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Low Temperature Pasteurization + Crab Boil Pickles

cafe-du-monde

I have spent the last five years working as an independent, creative person. One of the things I’ve learned about myself in that time is that my path towards getting things done is shaped like a snail shell, with the product at the center and the track towards it running in a spiral shape.

grasshoppers-in-new-orleans

I orbit around the goal for days, weeks or even sometimes for months until I final land on the thing in the center. This is the process I take whether it’s a small project or a large one and people who know me understand that when they ask me how something is going, my response is often along the lines of, “I’m getting closer.”

zatarains-silo

The reason I’m sharing this with you today? This blog post is one I’ve been circling around for a very long time. I first started thinking about low temperature pasteurization for pickling six or seven years ago. A tool to accomplish it effectively (the Anova Precision Cooker) came into my life more than two years ago.

And the recipe I’m sharing at the bottom of this post was directly inspired by a press trip I took to New Orleans with the folks from Zatarain’s back in January (nine months).

zatarains-products

Finally, it’s all come together and I’ve landed on center of the circle.

The story starts with low temperature pasteurization. For many people, this approach is the answer to the question, “How can I make crunchy, shelf stable pickles?” It is preservation technique in which you simmer your filled jars in water that’s between 180 and 185 degrees F.

You do this for a longer period of time (typically 30 minutes) than you would normally process them in a boiling water bath canner. The longer, lower temperature allows you to kill off bacteria while retaining a firmer finished texture.

immersion-circulator-processing-set-up

Now, the trick to low temperature pasteurization is finding a way to maintain the proper temperature over an extended period of time. I have tried it on my ancient electric stove, but found that it was nearly impossible to consistently hit and sustain the target range.

Now, here’s where the Anova Precision Cooker comes in.

bushel-of-pickling-cucumbers

Several years ago, various companies started making immersion circulators for home use and the thought occurred to me that it would be the perfect tool for low temperature pasteurization. The reason being that immersion circulators are designed for sous vide cooking, a process in which you bring water to a certain temperature and then hold it at that temperature for an extended period of time to fully cook various kinds of food without overcooking them.

cucumbers-in-a-colander

Two years back, the folks from Anova got in touch and asked if I’d be interested in trying one of their immersion circulators. Thinking about low temperature pasteurization, I said yes. They sent me the unit, and then life got the better of me. I moved it from corner of the apartment to another for nearly a year, and then finally tucked it into my closet, forever promising myself that I would eventually use it for processing pickles.

washed-pickling-cucumbers

That brings us to 2016. Back in late January, I went on a press trip to New Orleans to learn more about Zatarain’s. Before that trip, all I knew about that iconic brand was the fact that they sold boxed rice mixes. While on the trip, I discovered that Zatarain’s is synonymous with New Orleans food. Never before had I encountered a brand that was so interwoven with the food culture of a place.

sliced-cucumbers-in-jars

It was a magical trip and I came away feeling moved by the welcome of the city and motivated to devise a cucumber pickle recipe that employed the Zatarain’s Concentrated Shrimp and Crab Boil flavoring. The reason for the recipe idea was this. They told us that originally, people would flavor their crab boil with packets of pickling spices. Over time, they’d created the concentrated liquid flavor out of a blend of extracted oils from those classic pickling spices.

zatarains-crab-boil

Always dreaming up preserving recipes, it seemed obvious that I should make a pickle using the liquid flavor, if for no other reason than it would create a classically flavored pickle without the mess of the whole spices.

finished-jars-of-crab-boil-pickles

So, that brings us up to mid-August. I was home between book events and was determined to finally make my crab boil pickles, and preserve them using the low temperature pasteurization process, facilitated by the Anova immersion circulator. I went to Reading Terminal Market, intending to buy 10 or 15 pounds of pickling cucumbers, and ended up coming home with a bushel (it weighed nearly 50 pounds).

so-many-pickles

I proceeded to make a lot of pickles. I made horseradish pickles. I make classic garlic dills. I cut them in spears, coins, and halves. All in all, I made nearly 30 quarts of pickles, thanks to an idea, a tool, a trip, and a little bottle of crab boil seasoning.

I realize that cucumber season is done for most of the country at this point, but since I finally managed to pull these things together experientially, I wanted to get this blog post written in this calendar year (and plant the seed that if you value crunchy pickles, perhaps an immersion circulator should be on your holiday list this year).

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Garlicky Kohlrabi Relish

Looking for something easy and delicious to do with the all the kohlrabi you’ve been getting in your CSA share this summer? This garlicky kohlrabi relish is just the ticket!

vertical jars of garlicky kohlrabi relish

Kohlrabi. It’s one of those vegetables that you find primarily at farmers markets and in your CSA baskets. Knobby round balls with gangly stems and oversized leaves, they look a little like disastrously malformed broccoli.

four kohlrabi bulbs

Once you trim away the stems and leaves (try them in your next veggie stir fry) and peel off the tough outer layer, you’re ready to pickle. You can use kohlrabi in a variety of pickle applications, but I particularly like turning them into a shredded relish.

ten cups shredded kohlrabi

This is one of those preserves that is half pickle, half salad. A forkful or two alongside your favorite sausage is nice. Adding it to a cool soba noodle dish is really delicious. And it’s weirdly delicious in an egg sandwich.

four pints of garlicky kohlrabi relish

If you can’t find kohlrabi, peeled broccoli stems have a similar density and flavor and can easily be swapped in.

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Lightly Pickled Sweet Cherries

Lightly pickled sweet cherries in jars

Sour cherries are one of my very favorite things to preserve. Sadly, thanks to a late freeze back in April, it is proving to be a very bad year for stonefruit in the Philadelphia region. Sour cherries are proving to be very hard to come by.

two and a half pounds of sweet cherries in a colander

Instead of bemoaning the 2016 sour cherry situation (though I must confess, I was able to get some from my friends’ community garden, so I’m not totally without them this year), I decided to take some of the sweet cherries from the Northwest Cherries shipment, and do what I could to give them a flavor profile similar to that of a sour cherry.

quartered cherries in the sink

I measured out two and a half pounds of the sweet cherries and using my trusty paring knife, cut them in quarters and wiggled out the pits (I don’t like using cherry pitters, because I resent how much cherry flesh you lose with every pit. Quartering them is fiddly work, but so much more of the fruit ends up in the pot).

lightly pickled sweet cherries in a stainless pot

Once the cherries were prepped, I combined them with sugar, apple cider vinegar, and lemon juice and let them sit until all the sugar was dissolved. Then I set the pot on the stove, brought it to a boil, and cooked the fruit until the cherries were tender (but not falling apart) and the liquid had thickened slightly.

Lightly pickled sweet cherries in jars close-up

Towards the end of cooking, I took a tiny taste of the syrup in the pot and was so happy with the results. Bright, sweet, and just tart enough that you feel a pleasant shiver in the back of your throat. This is one for sparkling water, pairing with cheese, or eating with a pork chop.

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Preserving Ramps and Dehydrator Thoughts

ramps - Food in Jars

Ramps are members of the onion family that grow wild throughout the eastern US and Canada. They are one of the first fresh, edible things that appear each spring, and in recent years, have developed something of an obsessive following among the foodie set. (They’re so popular that we’re now facing issues around overharvesting.)

ramp roots - Food in Jars

Traditionally, people would forage their own ramps, but these days we urban dwellers can often find them at our local farmers markets and farmstands. Several vendors at my local market had them for $16 a pound and I treated myself to a precious $10 worth.

excalibur dehydrator - Food in Jars

I had a pair of plans for those ramps. I wanted to pickle the root ends, and dehydrate the leaves so that I could grind them into powder. The dehydration plan came to be thanks to my recent obsession with the Bar Tartine cookbook (thanks to Karen Solomon for making sure I understood its greatness) as well as the fact that the folks from Excalibur sent me one of their stackable dehydrators to play with this season.

dehydrator trays with ramps - Food in Jars

For years now, Excalibur dehydrators have been the gold standard for both home and commercial dehydration. Part of their appeal has long been the fact that their trays slide in and out (rather than stacking) and they didn’t require a central hole for air circulation. The downside of these models has been their high price point.

More recently, they brought to market a stackable model that is more affordable, but still incorporates their vast dehydration expertise.

crisp ramp stems - Food in Jars

It’s this more price accessible model that they sent me to use. While I still long for one of their fancy models that allows you to do things like make fruit leather without working around the hole and move trays without needing to stack and readjust, this unit is a very large step up from the Nesco dehydrator I’ve been using since 2009.

ramp roots in jars - Food in Jars

So far, I’m really pleased with this unit. It comes with non-stick protector sheets and two trays for making fruit leather. The squared shape means that you can get a goodly amount on the trays (even working around the central hole). It runs far more quietly than my old model. And while it sounds like a silly thing, I so appreciate the on/off switch (you turned on my old Nesco by plugging it into the wall).

crisp leaves in blender - Food in Jars

Now, let’s talk a little more about my ramp pickles and powder. The pickle is a basic one. I didn’t do anything more than trim the roots off, and tuck what remained in a pint jar with small pinches of red chili flakes, black peppercorns, and mustard seeds.

ground ramp leaves - Food in Jars

I combined 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup of water, and 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt in a measuring cup and microwaved it until the salt was dissolved. Then I poured the hot brine over the ramps stems and let it sit on the counter until it was cool enough to go into the fridge. Done.

ramp leaf powder - Food in Jars

Once the leaves were totally crisp, I put them into the container for my Vitamix and blended until they were mostly powdered. A perfectionist might have sifted out the larger pieces and run them through the a spice grinder, but I was happy with imprecise textural mix.

ramp powder jar - Food in Jars

My plan is to use this funky, oniony powder to enhance vinaigrettes, dips, and sauces (I’m planning on stirring some into plain yogurt this weekend to eat with hummus and pita). The pickles will be diced and stirred into grain salads all summer long.

What have you been preserving lately? Any late spring favorites?

Disclosure: As I mentioned above, Excalibur sent me the dehydrator you see above. I will be featuring it throughout the summer and fall. All opinions expressed here are entirely my own. 

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Homemade Fig Mustard

Finished Fig Mustard - Food in Jars

I’ve been in California for the last week and I’ve spent most of that time sitting on my best friend’s couch, trying to recover from the flu. This was supposed to be the triumphant start to my book tour, but instead I’ve been forced to lay very low.

It’s been a lesson in flexibility and surrender, as well as a reminder that I’ve pushed myself too hard over the last year. However, thanks to a cocktail of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, decongestants, and Tamiflu, I am starting to feel human again. And so I thought I’d drop in to talk about mustard.

Fig Mustard in New Persian - Food in Jars

Mustard has long been one of my favorite condiments. I learned to love it when I was very young as an accompaniment to hot dogs and turkey bologna, and as an adult, eat it with cheese, sausage, and cold turkey. And I do so love a toasted cheese sandwich with spicy, flavorful mustard.

Dried Figs - Food in Jars

The inspiration for this particular mustard came from Louisa Shafia’s wonderful book, The New Persian Kitchen. I revisited my copy earlier this year because Joy and I were featuring the book on Local Mouthful and this mustard practically leapt off the page at me.

Toasted Mustard Seeds - Food in Jars

I marked it a couple months ago, but finally made it just a few days before I left for this trip (admittedly, I was stockpiling recipes so that I’d have some things to post here while I was away). I ended up tweaking the ingredients a little and streamlining the process.

Fig Mustard in Pot - Food in Jars

I increased the amount of acid a bit, both because I wanted the finished flavor to be a bit tangier and because I wanted to ensure that it would be safe for canning. I also opted to use an immersion blender for the pureeing process, rather than transfer the mustard to a blender or food processor. Beyond that, the recipe is all Louisa.

While I haven’t dug into my jars yet, I feel certain that this mustard will be magical on turkey sandwiches. I bet it would also work nicely as a glaze for roasted chicken legs and thighs.

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The Agricola Cookbook and a Kimchi Recipe

finished kimchi - Food in Jars

I am a relative newcomer to kimchi. It wasn’t part of my family’s pickle culture (we leaned Jewish and Japanese) when I was growing up and I don’t think I had even so much as a taste of it until college. After that first bite, spent about a decade feeling kimchi-neutral. I’d eat a bite or two at Korean restaurants, but it wasn’t something I sought out.

Agricola - Food in Jars

Then something shifted. I became someone who always had a jar of kimchi (whether homemade or store bought) in the fridge. These days, I eat it with eggs, layered into quesadillas, on top of avocado toast, or even just out of the jar when nothing else appeals. It is one of my favorite ways to add flavor and texture to just about everything.

kimchi recipe - Food in Jars

Over the years, I’ve tried a number of different recipes for kimchi, and oddly, the proportions for my favorite version don’t come from a specialized fermentation book or one devoted to Korean cuisine. Instead, the foundational recipe comes from the Agricola Cookbook, a book born from a farm and restaurant in the Princeton, NJ area.

napa cabbage - Food in Jars

The essentials of basic kimchi (and what I mean by basic is that this is the kimchi most commonly found in the US) are the same. They are napa cabbage, daikon, green onion, garlic, ginger, salt, and chile powder. Some recipes have you add rice flour (for thickening the spice paste), shrimp paste or fish sauce (to increase the funky umami), apple or asian pear (for sweetness), or carrot (for more crunch and color).

salted napa cabbage - Food in Jars

For my uses, I find that the simpler approach is best. The most exotic ingredient you’ll find in my batch is the Korean chili powder called gochugaru that gives kimchi its trademark color and spice. You can get it at most large Asian grocery stores, though I typically buy it a pound at a time from Amazon.

kimchi close - Food in Jars

The process takes about a week. I start by salting the cabbage and letting it rest overnight. The next day, I rinse and drain it, add the julienned daikon (made using one of these peelers), and lengths of green onion. I make a spice paste with garlic, ginger, and sugar, add the gochugaru and then rub it into the vegetables. Then I pack it into a jar or crock where it can ferment for five or six days. When it’s done, I transfer it into a jar for the fridge and start eating down the batch. Easy and delicious.

I’ll be taking some of this kimchi with me to the next Philly Food Swap. It’s on Monday, November 9 and there are still spots available, if you want to join us!

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