When friends ask how to ferment deli-style pickles, I recommend that they start by practicing with asparagus spears. By practicing with asparagus you'll learn all you need to know by the time cucumber season arrives. Thankfully this isn't all about learning; asparagus makes for great pickles and is a welcome accompaniment to spring grilling.
Going Whole Veggie
Preserving has taught me to look at ingredients differently than I used to; each part of a fruit or vegetable can be prepared in different ways. The woody bottom parts of asparagus can be transformed into stock and pressure-canned or dehydrated and transformed into powder, while the spears are great when eaten fresh, frozen, or pickled with vinegar. The middle part of asparagus — the stems — are ideal for fermenting because they are dense and hold their form, while still having a soft-enough texture to enjoy eating. To ferment asparagus I buy twice as much as I need and reserve the other parts for other recipes, but feel free to experiment away!
"Seat Belt" It
The trickiest part of fermenting is to keep all of the ingredients under the surface of the brine. Some people buy special fermenting weights, or use clean stones or other objects to submerge ingredients. I find the easiest way is to do something I call "seat belting." For this recipe we wedge a slice of orange above all the other ingredients, but trap it under the shoulders of the jar. As long as you fill your jar with enough brine to reach the shoulder, this will ensure nothing can float.
Spring for Filtered Water
The second key to a successful ferment is using filtered water. Many towns and cities add chlorine to tap water, which can prevent a successful fermentation. If you live in such a place, you can leave a bowl of water on the counter overnight to let the chlorine evaporate (or use a bottle of water).
Keep Tabs and Taste Often
Ferments don't need a lot of attention, but make sure to check your progress daily. If you see a light film appear on the surface of the brine, remove it with a clean spoon. If the ferment turns to mold (which shouldn't happen if you're keeping everything submerged and skimming) you're best to discard the ferment and start again. Some ferments look like a mad simmer, while others are very subtle. Trust the process and you'll find the flavors will develop before you know it.
How To Make Fermented Asparagus Pickles
Makes 1 jar of pickles
What You Need
1 1/2 to 2 pounds
asparagus (I use the stalks and reserve the spears for other cooking)
1 1/2 teaspoons
green onions, sliced into 3-inch pieces
1 to 2
thick orange slices
1-quart Mason jar with lid
Clean dish towel
Cut the stalks so that they stand 3/4 to 1 inch below where the jar neck begins to narrow.
Pack the jar tightly with asparagus, and then add the salt.
Add water to barely cover the contents.
Lay green onion on top of the asparagus.
"Seat belt” the ingredients into place by wedging an orange slice across the top to prevent floating.
Add additional water so that all ingredients are completely submerged, and place it on a small plate.
Loosely cover with a clean cloth and allow to ferment until you like the sourness (two to four days is typical) before securing with a lid and storing in fridge.
The orange will add a slight sweetness as well as make the ferment slightly bitter. It’s not as aggressive as an IPA. If you’d rather avoid any trace of bitter, you can wedge a few pieces of asparagus across the shoulders of the jar for the same effect.
Excerpted from Batch: Over 200 Recipes, Tips and Techniques for a Well Preserved Kitchen by Joel MacCharles & Dana Harrison. Copyright © Joel MacCharles and Dana Harrison. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.