T.Dining by Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents - Words, styling and pho­tog­ra­phy MINA PARK

Mina Park, the ef­fer­ves­cent founder of Sook, ex­plains the art of fer­men­ta­tion

The ef­fer­ves­cent founder of Sook ex­plains why fer­mented foods aren’t

just a pass­ing fad

Time and pa­tience—these are two things that are in short sup­ply in the mod­ern day. We live in a high-speed, 24/7-ac­cess In­sta­world where a host of apps can get us what­ever we want, when­ever we want, to fit around our ev­er­length­en­ing work­day. The hunt for 30-minute recipes has now turned into quests for 15-minute (and even five-minute) recipes. Our mon­key minds tell us that we have zero ex­tra time to squeeze out of our days. That’s why, to me, mak­ing fer­mented foods in my kitchen feels like a kind of med­i­ta­tive prac­tice.

For many fer­mented foods, the num­ber of in­gre­di­ents re­quired is of­ten very few and the ac­tive prepa­ra­tion time is quite short. Once you have the food prepped and in a jar, it’s sim­ply a wait­ing game—you just have to put aside your im­pa­tience and your de­sire for in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion. The longer you can clear your mind and yield to pa­tience, the greater the re­wards in terms of the com­plex­ity of flavour. Kim­chi is a sta­ple fer­mented food in my kitchen, be­ing that I’m Korean. Once a batch of kim­chi is made, it’s of­ten fer­mented enough to en­joy af­ter a week—and that’s but a blip on the fer­men­ta­tion time­line.

Es­sen­tial tools for fer­ment­ing foods are a cou­ple of sturdy glass jars The longer you can clear your mind and yield to pa­tience, the greater the re­wards. Mak­ing fer­mented foods in my kitchen feels

like a kind of med­i­ta­tive prac­tice.

Last year, I started ex­per­i­ment­ing with fer­mented hot sauces, start­ing with a recipe from Los Angeles restau­rant Sqirl’s ex­cel­lent cook­book Ev­ery­thing I Want to Eat. I had amassed a mountain of fresh ha­banero chill­ies and wanted to make some­thing from them—and then I read through the recipe, which stated that the sauce had to sit for four weeks in a dark place af­ter it was made. My mon­key mind im­me­di­ately said, “That is a whole month, Mina Park!” I took a deep breath and went ahead. And then I waited.

The re­sult­ing hot sauce was a rev­e­la­tion, with a flavour pro­file that was so deep and fiery, rem­i­nis­cent of many Asian sauces. Since then, I have been play­ing with recipes with a variety of chill­ies, from fresh cayenne and Thai bird’s eye to dried gua­jillo and pasilla. I some­times add aro­mat­ics such as gar­lic or shal­lots, have added sug­ars, and have played with us­ing dif­fer­ent vine­gars to fin­ish off the sauce such as rice vine­gar or ap­ple cider vine­gar. This is where an­other virtue of fer­men­ta­tion be­comes clear—you can play around as much as you like and time will usu­ally be very for­giv­ing.

In June, green plums (also known as mae­sil) were in sea­son in Korea. They’re sour and firm, the colour of jade and cov­ered in a gor­geous, fuzzy skin like a peach. I lugged home a small sack of mae­sil, ready to ex­per­i­ment. I had never played around with them be­fore, but I wanted to try my hand at mak­ing ume­boshi (Ja­panese salted green plums) and mae­sil syrup, which I of­ten use as a sweet­ener in place of sugar.

For the ume­boshi, I fol­lowed a recipe by Amer­i­can pick­ling guru Nancy Sin­gle­ton Hachisu. I nes­tled the plums in salt and then—I’ll be hon­est—I com­pletely for­got about them. More than three months later, I fi­nally re­mem­bered to check on them and then re­alised I had missed a cru­cial step in Hachisu’s recipe, where I was meant to dry the plums af­ter three weeks of salt­ing. To my sur­prise and de­light, the ume­boshi were still divine, with a lus­cious, silky tex­ture and an in­tense, pro­found flavour. I should learn to for­get about my fer­mented foods more of­ten, be­cause thank­fully, when it comes to fer­men­ta­tion, time is al­ways on your side.

Two weeks of pa­tience will yield a punchy, flavour­some hot sauce

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