Those of us of a certain age remember this catchphrase from the late 90s and early aughts. It was from a popular infomercial for a home rotisserie machine which let you slow roast just about anything you could stuff in it. You could just “Set it and forget it!” until your slab of meat was cooked through hours later.
These days a new type of set-it-and-forget-it movement is starting to gain more mainstream attention: fermentation.Throughout history our ancestors used this fairly hands-off technique as a way to preserve food in the absence of refrigeration. It helps make nutrients more bio-available and produces good bacteria which may be beneficial for our gut microbiome.
It’s also an easy way to make all-natural condiments, pickles, and sauces with little waste. I recently bought some jalapeno and garlic at a local market (I brought my own bag, of course). After 5 minutes of chopping and 4 weeks of fermentation in an old tahini jar I blended them in a food processor to make hot sauce and relish. The waiting was the hardest part, but was well worth it as the results were amazing! The depth of flavor brought out by the fermentation process is something I’ve never tasted before in similar store-bought items. You can ferment hot sauce, mustard, ketchup, and a variety of pickled vegetable concoctions, including sauerkraut and kimchi.
I still consider myself a novice so I can’t speak authoritatively on the subject, but I can point you in the right direction so you can start your own fermentation experimentation. Like all things, there are some caveats. If you are pregnant, have a GI disease, or other serious health problems, check with your doctor first. Otherwise I say give it a try!
There are many Youtube videos, fermentation websites, and books that can help you get started. You may need to buy a few items, such as glass weights to submerge your food below the water level, but for the most part you can reuse what you have on hand, such as old glass jars and swing-top bottles. Here are some of the resources I have used and would recommend to help you get started.
- “Ferment Your Veggies” by Amanda Feifer is a good introduction to fermentation and includes a wide variety of recipes. Her blog “Phickle” has good resources and recipes, including this one which inspired me to ferment jalapenos: We Can Phickle That! Hot Pepper Sauce
- “It’s Alive” This Bon Appétit series is informative but also fun to watch. Even if you never attempt any of the ferment recipes you will be thoroughly entertained by Brad.
- “Cooked” is a 4 part Netflix series by famed food writer Michael Pollan. The entire series is excellent, but in particular part 4 (“Earth”) is all about fermentation.
- Sandor Katz has written many popular and well-regarded books on the subject, including “The Art of Fermentation” and “Wild Fermentation”. In this set of Youtube videos he goes over the basics of fermentation and shows you how to ferment sauerkraut.
Simple, fresh ingredients plus time can yield flavorful results. In a world of single-use convenience and its corresponding waste, one antidote is to take the slow route when it comes to making your food. Set it and ferment it!