Wild and Lazy Fermentation

Decorative Pickled Eggs

Be creative! Different shades of egg and different shades of brine will give you very different results!

Be creative! Different shades of egg and different shades of brine will give you very different results!

Have you pickled your eggs yet? Tis the season! Whether or not eggs are part of your religious tradition, as they are for both Passover and Easter, they fit beautifully with the season. Eggs symbolize fertility and rebirth and after this horrible winter, there are few things I value more than thoughts of fertility and rebirth.  Already, my perennials have snuck back in like raging, green lions’ manes.

I started working on this egg project a couple of months ago when a reader wrote asking for a recipe.  I realized that I didn’t have one because I’d never pickled (fermentation-style) eggs, before.  A few attempts with recipes from the internet yielded results that I was very unhappy with. And not to smack talk, but be careful out there, people; I found a few recipes that I think were actually unsafe.

In any case where you’re hard-boiling the eggs, you will need some kind of starter.  Unlike vegetables, which grow in the earth and are therefore laden with lactic acid bacteria from the soil, eggs come out of chickens (surprise!), and while they are certainly covered in bacteria, I don’t know what kind of bacteria we’re talking about, and the boiling of the eggs would kill the good ol’ lactos even if they were present to begin with.  Not only that, but lactic-acid fermentation processes require sugars, a substance in which eggs are definitely not rich. So what you’re doing here is more culturing the eggs than fermenting them.  You’re allowing the goodness of fermentation to seep in to your eggs, but the eggs themselves are not fermenting. They will be altered in some wonderful ways, though, including a changed texture!

I undertook a few different processes here, so I’m going to list them separately.  One was to create gorgeous, decorative eggs of different sorts and  another was to end up with a straight-up pickled product.  The most important difference will end up being time, but at the start, the most important difference is whether or not you remove the shell.

A word to new fermenters – you need finished ferments to make these, so if you haven’t quite gotten around to tackling lactopickles yet, do it now and then come back to pickle some eggs in a couple weeks!

Brined vs. Veggie-Packed

I got three eggs in a pint and a half jar.  Larger vessels or brine style will yield more.

I got three eggs in a pint and a half jar. Larger vessels or brine style will yield more.

For all of these recipes, you have the choice of doing them in finished brine, or packed in already-fermented, shredded veggies. If you’re doing them in brine, just place them in the brine of FINISHED pickles, using enough brine so that they’re completely submerged. Finished pickle brine is necessary for optimal safety, since it is already acidic. Brine has the advantage of creating a more uniform dye job. You can also see how things are progressing in the brine if you do the pickling in a clear vessel.

If using a finished fermented vegetable, use a shredded or soupy version, like finished sauerkraut or kimchi. You’ll want to carefully pack the eggs between layers of finished sauerkraut or kimchi, or other shredded pickles, making sure to gently pack them as tightly as possible, covering the whole surface and packing down on the sides.  If using a jar or smaller vessel, it’s a good idea to tap the bottom of the jar against the palm of your hand to help the contents settle.  You shouldn’t be able to see any part of the egg from outside the jar when you’re done.  This method is great for the marbled option.

See those little bits of egg shell peeking out on the sides? Do everything you can to gently cover them. Imperfect coverage is okay and will add a nice, mottled color scheme, but you want to do your best to get coverage.

See those little bits of egg shell peeking out on the sides? Do everything you can to gently cover them. Imperfect coverage is okay and will add a nice, mottled color scheme, but you want to do your best to get coverage.

Hard-Cooked Eggs

Before making any of these, you’ll need to hard cook your eggs.  Here’s how I do it:

  1. Place your chosen number of eggs into a sauce pan and completely submerge them in water.  Include a few inches of extra water.
  2. Turn the heat to high and wait for the water to boil.  As soon as it does, cover the pot with a tightly fitted lid and turn off the heat.  Set a timer for 10 minutes.
  3. When the timer goes off, they’re done.  Remove the eggs immediately and place them into a cold water bath (a bowl filled with cold water and ice cubes). The cold water bath will make them easier to peel.

EGG PICKLING/DECORATING METHODS

MARBLED EGGS

I love imperfect beauty.  Results will definitely vary.

I love imperfect beauty. Results will definitely vary.

Have you ever pickled eggs in vinegar?  Or done that elementary school experiment where you end up with a shell-free egg? If you have, you’ll know that egg shells actually disintegrate in acid, so if you put unpeeled eggs in you’ll pull shell-less eggs out several days later. I played with this process a bit, allowing the shells to start disintegrating in order to give the beautiful, marbled appearance.  If you leave them in too long, the shell will disintegrate completely.  The other factors affecting appearance are the color of the egg (I would skip white eggs for this, personally, unless it’s your only choice) and the color of the vegetables or brine you’re fermenting them in. I chose a light pink brine from purple kohlrabi pickles and red cabbage sauerkraut as my fermenting media and eggs with brown shells.

  1. Hard boil eggs, as above.
  2. Once eggs are cool to the touch, place them directly into your brine, or pack them into your veggies, as describe under “Brined vs. Veggie-Packed” above.
  3. Close the jar and place them in the refrigerator for 3 days.  You can play with the timing if you want a different texture, but three days was my favorite look.
  4. Remove the eggs from the fermented substance, rinse them off and use them to decorate! They won’t taste very pickled at this stage, since the acid won’t have had a long time to penetrate the shell, but they sure are pretty!

TIE DYE EGGS (MOCK TEA EGGS)

Clockwise from 12 o'clock: Pink pickled egg (brine), pink marbled egg (brine), Blue "tea" egg (sauerkraut), Purple pickled egg (sauerkraut) and marbled egg (sauerkraut)

Clockwise from 12 o’clock: Pink pickled egg (brine), pink marbled egg (brine), Blue “tea” egg (sauerkraut), Purple pickled egg (sauerkraut) and marbled egg (sauerkraut)

Do you know tea eggs? My thought here was to make a tea egg cousin with sauerkraut. It worked!  You could do this with any vivid  brine or pickled veg.

  1. Hard boil the eggs, as above, and allow to cool.
  2. Once they’re cool, roll them along a hard surface with the palm of your hand, until the shell is crack but not broken, like a cracked windshield that hasn’t caved in yet. You can achieve the same effect by tapping the eggshell with a spoon, agin until it is cracked but before pieces of shell come off.
  3. Place them into your brine or pack them into veggies as described above under “Brined vs. Veggie-Packed.”
  4. Place them in the fridge for 3 to 10 days. The longer it soaks up the fermenty goodness, the more pickled it will taste. Remove the eggs from the fermented substance, remove the shell and rinse the eggs.  The egg white should have a mottled, tie-dye appearance. They’re ready to eat!

PICKLED EGGS 

A simple pickled egg.  Palest pink. You can enhance color and flavor by pickle longer. This is egg was photographed after 3 days in the liquid.

A simple pickled egg. Palest pink. You can enhance color and flavor by pickling longer. This is egg was photographed after 3 days in the liquid.

These aren’t necessarily as fancy looking as the two methods described above, but they get tasty a whole lot faster. Depending on what kind of pickles you’re using, you can drastically impact the color of your eggs.  These would make for some seriously lovely deviled eggs if you pickled them in a variety of pickle brines. Very bold colors will do the best dye jobs, unsurprisingly, but lighter brines can create a pretty palette of subtle colors as well. Longer soak times will yield more acidic pickled eggs and a deeper hue that soaks through, sometimes even through to the yolk which can give it an unpleasant color, depending on your perspective.

  1. Hard boil the eggs, as above and allow to cool and then peel them.
  2. Place the peeled eggs into the brine or veggies as described above in “Brined vs. Veggie-Packed.” Place the container in the refrigerator.
  3. Allow them to soak for 3-7 days. Store them in the container you pickled them in and remove them as you’d like to eat them, keeping in mind that they will get more acidic and colorful as time progresses.

My Dinners with High Street

Two High Street ferments: bread and cultured butter.

Two High Street ferments: bread and cultured butter.

I have a new fermentation crush.  My love for you will never wane, Sandor, but High Street on Market is here and accessible to me for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. I was first lured there by the promise of some lacto-veggies; exciting enough, you’ll agree.  How many top-rated restaurants are touting their fermented flavors? When I got there, though, I found so much more than lacto-veg: levain breads that forced me and my dining companions to take a beat between bites to fully experience the pleasure (I’m not exaggerating. Sorry, beloved boulangers of Bourdeaux and Besançon, you’ve got Alexandre Bois of High Street to compete with now), house-cultured butter, crème fraîche, misos and so many other fruits of the microbes! Truly, High Street makes beautiful ferments and uses them in ways that bring new meaning to the “art of fermentation.”

Given my extreme adoration for the flavors of High Street, I’m so proud to say that I’ll be collaborating with Chef Eli Kulp and his team on a series of geographically-themed fermentation dinners. Chef Kulp has rightfully been heaped with honors including, most recently, being named a Food & Wine Best New Chefs in 2014.  Chef Kulp fully embraces the spirit of fermentation, which is to say, the spirit of collaboration, creativity, exploration and curiosity and I could not be more excited to be collaborating with him.

The team at High Street does regular fun and funky collaborations (the wonderful Madame Fromage has one of the cheese variety on the books for May 6th) on Tuesday nights at 9pm.  It’s a single seating meal and costs only $25 for 4 courses. Madame’s dinners sold out extremely quickly, and if the menu preview I’ve seen for these fermento dinners is any indication, these will too.  For reservations, call High Street at 215-625-0988.

What's on the menu at High Street Eastern Europe dinner? You can bet you'll see some lacto veg, a beet of some kind or another and many more goodies that are the product of fermentation!

What’s on the menu at High Street Eastern Europe dinner? You can bet you’ll see some lacto veg, a beet of some kind or another and many more goodies that are the product of fermentation!

Russia, Eastern Europe and the Balkans | April 22 | 9pm | $25

The inspiration for the first dinner comes from the ferments of Eastern Europe, the Balkan Peninsula and Russia. Chef Kulp & Co. have created an amazing menu, adapting the ferments of the broad but fermentationally-linked region into inventive dishes that will melt your brain in the most amazing way.  We’ll talk lacto and yeast fermentation, eat, drink and be so incredibly merry.

More to come on the next two dinners which will feature East Asian (5/13) and South Asian (6/17) ferments, respectively. You can also make reservations for those by calling 215-625-0988.

Natto – Japanese Fermented Soy Beans

Natto

Natto’s so-called slimy texture is more like fun, sticky strings to me.

Last week it was nata, this week it’s natto.  Though both are delicious (and maybe a little challenging by some standards) they are not otherwise easy to confuse.  Nata is candy made from a kombucha, jun or vinegar SCOBY. Natto is an alkaline, Japanese, soy ferment that has had me smitten ever since I first read about its health benefits in (say it with me) The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz.

I had never tried natto before reading The Art of Fermentation, and after reading about it both there and elsewhere, I was intimidated.  Descriptors given both in my reading and conversation with Japan-dwelling friends: slimy, mucilaginous, disgusting, okay when you eat it with a ton of mustard, not for non-Japanese, bizarre, gross, funky, stinky and unpleasant.  That’s the short list. With those ringing recommendations,  it somehow kept getting pushed down in the rankings on the to-do list of my experiments. When I finally tried some in a restaurant and, later, others from the freezer section of my local Japanese market, I felt something between disappointment and confusion.  I was a little disappointed that natto wasn’t a bit more challenging and I was confused that everyone and their mother had described this food as slimy.

Soak your beans in an extra large vessel and cover them with at least twice as much water as there are beans.  They will more than double in size.

Soak your beans in an extra large vessel and cover them with at least twice as much water as there are beans. They will more than double in size.

Natto Texture

I hate slimy.  A lifetime battle with mushroom hatred and an inability to swallow certain items from certain regional foods has taught me that sliminess is my food dislike. Natto is not slimy.  If anything, it’s the opposite. Its changing web of strings and strands are on the sticky side. And I love them. My first through fifteenth bites of natto reminded me of a very toned down version of that time in the Peruvian rainforest when we snagged a few fruits from the latex tree.  As you might imagine, fruit from the latex tree has some interesting qualities, the main one being that your lips stick together for hours after you eat it, with no relief available from soap or water scrubs (the ambrosial flavor makes it worth eating anyway).  This is a way more exaggerated effect than the bit of cling you get from eating natto, but it was certainly a closer reference for me than anything mucilaginous that may have crossed my plate in the past.

Natto Taste

The flavor is a little bit roasty, a little bit funky (think blue cheese) and a lot soy.  For me, this is a wonderful thing.  Like many others, I gave up unfermented soy under duress.  I hit a pretty rough hormonal period (sorry, gents) and after an elimination diet, I learned that soy was the culprit for me.  As a long-time tofu lover, I was pretty distressed. But a crying-for-no-reason-fit in the middle of the street, and a few horrible bouts of cramps convinced me that the sacrifice was worth it.  Two years later, I’m my (arguably) sweet self all month long. But I do periodically get the strong desire to whip up a batch of super firm tofu and while natto doesn’t have a whole lot in common with tofu, the leguminous flavor does tame my soy-seeking beast.

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Nata – SCOBY Candy

It's not a health food, but when else are you going to see candy on a whole food lover's blog?

It’s not a health food, but when else are you going to see candy on a whole food lover’s blog?

You know the giant, white, yeast strand-coated blob you use to make kombucha?  The one that elicits an “Ewwwww!” from almost anyone who doesn’t drink kombucha (and many who do)? You should eat that.

Headed for the chopping block.  This is the one time I will recommend using metal on your SCOBY.

Headed for the chopping block. This is the one time I will recommend using metal on your SCOBY.

Well, I’m not saying you should eat it.  Only that I’m offering you a way to use up excess SCOBYs and you might want to consider giving it a try.  I confess that my first nata-eating efforts were marred by thoughts of placenta eating.  I don’t know why this was the though stuck in my head, and props to you if you’re the bold mama who muscled down that organ, but for me, it made eating the SCOBY nearly impossible.  I worked through it though, with some recipe tweaks and now I can honestly say if you were the type to eat gummy bears or Dots or Hairbo as a kid, I can’t think of a reason that you wouldn’t enjoy this. It tastes a lot like a lightly tea-flavored gummy candy.

Chopping a SCOBY with kitchen scissors is a much better way to do it easily and evenly.  A knife will do in a pinch, though.

Chopping a SCOBY with kitchen scissors is a much better way to do it easily and evenly. A knife will do in a pinch, though.

Unlike many things we discuss here, this isn’t going to be a health food, unless your only dietary need is getting a bit more fiber in your diet.  The cellulose of the SCOBY gives a chew that is a DEAD ringer for kombucha-flavored gummy candy, as does the not insubstantial amount of sugar you’ll be using. Plus, the way I do this, the SCOBY is dead and therefore you’re not getting the microbial benefits you get from drinking ‘booch.  If you want to eat it alive, there is a great method detailed in The Art of Fermentation. I had good results with that method, but even though I make this candy very rarely, I prefer the easy way given that the microbe content in my diet is more than sufficent.

Mix the sugar well with the SCOBY pieces before putting it stovetop.

Mix the sugar well with the SCOBY pieces before putting it stovetop.

NATA SCOBY CANDY RECIPE

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Live and Let Die – Culture Edition

Ginger Beer plant

I love my microbe babies, but sometimes they have to DIE!

For a very long time I would read the part in “The Art of Fermentation” where quantity moderation and quality specialization are recommended over lots and lots (and lots) of ferments and scoff, just the tiniest bit. I’d been fermenting stuff daily for a good long time when I first read that part and I felt no signs of waning attention for any of my many cultures and projects. The competitive part of me was proud of the 20+ ferments I had going on a slow day and of the extraordinary cultures I kept alive with daily or weekly feedings that sometimes came at the expense of an hour or so of sleep. I couldn’t really foresee a future in which the health of any one of my cultures would be in question due to neglect, nor a time when I would simply not feel like managing the daily care of so many little beasts.

water kefir grains

Water kefir grains, you’re so beautiful! But could you grow a teensy bit slower and still stay healthy?

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