Fermented Escabeche

You know that spicy, vinegary mix of pickled veggies that you can usually find at the salsa bar in any given taqueria?  Called escabeche (meaning “pickles,” of course), it’s the ideal spicy/salty/tangy/crunchy topping for a variety of Mexican food, and both my husband and I love it – in fact, it is my husband’s number one most-requested preserved food.  I’ve made these pickles using vinegar before, and canned them for long-term storage, but haven’t been happy with the soft texture that results after canning.  Refrigerator pickles are a great alternative, preserving the crunch of the veggies and still lasting a good long while, and if I’m going to do a refrigerator pickle I figure I might as well work in some probiotic goodness and lacto-ferment them rather than pickle in vinegar.

Here is my (loose) recipe for taqueria-style escabeche vegetables.  I usually use a mixture of jalapeños, carrots, and onions (and sometimes garlic), but this is a very flexible recipe!  Feel free to experiment with different varieties of hot peppers and different veggies, such as radishes, cauliflower, sweet peppers, green beans, etc.

Ingredients

  • approximately equal weights of jalapeños, carrots, and onion
  • salt (I use pink Himalayan salt, but you can use whatever you’ve got on hand)
  • water

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Directions

  1. Slice your veggies about 1/4″ thick.veg2
  2. Use a scale to measure the mass of the jar you will be fermenting your veggies in. Pints, quarts, off-size pickle or mayo jars, whatever you’ve got as long as it’s clean, glass and has a lid! Pack the veggies tightly into your jar, and reweigh.  Note the difference between the tare weight (the weight of the empty jar) and the filled weight, as this will determine the amount of salt you need to use.  Alternatively, if you’re going to be making large quantities of escabeche, you can just weigh the entire batch of cut veggies in a big bowl, and pack into jars later.veg3
  3. Weigh out 2% of the mass of your veggies in salt (in other words, if you’re fermenting 100 grams of veggies you will need 2 grams of salt).  Combine the veggies and salt in a large bowl, and mix well.
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  4. Transfer the salty veggies back into your jar, pack tightly, and add just enough water to cover.  (You don’t want to fill much beyond the base of the neck of the jar, as bubbling will occur during fermentation, possibly causing it to overflow.)  Place the lid loosely on the jar (do NOT tighten – gas buildup during fermentation could cause your jar to explode!), and place on the countertop.veg5
  5. Check on your veggies at least once a day, using a fork to press any floating veggies back below the water level to prevent mold from forming.  (If a small amount of scum forms, just skim it off – this is one of the reasons you’re checking it every day!)  After about a day or so, depending on your room temperature, you should notice some bubbles on the surface of the liquid; this indicates that fermentation has begun.  I usually begin tasting my veggies around day 3 of fermentation in warm weather, or day 5 in cold weather, and usually let them ferment around 5-10 days.  They’re done when they taste good to you!  The longer they ferment, the more sour they will become (and the longer they’ll last in the fridge, as the sour flavor is due to lactic acid that is produced during fermentation, and the acid acts as a preservative).  You will also notice the liquid in the jar becoming cloudy, and the color of the veggies will become less vibrant.

    Yes, we'd already eaten half the jar before I took this picture - these babies don't last long around here!

    Yes, we’d already eaten most of the jar before I took this picture – these babies don’t last long around here!

  6. Now that the veggies are done, you can tighten the lid and store them in the fridge!  Enjoy your escabeche vegetables on tacos, burritos, nachos, meat dishes, beans, eggs, etc.

    Soft-scrambled eggs topped with fermented escabeche.  Yum!

    Soft-scrambled eggs topped with fermented escabeche. Yum!

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6 Responses to Fermented Escabeche

  1. Arlene says:

    This sounds great and easy. Thanks!

  2. Pingback: LF Salsa Fresca | yum vee

  3. Arsy says:

    Thanks for the tutorial, Emilie! This sounds totally doable! I just need to pick up a scale now!

    • Emilie says:

      Glad you liked it! I like the precision of a scale (especially since different types of salt have different weights per volume), but you don’t necessarily have to use one. Several recipes I’ve seen have used a tablespoon of sea salt per quart of fermented veggies, which sounds like a good guideline. If that’s too salty for you, you can experiment with using less, but the veggies really should be somewhat salty to start with to discourage the growth of undesirable bacteria and mold while the desired lactic acid bacteria (which tolerate the slightly salty conditions) get going.

      Some people also prefer to add a starter (e.g. whey or sauerkraut juice) to jump-start the culture, too. I don’t do this because I figure I’ll get a wider variety of beneficial bacteria if I just let the veggies ferment in what they “capture” from the air, but it can be a good way to ensure the ferment gets going properly.

  4. Elijah says:

    I just tasted after 9 days and OMG its so good. I did add some peppercorns and cilantro. Meant to add garlic but forgot.

    Im going to let to go a couple more days and start enjoying.

  5. Ed says:

    I do a lot of lacto-fermentation (I’m making a batch of escabeche right now, as a matter of fact), and here’s a tip: when the veggies are gone, save the leftover brine in the fridge to use as a starter for your next batch. I use 2-4 tablespoons per quart of water, taken from the top of the undisturbed jar (you don’t want the murky stuff at the bottom — the fermentation by-products — as a starter). And if you’re doing cucumbers or other mild veggies, the pepper starter will give them a spicy little kick.

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