Chefs across the world seem to be going back to their roots, controlling all elements of their dishes by creating their own pickled, smoked or fermented products. By utilising techniques that have been around for thousands of years, chefs are adding interest to plates and are creating unique tastes that only their establishment can offer.
Drying, curing, fermenting, pickling are all making a comeback in restaurants across the world. A lot of these trendy techniques being used today were originally used out of necessity. For example, ale used to be drunk because it was a better option than drinking from the communal water well, which often caused illness and death. Fish was dried to take with on long sea voyages and produce was pickled so that it wouldn’t go off on a voyage or prepared for the winter months when nothing much was available.
Beau Du Toit, Head Chef at the Allée Bleue Bistro says, “Fermentation has been around for thousands of years and brings us all the good things in life: beer, wine and bread.” One of Chef Beau’s favourite things to eat is ‘kerrie vis’, a Cape Malay style pickled fish that became very popular in the days when refrigeration was not an everyday thing. The only way to make your food last, a few hundred years ago, was to preserve it, and even with refrigeration making this cooking technique obsolete, we still use it daily. How boring would life be without jams, pickles and chutneys?
Chef Beau started preserving and pickling products as a hobby and it has since become a small business. At first he only used it with cheese platters for parties at his home, later realising that friends wanted to buy it. He relished the opportunity to start a small preserves business and says it’s fun to do and doesn’t take a lot of time.
Some countries have never left the age of pickling. The Korean national dish is Kimchi, which is finely shredded cabbage pickled with vinegar, sugar and chilli paste and can include fish sauce. This is all mixed together, normally in large batches and placed in the refrigerator where it starts to ferment. The end result is a fiery, slightly slimy cabbage salad which the Koreans find irresistible.
Chefs are getting back to basics by curing their own charcuterie, creating their own starter yeast to add a unique flavour to the breads they bake and pickling veggies to create a slightly sour crunchy contrast as an accompaniment to various meats.
Make it yourself
Cure your own by rubbing pork belly with a dry spice rub and allow to sit for a few weeks. Remember that the better the quality of the pork, the more flavour the end product will have. The basic rub is a mixture of sugar, salt and pepper. These can be varied by using different types of sugar such as maple sugar, and herbs and spices can also be added to enhance the flavour.
Yoghurt is incredibly easy to make and uses minimal equipment. Use a shop bought unsweetened plain yoghurt which has live cultures in it. Heat whole milk until just before boiling point, allow to cool down to body temperature and then mix a couple of tablespoons of the yoghurt with the milk. The important thing is to use sterilised equipment and to allow the yoghurt to sit for at least five hours at a consistently warm temperature before refrigerating and eating.
Chilli sauce is easy to make and very rewarding. Pick a chilli with the burn level that you desire, finely chop it with some garlic and boil it with a sugar syrup for a basic sauce. Fish sauce is a good addition to this basic recipe.
Cucumber pickles are a big part of what makes a great burger. Use pickling cucumbers placed in sterilised jars. Then make a brine using vinegar, water, sugar, peppercorns, coriander and bay leaves. Pour the brine over the cucumber and allow to sit for two weeks.
Use the zest of lemons to infuse vodka. After a few days of allowing the vodka to absorb the flavour, strain the vodka and add a basic sugar syrup.
Combine sugar and water and add whichever flavouring you wish, such as mint, chilli, lemon or even coffee. Bring to a boil for a quick flavour fix.
When it comes to cheese making, Ricotta is the best place to start. Add rennet to whole milk and place over a low heat until the curds separate from the whey. Remove the curds to form a cheese, then reheat the whey until more curds form – this is ricotta, which literally means reheated.
Porcini mushrooms are particularly useful as a dried ingredient. Either use a speciality dehydrating machine or simply place the mushrooms in an oven at a low temperature for as many hours as it takes.