fingerling potatoes and shallots.

Enjoy!

Shelley


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