I suspect my daughter loves these pancakes more than she loves her father; if you add maple syrup, no wisp of doubt remains. All you need to add for the perfect Sunday morning is good coffee, the papers and the prospect of a good lunch cooked by someone else.
Fermentation lies at the heart of Russian cuisine as one of the most ancient techniques of preparing food. As you will notice throughout this book, numerous recipes rely on sauerkrauts, kvass, or rassol (the fermentation liquid) for their distinct tangy flavor. This soup, which carries the name rassol in its very title, is the embodiment of such a tradition. While historically rassolnik is an old Russian dish, the go-to recipe in our family comes from Poland. Back in the 1970s, my mom took part in a school program that allowed Soviet kids to find pen pals in neighboring socialist countries. She hit the jackpot, since she was linked up with a boy in Poland (the most coveted country of all friendly socialist ones). After a few years of correspondence, my mom and her parents were invited—and most importantly permitted by the Soviet officials—to visit her pen pal. Along with a bag full of trendy garments, chewing gum, and fancy stationery, which made her the coolest teenager in school, she brought back this recipe for a good old Russian rassolnik, cooked by her Polish friend’s mom. The delicious soup always reminds me of the interwoven nature of the Soviet and Slavic histories and cuisines.
Shio koji is a traditional use of koji, the ancient mold that gives us soy sauce, miso, fermented bean paste, and sake. It is made by combining rice koji (cooked rice that has been inoculated with koji spores and then dried), salt, and water and letting the mixture ferment for about a week, during which time it develops a sweet, fruity, slightly funky aroma. Shio koji is primarily used as a marinade. Because it is rich in protease enzymes (which break down proteins) and amylase enzymes (which break down starches), it can transform many foods. In our Koji Fried Chicken, it turns the chicken incredibly savory and tender. In our tests on fish, we found that shio koji firmed and gently cured the filets. Makes about 1 quart.
We think fried chicken is something that few people dislike (and if you hate it, we don’t want to know you anyway). Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. Out in Cleveland, koji master Jeremy Umansky is working on a game-changing koji-cultured fried chicken that uses the mold as a crust. We're not nearly as crazy (or as cool), but we still wanted to take advantage of the amazing tenderizing and flavor-boosting properties of shio koji, a mixture of rice koji, water, and salt. So we marinated a bunch of chicken in the stuff and even incorporated some dried granular rice koji into the coating itself to produce juicy, meaty, deep golden-brown, crunchtastic chicken.
In order to provide you with a good picture of both stages of vinegar fermentation, we’ll begin with a recipe in which we first make alcohol through the fermentation of natural sugars, then ferment that alcohol into acetic acid with the help of acetic acid bacteria (AAB).
Roasting brings a lot of rich, fully developed flavor to this garum, meaning it needs only about a month of fermentation to coax out more umami. If we were to ferment this chicken garum as long as we do beef or squid garum, it would lose its subtlety and complexity.
Lacto-fermented blueberries are one of the easiest and more versatile products in this chapter. They need no prep other than a quick rinse, and once they’re done you’ll find heaps of simple uses for them: Toss some onto your morning yogurt and granola, or add them to a smoothie, or puree the fruit and juices to make a salty-sweet coulis to be drizzled over ice cream or fresh cheese. Fermented blueberries freeze well and thaw quickly, making them easy to keep on hand at all times.
There is a lot of room for experimentation and creativity with all the wild ingredients available—I’ve barely scratched the surface with the sauces I’ve made using my homemade or infused vinegars and the large number of wild ingredients available. Here is an example of a simple nasturtium and watercress hot sauce. This recipe makes two half-pint (250 ml) jars.
I keep a small zip-top bag full of apple cores, peels, and other scraps in my freezer, and I add to it every time I cut an apple for a snack or make a batch of cider. When I have enough to pack into a canning jar, I turn those scraps into vinegar. Essentially, this works by mixing the scraps with water and sugar, letting it ferment, and then ignoring it until the liquid turns into vinegar. The resulting vinegar is slightly less intense and flavorful than “real” vinegar, but still perfectly tasty for making everything from salad dressing to tri-tip marinade.