Salt AND salinity are both important! And short cuts can be dangerous (I'm still kicking myself a little over this one). Our latest pickle is alive and well, pay no mind to my initial noises of frustration. You see, as I was shopping for all the ingredients for our latest pickle, I took a shortcut with the salt, as we were out of our usual. And not anywhere near ready to make another wholesale order. This created unexpected but avoidable issues.
The difference turned out to be the salinity.
That reads, per quarter teaspoon, 25 vs. 15 percent of the USDA Recommended Daily Whatever. A five to three difference, in other words. Which makes sense if you think about it- that's the way they make it, the mass-produced product is going to have a higher concentration of sodium and fewer of the other minerals that make sea salt so yummy, hence a higher salinity to go with the wider and cheaper availability.
Working through my surprise and frustration, here's what I think happened: Using the shortcut salt, we wound up with more sodium than we normally use, yielding a very salty batch, most likely fermenting more slowly than normal. When I opened the fermentation box and shook the batch a little, a happy crowd of little bubbles rose to the surface. These well-distributed little bacteria farts showed that a good fermentation occurred. As we decanted the batch into jars, we got to see that the whole batch was homogeneous and evenly processed- the Korean box worked very well! More on that in a different post... Taste tests, however, turned out to be pretty disappointing- the stuff was too damn salty and not as flavorful as we'd like. As I split the batch into jars, I held out most of the brine, replacing it with fresh spring water and vinegar. After a few weeks to think about it, I'm still not sure what we could do with that brine, though it's a hell of a brain teaser- how do you remove some of that sodium chloride without killing the living bacteria present?
Once I figured out where this batch strayed from our intended path, I reminded myself that we've learned that a higher salinity level will slow down the fermentation process and makes for a more sour flavor profile and then longer overall preservation times. After chewing on this, I returned the batch, now in jars, to the warm cabinet where do the fermenting for an additional four days (at our usual between 71 and 75 degrees). Not too much more CO2 was produced by our diminutive friends but the flavor did seem a bit more interesting after this additional time. So most of the actual fermentation we were looking for did occur in the seven day period we were expecting it to.
Tasting the batch now, it's still too salty to our palates but it's a good product. It'll be fun to see what flavors develop as this batch ages. And it's gonna have time to age- escabeche as we make it normally doesn't last as long in the fridge as some of our other (less sugar content) ferments but this one will definitely last longer than most! In use, I'm giving the stuff a final rinse before eating. Once the Pickleers get theirs home, they may want to rinse their portions and re-cover with clean water before storing in the fridge. This will keep the extra salt from soaking deeper into stuff as it ages...
The longer we do this, the more apparent it becomes that fermentation is a damn simple and solid method of preservation- these colonies of lil' friends we culture in our veggies are incredibly resilient, on top of obliging!