Lacto-Fermented Butternut Squash
I’ve written about CheU Noodle Bar a few times before because it’s one of my favorite places to stop for a quick slurp in Philly and they have loads of ferments on their menu. From kimchi to hot sauce to the chewiest (cheu-iest?) noodles, CheU has had my husband and I on a string since our first visit.
One fermented item in particular has been particularly alluring to me over my many visits there: a fermented winter squash that they include in a few salads. They include it in cooked dishes, so it’s not necessarily a probiotic wonderland, but the complexity of the taste had me willing to sacrifice some microbes to give it a try.
I assumed CheU must use a starter, because the skin of most winter squash is inedible and for something this prone to soften, you wouldn’t want to wait for fermentation to kickstart over the course of a few weeks. As luck would have it, I attended the Philly Chefs Conference where Ben Puchowitz, the chef and co-owner at CheU, was speaking on a panel. So I asked him one of the really tough, pointed questions: “How do you ferment your winter squash?”
His response: no whey or starter, just chop, salt and let it go for three days. “It gets soft,” he said, “but you’re fermenting it for the flavor, so that doesn’t really matter.” So thank you, Chef Ben, for the gift of this squash, because with absolutely no seasonings other than salt added, I am smitten. I also love the reminder that fermented foods, even fermented vegetables do more than give us probiotics. They are often worth making just for the the flavor!
My plan was to make these and cook with them, but I’m on my 4th batch and none have yet survived to be used in a recipe: they are quickly devoured, straight from the jar. And while some pieces do indeed get soft, plenty are still crunchy enough to make them worthy of the name pickle. In either case, everything I love about squash is enhanced in the fermentation process. The nutty, sweet, fruit and creamy notes come through, and there’s the acidic tang of fermentation to highlight them.
Next time I make this pumpkin chili, I’ll be sprinkling these guys on for sure. I can also see substituting the raw squash in this Mark Bittman recipe with fermented squash. Most often, though, I’ll be chomping these guys straight from the jar.
Recipe after the jump.
LACTOPICKLED BUTTERNUT SQUASH
yields one quart. Inspired by the amazing fermented squash at CheU Noodle Bar
I put a few chunks of unpeeled, thoroughly washed squash in the top of my jar. I don’t enjoy eating the peel, but I wanted to introduce as much lactic acid bacteria as possible and common knowledge holds that more bacteria live on the skin than in the flesh. This worked very nicely and did get a bit more active than the batch I did without. When you’re done fermenting, you can either compost those pieces or cut off the rind and enjoy the flesh.
- 1 1/2 pounds butternut squash
- 1 tablespoon salt, dissolved into 2 cups of room temperature, filtered water
- Peel the raw squash. Leave a small section of squash unpeeled so that you can include it at the top of your ferment (see above). Peeling hard squash is a pain in the ass, so please be careful not to get impatient and slice off a finger. I normally peel squash by roasting it for a few minutes and then peeling, but you do not want to heat your squash in this instance.
- Cut the peeled squash into pieces. My favorite of the 3 sizes I’ve tried was thin strips. I made them with the mandolin last time and they’re great! You can cut them that way or into chunks or strips or whatever you like best. Cutting the pieces with peel on them into different sized/shaped pieces will help you find and remove them after fermentation.
- Place peeled, chopped squash into a one quart vessel. Add the unpeeled pieces of squash to the top and pour brine over the whole shebang.
- Submerge the squash using the ghetto jar method, pickle weights or your preferred method and cover it.
- After five days of fermentation, your squash will be ready. remove any weights, put the proper lid on the jar and store in the fridge. They won’t last long.