Ah Labor Day: known for the last barbeques of summer and a signal to close out the white section of your wardrobe. I’m spending my weekend as a homebody and loving three blissful days of getting through chores, getting three days of Bikram yoga in a row and spending some thyme in the kitchen. Har Har see what I did there? When my weekends aren’t all about running around having crazy adventures, I embrace my Martha Stewart wannabe persona …only maybe a little nicer and without the pesky insider trading charges. I really do love and need this kind of time to just be at home , typical cancer if you are into that astrology thing. I’m not really but it does describe me fairly well.
The trick to Martha Stewarting your life is about planning things out. It’s actually not that hard to be crafty or kitchen savvy if you know how to time manage. Personally some of my favorite cooking projects that impress people are entirely passive. Take for example the recipe I’m sharing with you today: Jalapeño Pickled Corn. It’s a 4 day project but almost entirely passive. You use fewer than 5 ingredients, spend 10 minutes at the stove and then the food does the rest of the work. If
When I told my family and friends that I had done this they were astounded, amazed, addled…. What do you mean you pickled corn? A fair number of people don’t realize that “Pickles” are not the only thing that can be pickled. There’s an old riddle that ends “What do you put in a toaster?” and the response quite often is “Toast” which people say without even thinking that you put bread in and get toast out. Pickling is like that. Your traditional sandwich “pickle” is actually a cucumber that has been brined for a long, long time. For whatever reason the word stuck on to cucumbers but it also is a process and you can use it for a variety of fruits and veggies.
I’m hardly a common gal. I wanted to pickle something for Labor Day but being a Martha Stewart OG I had to find something special. Something that screamed summer. Something that I could buy in abundance for dirt cheap. Ahhhhh end of summer corn. 8 ears for a dollar. Talk about value! When it’s that cheap how can you not want to buy 16 ears of the stuff and revel in how just 2 dollars bought you that MOUND of food? Problem is then you have 16 ears of corn. Right. Crap.
Pickling is a process by which a food is preserved in a brine or strong acidic vinegar. It can incorporate fermentation (sauerkraut for example) or not. It can preserve foods for a LONG time. You can do it in a jar or a hole in the ground. No really. Traditional Korean Kimchi is made in the mother frakking ground. Why does this all work and produce food that doesn’t make us sick? It’s the magic of Lactic Acid Bacteria baby! Let’s call them “labbies” because that’s cute and stuff. So labbies are benign microbes which are totally safe for us to eat and do us the boondoggle of out-competing some nasty, sickly bacteria under the right conditions. Those conditions are high salt, low oxygen environments–aerobic bacteria are usually pretty bad for us humans.
When you cover food in a solution with lots of salt and keep any air from touching the food, you create exactly the right environment for your labbies to flourish. These industrious microbes consume any available sugars in the food and convert them into additional antimicrobial products like alcohol, CO2 and acids. While the sugars are consumed (which is why no-sugar added pickles are 0 calories by the way) the rest of the plant material is left unprocessed…including a number of good vitamins and minerals—some of which are made by the labbies. In the process we get an array of fun flavors and when the salt concentration is in the right ratio, a pleasant puckering of the lips.
There are a number of additives that can be used in pickling to ensure a super crisp product. If cell walls are not kept rigid enough you wind up with mushy pickled products. There are a number of enzymes that will cause your food to break down while pickling so you want additives to avoid this. Softer foods will rely more heavily on these additives…things with impressive science words like “aluminum hydroxide.” I can’t help but think of my brewing professor when I write this. He’d walk up to an PoliSci student in his Intro to Brewing course, chuckle, say “Al-you-min-e-um” as the Brits pronounce the word and then cackle while asking the non-science students if words like hydroxide were scary to them. Good natured ribbing to be sure and even if it wasn’t, how can you be insulted by such a charming accent?? Truth is these are “additives” in that you add them but they are naturally occurring compounds, like a form of lime called “pickling lime” so don’t go getting all paranoid that I’m trying to add something unnatural. The recipe I have for you today doesn’t require them anyway so don’t get worried.
I said before that you can use salt or vinegar. Salt is less predictable and takes more time but also produces more flavor than vinegar. Varying levels of salt determine which type of lactic acid bacteria thrives so you can play with the range of flavor profiles you develop if pickling becomes a serious hobby. Vinegar works faster…usually when chefs pickle something in a day they are going to be using vinegar. In order to amp up the flavor the addition of sugars or spices is required. Well my brine is the LAZY kind and so I relied solely on salt. The recipe is so easy a caveman could do it and in fact they probably did. Okay maybe not cavemen but if people 4000 years ago could do this in huts then it can’t be that hard right?
From Bon Appetit August 2012 Read more