Today, I am going to be using some of my wife’s homegrown Daikon to make a very simple but tasty brine-fermented pickle. Since our Daikon yield this past season was very small, the tiny daikon we grew can be pickled whole rather than cut up in chunks as is more common.
Most people are familiar with the Korean style of pickle known as Kimchi, but usually only with the very popular type in which vegetables, most notably cabbage, are fermented in a fiery medium containing lots of chili powder or paste. A lesser known type (at least outside of Korea), is the sort sometimes referred to as ‘Water Kimchi’ is simply made using a clear brine. This sort, most commonly made with a radish of some sort, also usually combines other mild flavor additions such as green onions, ginger and, especially popular in Korea, sliced Asian pear. Today, my recipe will be very simple indeed. As such, there is nothing particularly Korean about it but it does capture the basic idea and is thus a good introduction to the process of brine-pickling in general…
Very simply put, brine-pickling is a process in which foodstuffs are allowed to ferment by the action of certain types of bacteria which, when allowed to feed, produce lactic acid as a byproduct. It is this acid, in turn, that preserves the food and gives the pickles their characteristic sour taste. The use of brine creates a pickling medium that fosters the action of these ‘good’ bacteria (who like the salty environment) and inhibits the action of spoilage organisms (most of whom do not). As to the ‘getting’ of these preferred bacteria, you need not worry about doing anything special since, unless you happen to live in a laboratory standard sterile environment, they exist on your food, in the air, and just about everything else around you.
Creating a brine with the right ratio of salt to water can get confusing if you look at all the different amounts specified in various recipes. Although it is possible to use too much, or too little salt, there is a fairly wide range of acceptable quantities and thus no absolutely ‘right’ mix (except as regards the particular result you intend).
As a rule, you need from 2 to 4 tablespoons or so of salt per quart (or liter) of water. At the low end of the scale, you will get a light pickling that is only moderately salty and suitable for short pickling, while at the upper end, you can store pickles for considerably longer but the corresponding deep sour quality will also be accompanied by greater saltiness. Indeed, some pickled made with 4 or more tablespoons will need soaking to remove excess salt before consumption. It is not recommended that you go below a minimum of 2 tablespoons but, beyond that, the only real proviso is that you choose a non-iodized salt for the process. Avoid table salt, and if in any doubt, purchase one of the coarse salts especially marked as ‘pickling salt’.
For this recipe, we will use a brine composed of 4 ½ tablespoons of pickling salt in 1 ½ quarts of water. This is a little more than we will need but it is much easier to end up with a little leftover than to have to make up a second batch once you discover you don’t have enough. The rest of our list is as follows:
- 1 bunch Radishes or small Daikon (see the picture below)
- 2 tablespoons coarse, non-iodized salt;
- 6 slices fresh Ginger;
- 6 Garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed;
- 1 tbsp. Peppercorns;
- 3 tbsp. Sugar.
Here is the Daikon I have selected. Very roughly, the amount here would amount to about 1 liter in total volume.
The first step is to rub the daikon with the extra coarse salt and leave it for a few hours (or even overnight) to soften and draw out some of the liquid. Once this is done, pour off the liquid that is expelled and give the daikon a quick rinse in fresh water.
Next, simply put the daikon and remaining ingredients into a suitable pickling container (glass or food-grade plastic preferred) and leave to sit at room temperature to allow fermentation to start. The length of time involved will depend largely on the temperature of your ‘room’. In very warm climates, a full day, or just overnight may suffice, while in cooler temperatures, two or three days will be better. Once fermentation takes hold, you will see a bit of ‘bubbling’ and the water may turn slightly cloudy, but the best indicator is the beginnings of a definite, but pleasant, sour smell.
At this point, the pickle should go into the fridge. The fermentation will continue, albeit at a slowed rate, and the sourness will develop more strongly the longer the pickle is left to age. You can start eating the pickle after a few days in the refrigerator, but at least two weeks is better. Again, as with making the brine, there is as much art as science to the process of aging and your preferences will dictate the details. The best advice I can give in that regard is to experiment and enjoy….