If it's not already, fermented salsa should be on your radar for next-level summer eats. It has a distinct, tangy flavor and faint effervescence that sets it apart from a fresh chopped pico de gallo or cooked salsa. It's also not so loud that it tastes overly sour — that is, unless you like it that way! As with any fermented item you make at home, the control is in your hands.
Today, we're showing you the few simple steps required to make this homemade condiment so your next round of margaritas gets an even better salsa to go with the chips.
Why Ferment Salsa?
For the taste! Much like how braising or slow-cooking develops flavor over time, fermentation takes time to develop and add flavor to the ingredients in the jar. Compared to some commercial salsa or even home-canned salsa, which are often cooked, whey-fermented salsa tends to maintain a crispness in texture.
How It Works
There are many ways to ferment salsa, but the basics are that you combine vegetables, salt, and water in a jar and leave it out of direct sunlight at room temperature for a few days to wait for the magic to happen.
The whey we use in this particular recipe isn't a necessary component for lacto-fermenting vegetables, as a little bit of salt and the natural bacteria present in the vegetables will do the job. However, whey acts as a starter and does give you a jumpstart on the process. That way you reach the desired level of sour a bit quicker and get to enjoy your fermented salsa sooner.
Taste as You Go for the Perfect Fizz
Regardless of the whey, the speed of fermentation is altered by many factors (for example, warmer temperatures accelerate fermenting), so it's important to taste your salsa as it progresses. Salsa can ferment in two or three days, but I often leave it for up to a week. It will become more sour the longer it ferments (think of a deli pickle!), but the passage of time will also make your ingredients softer regardless of the whey. The salsa is done when you are happy with the taste.
At that point, you put a lid on the salsa and store it in the fridge, where the cold temperatures will slow the fermentation to the point that you can store it for weeks or months.
"Seat-Belt" the Salsa
The trickiest part of fermenting salsa is keeping all of the ingredients under the surface of the brine. There are all sorts of ways to do this, including buying special fermenting weights, but my favorite is to "seat-belt" ingredients in place. The easiest way to do this is to ferment your salsa in a Mason jar with a narrow opening and to wedge a slice of pepper under the shoulders of the jar. This will trap all of your ingredients under the brine as long as you have enough water.
How to Use Your Fermented Salsa
Fermented salsa can be used just like any other salsa, although many people find the additional brine makes it too liquidy. We combat this by adding a puréed chipotle pepper to thicken it slightly. If it still has too much liquid for you, strain the brine before serving and add the extra liquid to rice as it cooks, use it to season soups, or add some to a Bloody Mary for a tangy, fizzy spark.
How To Make Fizzy, Fermented Salsa
What You Need
1 pound cherry tomatoes, chopped in half
1/2 cup green onions, finely chopped (about 3)
3 tablespoons cilantro stems, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon coarse non-iodized salt
2 tablespoons lime juice (from 1 lime)
1 green or orange pepper, 1 half finely chopped, 1 half reserved for "seat-belting"
1 tablespoon honey
1 to 2 chipotles in adobo sauce pulverized in a blender (optional)
2 tablespoons whey (see Recipe Notes)
A large bowl
1-quart (non-wide-mouth) Mason jar with lid
Clean dish towel
- Clean the Mason jar: Clean the Mason jar well, making certain to rinse away all soap residue.
- Combine ingredients: Add all the ingredients — except for the half pepper, water, and whey — in a large bowl and mix well to incorporate.
- Add ingredients to Mason jar: Transfer the ingredients from the large bowl into the Mason jar. It's OK to push them down; they're tougher than you think. Only fill until ingredients just reach the neck when packed tightly. If your tomatoes are small, your level may be a little low, which is just fine.
- Add the whey: Add the whey to the Mason jar. Pour it slowly, as it may take some time to settle.
- Add water: Slowly fill the jar with water until it reaches the neck.
- "Seat-belt" the salsa: Trim the pepper half until it's slightly larger than the opening of the jar. Gently wedge it into place, making sure the pepper (and all the salsa below) is trapped under the shoulders of the jar. Gently top with water until everything is submerged.
- Prepare salsa for fermenting: Wipe the outside of the jar and place on a plate; place the clean dishtowel on top to prevent flies or dust from entering. Store out of direct sunlight and check daily.
- Transfer to fridge: Once the salsa has reached the desired level of fermentation, seal with lid and transfer to the fridge. Store for 3 to 6 months.
- Don’t have whey? You can separate it from any yogurt with living bacteria by lining a strainer with clean cheesecloth and straining over a bowl for a few hours.
- Water: Chlorinated water can inhibit fermentation, so use spring, distilled, or filtered water if you can. It is also recommended to rinse the vegetables in un-chlorinated water rather than tap water.
- Effervescence: Bubbles are always a good thing and a sign of an active ferment, but not all ferments present very prominently. No need to worry — this recipe in particular is on the subtler side.