Tales of a fledgling fermento
How Monica Eng stopped fearing the funk in her kitchen
Sure, I'd bring home stinky cheeses and ripe-smelling kimchi that someone else had made. But fermenting foods was not something I felt safe doing on my own. I figured that using microbes to prod foods into that land between fresh and rotten was strictly for experts.
And then I heard of Sandor Katz — who writes extensively about cured meat and fermented drinks in his new book, "The Art of Fermentation," but says the best first-time fermento project is sauerkraut. Despite my previous forays, this one still scared me, especially since Katz urges folks to trust their taste buds over recipes. Salt levels, for instance, are up to each home cook.
Still, one recent day I chopped and grated cabbage, beets, carrots and garlic (see recipe), salted them to taste and stuffed them in a jar. During the first few days, the jar belched powerful odors.
Next, the top of my kraut turned brown and I Skyped Katz for an emergency consultation. He told me to stuff a root vegetable in the top of the jar to push the kraut under the brine.
It worked, and I continued to taste and tamp down the concoction each day until it transformed from noxious tangles of cabbage to delicious condiment.
Now I welcome homemade funk in my kitchen — albeit in controlled doses — and I look forward to things getting even funkier.