Yikes! that was a long post title! I always struggle with post titles. I wanna summarize what the post is about and not come off entirely lame yet pay attention to SEO hocus-pocus, etc.. but you be the judge. Now, if you don’t care for that sorta thing, I mean, blog post titles… and you want to instead try something really cool and awesome in the kitchen, today is a fortunate day. Both passion for cooking sous vide and my renewed passion for home fermentation come together here in the nicest of ways. If you’ve been paying attention, I’ve posted about hot sauces recently. About a month ago I changed my approach and stopped using vinegar all together for making hot sauce, switching my attention over to lactic acid instead. Lacto-fermentation not only preserves foods in an acidic environment that welcomes good bacteria and good yeast even good molds, it also has a tremendous impact in flavor and texture. I figured I could take advantage of this and combine it with a popular sous vide preparation: Garlic Confit.
Traditional garlic confit requires cooking garlic cloves, whole in oil at a relatively low temperature ensuring there’s no browning. The cloves become very soft and the oil used, keeps oxygen away from the garlic, helping preserving it, although immediate refrigeration is recommended to ward off botulism. The same idea can be accomplished using sous vide. It’s actually a lot easier to prepare garlic confit using the electronically controlled water heater than over an unruly stove. The trickiest part of making traditional garlic confit is controlling the amount of heat applied. Even in the lowest settings most stoves are simply too hot and brown garlic doesn’t taste good. Some people use diffusers, etc. With sous vide this isn’t an issue. Might take longer but rest assured it will be perfect. You should move garlic confit into the fridge right after cooking to prevent any pathogen reproduction.
700g garlic cloves. Don’t bother peeling.
16g salt. About 2%
Sous vide garlic confit.
This is as simple as it gets. Place the garlic cloves in a sous vide bag. Add water. Add the salt. Seal. Cook at 88C for about 7 hours. You could add herbs to the baggie as well. Thyme and rosemary are classic additions. I didn’t use any this time because this was my first time trying to ferment the confit and didn’t want too many flavours layered in just yet. I didn’t use olive oil either. After fermentation, olive oil can be added for flavor if you really want. You could also use olive oil instead of water in the beginning of cooking.
Prepare a pot and a strainer. After the cooking is done, transfer the content of the bag into the strainer and using a spatula force the garlic through. The garlic should be so soft that this should be fairly easy. I used a fine chinoise and it took some work but the silky texture of the sauce was a wonderful reward. At this point you should taste and adjust salt if needed. This sauce is ready to be used as is. It’s an amazing product and if you don’t want to experiment with phase 2, then go enjoy this sauce as is. Just make sure you store it in the fridge. Should stay for a couple of weeks to be safe. But… if you want to give this sauce a more complex flavour profile, then fermentation, here we go.
Fermenting the garlic sauce.
Ok, if you thought the sous vide step was easy… then check this out. For fermentation to take place certain bacteria must be present. You’re probably thinking that after 7 hours at 88C nothing in that bag should have survived and you’re right. The bag contents are pasteurized. In order to get that good bacteria back in there you have to do a couple of things. First, you need to bring the garlic sauce to room temperature fast… to around 20C (chuck in ice water). The other thing you need to do… leave the sauce exposed to your wonderful kitchen air for a few minutes. If you fear bugs might land in it, no worries, cover it with a cheese cloth, or put it in the microwave or the oven. The good bacteria is pretty much everywhere. If you have been fermenting other things, you could use a little bit of the liquid to kick start the process which I recommend because I like the probiotics going to work asap to fend off pathogens including botulism by means of decreasing Ph (simply add the fermentation juice directly into the sauce and stir in). Transfer the sauce to a bottle, leave about 2 inches of head room. This sauce is going to bubble up quite a bit and you will appreciate having some room in the bottle later on. Keep the bottle at room temperature for about 7 days. Fermentation requires practice and a lot of tasting. Seven days is just a reference. It could be longer or shorter.
How do I know it’s fermenting?
From the moment the sauce reaches room temperature and is exposed to air, fermentation starts right there. It’s slow at first and you won’t be able to tell for a day or two. Most of what’s happening mainly bacterial multiplication. The number of little guys in there needs to be high enough for fermentation to be noticeable to the naked eye. Into the third day, you’ll probably start to see little bubbles. Maybe you’ll start noticing some gas pressure when opening the bottle. The bacteria is working away and breathing out gasses. You should “burp” the bottle at least once a day. Since you’re fermenting a sauce, the bubbles will dramatically increase the volume of it (in less viscous preparation bubbles will simply raise to the top and exit the liquid instead of expanding it ), in some cases some of the sauce will actually come pouring out of the bottle. Don’t panic. Clean the bottle, shake it, close it. Maybe you need to make a little extra room in the bottle. Practice makes perfect here. And if you had any doubts before, now you know the sauce is alive and fermenting away.
The sauce is too acidic!
A garlic sauce that’s too acidic isn’t ideal in my opinion but that’s a matter of personal preference. Because the concentration of lactic acid increases in time (it eventually plateaus) it’s important to taste regularly and find the sweet spot. There are too many variables at play to determine the precise time to ferment the sauce for. Warmer climates make fermentation go faster for example. My house was a pretty even 70F during the making of this sauce and 6-7 days was probably when the sauce tasted its best.
How do I stop this acidification??
You could kill the bacteria by boiling the bottle. You could even microwave it. That’s a quick way to get it done. You could pasteurize the bottle with your sous vide appliance too, heating up your water bath to 120F and hold it for a couple of hours to make sure you heat up the bottle to the core. But I don’t like any of those options mainly because fermentation not only makes food taste great, it also has a number of positive health benefits. Killing the probiotics defeats the purpose of eating probiotic food. It’s a senseless crime guys.
The other 2 options: Eat the whole bottle of sauce the moments it reaches its peak or place the bottle in the fridge. If you can somehow time roughly when your sauce will be ready, then you could throw that BBQ party and brag about that sauce all day long. If you place the bottle in the fridge… the acidification won’t stop but it’s dramatically slowed down. You can even ferment the bottle in the fridge the entire time but keep in mind that what it took a few days t room temperature could take months in the fridge.
I’m not well versed in fridge fermentation so I won’t get into it. The whole point of fermentation was to avoid having to use a fridge, or let me rephrase that.. fermentation, a form of food preservation came to be before refrigeration was even a sci-fi dream. It just seems a bit extravagant using refrigeration to control it… but whatever works. It’s all about making food taste awesome, even if you have to cheat. It’s all a hack anyways unless you’re eating… I don’t know… sashimi?