6 Ways Chefs are Having Fun with Fermentation

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Mallory Talty
At Indianapolis, Indiana’s Beholder, chef/owner Jonathan Brooks goes out of the jar with kimchi-dried jerky powder. Kimchi made with cabbage, scallions, red onion, broccoli and Swiss chard stems, grated ginger, garlic, soy, salted shrimp, sesame seeds, sesame oil, serrano and jalapeño scraps, dried smoked shrimp, and previous kimchi liquid ferments at room temperature. Thinly sliced eye of round beef is then marinated for three days with the finished kimchi, dried out separately in ovens, and pulverized. After passing through a tamis, the meaty, spicy kimchi-dried jerky powder is dusted over beef fat aioli and roasted local potatoes.
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Bryan Russo, chef de cuisine at University City, Missouri’s Público, uses whey from housemade crema to lacto-ferment watermelon with water and salt for three weeks to become acidulated. Fermented watermelon creates a vegetal, bright sauce with butter, salt, agave, and housemade habanero-pineapple sauce. Slow-roasted, crisp green beans are drizzled with this sauce then garnished with toasted sesame seeds, cilantro, fried red onion, and almond salsa.
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Twisting Texas-favorite elote with Asian influence, owner/chief experience officer of McKinney, Texas’ Rye restaurant, Tanner Agar, utilizes paper-thin katsuobushi—dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna—for roasted smokiness. “The idea was something recognizable, but still surprising, and katsuobushi’s got that umami, salty-savory–ness and depth that doesn’t exist outside of fermented foods,” Agar says. Bonito fish is cleaned, boiled, dried, and fermented for six to eight months then shaved thin, like fish charcuterie, to form katsuobushi. Agar rough chops the katsuobushi and sprinkles it atop butter-poached corn covered in Kewpie mayo, black sesame seeds, and togarashi.
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Fat Ox
Inspired by a play on a cheese plate, executive chef at Fat Ox in Scottsdale, Arizona, Rochelle Daniel, places strawberries in a mixture of honey, salt, and water, and ferments it at cool temperatures. “We don’t want enzymes to digest the pectin and make the strawberries soft so we go slow and low to keep them crunchy with acidity and sweetness,” Daniel says. Fermented strawberries serve as a garnish and a textural dehydrated crumble (breadcrumbs, lemon zest, olive oil) along with housemade tortellini, peas, pistachios, mint, and brown butter.
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Pulling from German heritage, Mark Steuer, executive chef at Chicago’s Funkenhausen, concentrates sauerkraut flavor through dehydration. In a container, layers of shredded cabbage are sprinkled with salt or lemon juice, and muddled. It’s fermented in a dark, cool area, flipped four times then the sauerkraut plus fermentation liquid are vacuum-sealed and dehydrated. The dried kraut is chopped and placed into a pan where smoked beef ribs glazed in apricot mustard are dipped to form a crunchy crust. Apricot mustard, fresh apricots, pickled red onion, and parsley are served with it as well.
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John Lee
Spinning fermentation into salad is Desmond Tan, owner of San Francisco’s Burma Love, where laphet, or fermented tea leaves, offer texture plus sour, salty, and savory bites. Fresh tea leaves are picked, steamed, rolled, buried underground for four months to two years to ferment, then pressed. Tan mixes these fermented leaves from Burma with lemon juice, chili flakes, garlic, sunflower seed oil, and salt to make a salad semi-dressing. Romaine, fried garlic chips, fried yellow split peas, toasted peanuts, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds, Roma tomato, jalapeño, shrimp powder, fish sauce, and lemon wedges finish the salad.