Why Pickling?

Why Pickling?

By
Freddie Janssen
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781784880330

This is a question I get asked all the time. Often, I will get a bit flustered and go on a long rant about how I started making pickles and kimchi a few years ago for pop-ups and supper clubs, and how I just can’t get enough of the tangy flavours.

There’s also the fact that I grew up in Holland. Friday nights were when my mum, sister and I would get a takeaway of proper Dutch fries with mayonnaise, and either a frikandel speciaal (a fried sausage smothered in curry sauce, mayonnaise and chopped raw white onions) or a satekroket (a croquette with a peanutty satay sauce filling). Without fail I would order an Amsterdam onion from the huge glass jars that sit on the countertop. The saffron yellow, sweet-and-sour onions were the best things in the world to me – so much so I’ve included my own take on how to eat these little pickled balls of goodness. I also have memories of my mum and I snacking on huge, juicy dill gherkins in German beer bars – total goodness. My dad’s specialty dish was something he called Hussel A La Papa, which literally translates as ‘Mix It Up Like Dad’, and consisted of leftover fried potatoes, gherkins, pickled onions and a fried egg on top. For breakfast, my sister and I would often slather Heinz Sandwich Spread (a creamy version of piccalilli) on white bread; though, my absolute favourite dish was my mum’s version of a choucroute royale (sauerkraut with mashed potato, served with sausages, bacon, black pudding and baked apple), and is still something I always look forward to eating when I go back home.

At 17 years old, I had my first job as a waitress at a small Indonesian restaurant where I was introduced to Dutch-Asian pickles, called atjar – beautiful, crunchy, sweet and sour pickles that were served alongside rijsttafel, meaning ‘rice table’. The different textures, colours, flavours and levels of spiciness were the most exotic and awesome thing I had ever tasted. In later years, I was introduced to salt-preserved herring that I’d knock back in the morning to cure my hangover. So, yes, I guess you could say that pickled and fermented foods are very much a part of the kind of food I grew up eating, and essentially became a core part of any meal for me.

Fast-forward to 2008, when I moved to London, then travelled to Singapore, Mexico, Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam, the US, Australia and South Africa, ate at a ton of amazing restaurants and market stalls. Having been introduced to such mind-blowing and diverse food cultures, I felt inspired to understand my own journey and to give my take on the food I loved from my childhood.

People tend to be intimidated by pickling and fermenting. They think there are lots of rules and percentages that you need to know about. Trust me, you don’t. You also don’t need to spend hours hunting out impossible-to-find specialist equipment because you’ll probably have pretty much everything you need somewhere in your kitchen cupboard.

The majority of the recipes in this book are refrigerator pickles. These are made by soaking (mostly) raw, fresh ingredients in a vinegar-based brine with sugar and salt, and often flavoured with spices or herbs. Now for the science bit: the salt pulls out the moisture, meaning that bacteria stands no chance of developing, and the vinegar helps to preserve the natural crunch of your fruit and vegetables by stopping bacteria growing through its acidity. Because the pickles aren’t cooked or fermented, it’s a super-quick method for making crunchy delights such as Pickled Nashi Pear, Rosemary Pickled Plums, Thai Shallots and Szechuan Pickled Watermelon. There are also recipes for properly fermented vegetables with salt-based brines, and a few different kimchis.

The awesome thing about pickling is how humble ingredients (vinegar, salt or sugar, and fresh produce) transform into something extraordinary. You simply combine the ingredients, and then wait – either a couple of hours or a few months – for the magic to happen. The results will amaze you and your taste buds.

A little pickle can easily brighten up a meal with its crunchy texture and zingy freshness. Add chopped Thai Shallots to a curry, some F.A.T Sesame Kimchi to a grilled cheese sandwich, your own homemade sriracha sauce to a burger, or serve your friends an assorted plate of pickles alongside cured meats and cheese. Before you know it you’ll be going by the name of ‘Pickle Queen’ (or King, obvs), as you’ll want to pickle everything in sight – trust me.

On becoming #foodserious

I spent four years as a creative director at a London boutique advertising agency, Protein, where I worked with some amazing clients. One career highlight was working at an event alongside Dante Gonzales, a chef from the States known for throwing these amazing music and food parties in his loft in Brooklyn. He whipped up his infamous fried chicken for the masses while I manned the salad station. That was my first day at the agency, so it was a pretty weird but good first day. Following that, my job allowed me to travel to places like Miami, New York, LA and Boston, to work and film with incredibly creative and inspiring teams and, more importantly, to eat out in all these insane cities, which ultimately pushed me towards my new career

During my time in ‘ad land’, I’d always toyed around with the idea of doing something in food. I started a pop-up called F.A.T, named after me, Freddie, and my friends Alice Waese, an artist and designer, and Terence Teh, a journalist – both are now based in New York. The three of us loved food. We nerded out together over Anthony Bourdain books and TV shows. Though, if you dared call us foodies we’d give you a death stare, as of course we weren’t. (I guess we totally were.) We started off hosting dinners in the gallery at Protein, which later turned into pop-ups, street parties and a handful of catering events. Most of the time, we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. None of us had worked in the restaurant industry before and all of a sudden, we were in a room of 100 people trying to order ten different things from a menu that we’d literally just come up with, and had never even cooked before. We were massively winging it. But I think it was that feeling of stepping into the unknown, with really good friends, doing something different, something we believed in, that made it real. And it’s the buzz I got out of it – serving people new food and unfamiliar flavours, creating a vibe that felt exciting and new – that ultimately made me want to pursue a career in food.

I eventually left my job at Protein to make the move into the great big world of food. I started out running a three-month pop-up lunch counter inside a coffee shop, which also functioned as a barbershop – you know, one of those cool, quirky, multifunctional places. I thought it would be incredibly hard to start something from scratch. I’d left the daily grind of sitting behind my laptop for ten hours and instead found myself running around the entire city to butchers, bakeries, markets; writing menus; and cooking every day from early in the morning to late at night. I didn’t know anyone in the industry or how to source good fruit and veg suppliers, and so placed very small orders at independent producers who didn’t do delivery. The first day, my friend James Lowe came over – he’s now owner, head chef (and my boss) at Lyle’s, a Michelin-starred restaurant in London. He hooked me up with Justin Gellatly, who created London’s St John Bakery and the restaurant’s infamous sourdough bread and doughnuts (and now runs the amazing Bread Ahead Bakery in London) and he brought me weekly batches of homemade ketchup. I was just about to serve my first customer when he pulled me aside to tell me I really needed to wear an apron if I wanted to be taken seriously by anyone that worked in food. My first thought was that I’d look like I was trying to be someone I wasn’t if I did, so I ignored James’s advice. I rocked up in fun outfits every day that week until all of a sudden food bloggers and a couple of chefs were dropping in. That’s when I put on an apron and shit got real. I became #foodserious.

A little later, my friends opened their first restaurant, Rita’s, and they asked if I could be their pickles and kimchi supplier. Then another friend, Lillie O'Brien of the beautiful London Borough of Jam, asked if I wanted to sell some of my pickles and condiments in her shop, which finally happened once I’d figured out how to bottle and label everything properly. I wanted my food to taste good but also look good. I guess that’s the marketing and advertising background in me.

Fast-forward a couple of years and I’m now running a stall at the weekend, serving grilled cheese sandwiches with homemade pickles at the fantastic Druid Street Market in South London. As my day job, I do restaurant marketing and PR. I never, ever would have imagined I’d write a book, but I guess it’s here now, and I don’t think it can get more serious than this.

Some pretty cool facts

1. The word pickle comes from the Dutch word pekel, which means brine.

2. Although pickling and fermenting is super cool right now, both are actually an ancient process that started for many reasons: to preserve food (before refrigeration), to produce alcohol, or simply to add flavour. Mostly it came out of the necessity to have seasonal produce available all year long.

3. When fermenting food, you are transforming microorganisms like bacteria and yeast, as well as the enzymes they produce. Fermented food is mad healthy and really good for your gut. Basically, eating kimchi and sauerkraut makes you an all-round good person.

4. By contrast, eating pickles that are preserved in vinegar-brine with sugar (and salt and spices) is, admittedly, not the healthiest thing in the world. However, if you make the pickles yourself, you are in control of the amount of sugar. This way at least you know what you’re eating, which isn’t always the case with the store-bought stuff.

5. We eat fermented foods all the time: sourdough bread, olives, yoghurt, cheese, wine, beer, vinegar ... the list goes on.

6. If you really want to get down with the fermentation kids, read Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation – he’s the ultimate fermenting king.

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