Taproot Contributors :: Kirsten & Christopher Shockey’s Fiery Ferments

Editor's Note:

Kirsten K. Shockey has been a frequent contributor to Taproot - both in our pages and at our events across the country! A mother, homesteader, gardener, and fermintista extraordinaire, she is releasing a new book today created with her husband Christopher. In Fiery Ferments (available in our shop among other places!), you'll find accessible and inspiring recipes for all home fermenters, this time with a bit of zing! Today, courtesy of Storey Publishing, we share with you an excerpt from the new book.

~Amanda Blake Soule 

(Excerpted from Fiery Ferments, © by Kirsten Shockey and Christopher Shockey, photography by © Lara Ferroni, used with permission from Storey Publishing. Top Photography by © Lara Ferroni. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.)

Thai-Inspired Green Bean Relish
Yield: About 1 quart        
Technique: Kimchis, Relishes, and Salads        
Heat Index: 3

This green bean relish is hot and crunchy. Its heat comes on slowly, after you have tasted the other flavors, which makes it unique. Then it lingers with a full-body warming effect. If you want more burn, simply add more Thai peppers.

1 pound green beans
1 teaspoon salt
13 fresh or dried Thai dragon chiles (or Thai bird’s eye chiles), chopped with seeds
1 medium shallot, diced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Thai basil
2 stalks lemongrass, cut into 1-inch segment

1. First prepare the green beans. Your goal is small slices, and how you get there is really up to you. We use a mandoline and are able to achieve a consistent, thin, slightly diagonal crosswise slice. If you don’t have a mandoline, you may julienne your beans or use the slicer blade on a food processor. However you do it, when the green beans are thinly sliced, sprinkle in the salt and mix well.

2. Add the chiles, shallot, and Thai basil, and massage the whole mixture together. This ferment will not look very juicy.
3. Line the bottom of a quart jar with the stalks of lemongrass, then pack the green bean mixture in tightly, pressing out any air pockets as you go.
4. Press a ziplock bag against the surface of the relish, fill the bag with water, and zip it closed.
5. Place the jar in a corner of the kitchen to cure. If you see air pockets, remove the bag, press the ferment back down with a clean utensil, rinse the bag, and replace.
6. Allow to ferment for 10 to 21 days. The relish is ready when you see the color of the green beans mute; you may also see a cloudiness develop in the brine. The ferment will have a pleasing acidic smell and taste pickle-y, and it may also have a bit of an effervescent zing. You can let it ferment longer for more sour and punch.
7. Screw on the lid and store in the fridge, where the relish will keep for up to 12 months. 

A Step-by-Step Visual Guide
Kimchis, Relishes, and Salads

This “dry brine” method is the basis for some of the juicier ferments in this book that have more texture because their vegetables are cubed, grated, or sliced. Some of the kimchi-type ferments use this technique, though the traditional kimchi method requires a two-step process.

This very simple, bare-bones fermentation strategy uses any jar (no matter the size or shape) and a ziplock freezer bag. However, you can use the general technique with any of the myriad fermentation setups out there.

1. Use a knife, mandoline, or food processor to prepare the ingredients as indicated in the recipe. Add the salt, massaging it in to develop a moist ferment. Some ferments will have a scant brine, while others will be downright juicy.

2. Pack the vegetables carefully into a jar, pressing out any air pockets as you go. Leave the top quarter of the jar free.

3. Press a ziplock bag against the surface of the ferment, fill the bag with water, and zip it closed. 

4. Set the jar in a corner of the kitchen, in a spot that is between 55 and 75°F (13 and 24°C). Let it ferment for the time indicated in the recipe.
5. During the fermentation period, watch for air pockets forming in the ferment. If you see any, adjust the ziplock, pressing it gently on the ferment until the pockets disappear. Or remove the bag, press the ferment down with a clean utensil, rinse the bag, and replace.
6. Following fermentation, screw on the lid and store the jar in the refrigerator. 

Kimchi’s Extra Step
For some people, kimchi is synonymous with fiery ferment. Though kimchi is often hot and spicy, that is not what defines it. Kimchi is simply the Korean word for pickled or fermented vegetables. There are hundreds of varieties of traditional kimchis and even more individual takes on the theme. Many of them are made with a two-step process.

We like to explain this process as a hybrid of brine pickling and dry brining. The napa cabbage, or whatever vegetable you’re using, is left to soak in a brine solution for 6 to 8 hours. During this time (as with brine pickling), the vegetable soaks up brine; salt penetrates it by osmosis and dehydrates it. The soaked vegetable is now set up for fermentation from the inside out.

At this point, the soaked veggie is removed from the brine and mixed with plenty of pungent flavors — gochugaru, garlic, and ginger — as well as other vegetables that have not been soaking. These ingredients begin to break down and release their own juices, rather like dry brining. The mixture is then packed into a jar, submerged in its own brine (no soaking brine is added), and left to ferment for the appointed time.

The extra time and planning that go into making traditional kimchi are worth it for the flavor. We use this two-step method for greens- and cabbage-based kimchis but have also included a few kimchi recipes that are made like a simple relish, with no extra step.

Curing Notes
Be sure to watch for air pockets. The thicker ferments may or may not show a lot of “heave” as the CO2 tries to escape. The thicker the ferment, the harder it can be for the CO2 to wiggle its way up and out. Sometimes, when air pockets have been developing in the ferment for a few days, a bitter flavor develops. If this happens, press out the air pockets and allow the mixture to ferment for another week or more, keeping an eye out for more air pockets. Often the flavor will right itself.

Conversely, these ferments, especially if they have a lot of fresh peppers in them, can be exceedingly dynamic, heaving and surging and hard to control the first few days. Even with an airlock system this can happen (the swelling ferment can fill your airlock and keep spreading right on out if it is that active). This is nothing to worry about; it is normal. You can plan for energetic fermentation by leaving extra headspace at the top of your vessel to accommodate the movement. If it is too late and you are staring at a mess all over your counter, don’t worry — everything inside the vessel is just fine. Open the vessel, press everything down, replace any weights, wipe off the inside walls with a clean cloth or paper towel, and put everything back to ferment. These initial over-the-top “explosions” may happen once or twice, but usually the ferment will then calm down enough to stay contained.