Cooking

Fermentation for Dummies

Sandor Katz on how to get started with fermenting at home
Photo: Dave Katz/Tasting Table 
Sandor Katz's Sauerkraut

April is Homegrown Month at Tasting Table.

Stinky, bubbling, old, but not rotten? Fermentation can seem like the muckiest kind of kitchen science. But avoidance is not the answer—just outside your comfort zone is where the magic happens.

Fermenting vegetables is one way to capture that magic. The process "unlocks mysterious layers of flavor complexity," Sandor Katz, the widely regarded author of Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation, says. No other technique offers such an opportunity to experiment and innovate.

Fermentation was developed as a way to preserve foods that otherwise might spoil quickly in the pre-refrigerator days. Today curious chefs and home cooks are bringing the technique back, compelled partially by its nutritional and health benefits but also by the range of delicious and intense flavors that fermentation can produce. At gourmet food shops, almost all of the items being sold are the product of fermentation, including coffee, chocolate, tea, wine, cheese, beer, bread, salami, olives and pickles.

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For an easy first-time home fermentation project, Katz recommends sauerkraut (see the recipe), describing it as "the gateway to fermentation." There's no reason to be afraid of making sauerkraut in your own home, Katz says. When shredded cabbage is salted, stuffed tightly into an airtight jar and submerged in its own juices, a selective environment is created, which prevents the growth of harmful bacteria and encourages the growth of the healthy kind.

DIY fermentation is a way for home cooks to become active in creating food rather than simply being a consumer, Katz says. "Food is the greatest community builder there is, and the most gratifying part of growing, cooking or fermenting food is ultimately sharing that food with friends and family."

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