My assignment this week for the Theory of Food 1 class is to explore pickling or fermentation. When our ancestors began to rely more on farming and cultivation, methods of preserving food were developed. Removing moisture through drying in the sun was one such method.
Pickling uses an acid, like vinegar, to make the radish inhospitable to spoilage microbes according to “On Food and Cooking” by Harold McGee, Scribner 2004. By submerging the radish in vinegar, there is no longer the oxygen available that the good microbes need to thrive. Their growth suppresses the development of the bad microbes that spoil food.
The pickled radish recipe comes from “Ultimate Appetizer Ideabook”, Kiera and Cole Stipovich. Chronicle Books, San Francisco 2016
Quick Pickled Radish
- 1 bunch radish, trimmed and sliced
- 1 tsp white peppercorns
- 1 tbsp mustard seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tbsp Kosher salt
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 lemon, sliced
- 1 cup water
- 1 1/3 cups cider vinegar
As Harold McGee points out, pickling is an ancient practice and much faster than fermentation. However “it produces a simpler flavour” (“On Food and Cooking”, pg 292). I’m going to enhance that “simpler flavour” by making an hors d’oeuvre with Vidalia onion spread, home made rye bread and black quinoa.
First, I’m off to the Evergreen Brickworks Farmers Market for supplies. I head to Earth Haven Farm for the radishes. I try to support Earth Haven because of their commitment to sustainable farming and education programs at their learning centre.
I also pick up 1/2 a Pullman loaf of rye bread.
We have the radish and are now ready to begin the pickling process. First up is to prep the radish and thin slice. The radish from Earth Haven is delightful. It is firm, crisp and does not have the overpowering radish sting that grocery store radishes have.
The pickling process will maintain that crispness and taste but add the sourness of the cider vinegar.
Now to get the mise en place ready
In addition to the acid of the cider vinegar, I’ll layer the lemon slices between the radish.
To make the pickling brine I first toast the white pepper corns
Add the mustard seeds, bay leaf, kosher salt, sugar, some sliced lemon, water and cider vinegar. Bring to a simmer. When the sugar is dissolved, cover and set aside.
When ready, pour the brine into the jar and seal with a lid. This will now go into the fridge for 24 hours.
The next day I open the jar. There is a slight odour that wafts up. It is not unpleasant but does indicate some decomposition has been happening. I’ll discuss this further at the end.
The crispness of the radish is exactly what I want. The mouth feel of this crispness will contrast with the smoothness of the onion spread and chewiness of the rye bread.
The pickled taste is indeed simple but distinctive. The sourness will also go well with the sweetness of the spread and tartness of the rye.
I prep for the hors d’oeuvre. I get the Pullman style rye loaf. As you will see, the long square shape of the Pullman makes it easier to slice the hors d’oeuvres. I slice off the crust on each side then slice into 2-3 cm slices – depending on the density of the bread. You want the bread to hold the onion spread but be thin enough to chew.
The pugs have smelled the rye aroma and have come to investigate what I’m doing.
The onion spread is from the same book as the pickling recipe “Ultimate Appetizer Ideabook” by Kiera and Cole Stipovich.
We begin by caramelizing the onions – cooking on low heat for 40-45 minutes – until the onions have a deep, rich mahogany colour.
Add mayonnaise, Monterey Jack cheese, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, nutmeg, cumin and paprika.
Place in baking dish with butter, Panko bread crumbs, shredded Monterey Jack and bake for 15 – 20 minutes
Next, cook the black quinoa. The white tail and black grain will look great on the pink/red radish.
Spread the onion mixture evenly on to the flat rye slices
Cut the flat slice into squares. Top with a pickled radish and black quinoa
The taste was what I was going for. The simpler flavour of the pickled radish has now been combined with the sweetness of the Vidalia onion spread and the tartness of the rye bread. The quinoa has a neutral taste but the colour bookends the appearance and colour of the rye bread.
What I would do differently?
I realized that the radish in the jar was not fully submerged in the brine. That is what gave off the decomposition odor. There was enough oxygen in the jar to allow the microbes to begin their work. However, being in the fridge at 4 degrees Celsius, it slowed down the microbe activity.
The next time I would use a weight to fully submerge the vegetable.
The onion spread was too chunky. I should have puréed it. I wanted to have the onion slices to add texture to the hors d’oeuvers but it didn’t work for spreading. It created pockets of thin and thickness. A purée would have allowed me to make a nice, even layer but maintained the taste.
The rye could have been sliced thinner. I wanted to be sure the bread would hold everything. But the home made bread from the farmer’s market had enough density to to that even if it was thinner. And a thinner slice would have made it easer to eat as an hors d’oeuvre.
Some of the larger slices of radish could have been cut in half. I wanted a wide enough bed to hold the quinoa. But some large slices covered the mixture and spoiled the view.
Chef David Wolfman, in his book “Cooking With the Wolfman”, has a pickled melon recipe and served with baked whitefish. That will be my next adventure in pickling.