Food, Top Feature

Jar rule: why pickles and ferments are huge

Healthy and sustainable, pickled and fermented foods are finding their way out of the cupboard and on to Soho House plates around the world

Not so long ago, pickles used to live at the back of your cupboard – or in the dead zone at the top of the refrigerator. So how did pickling and fermenting become one of the hottest food trends for 2018, appearing on Soho House & Co plates around the world?

“In general, more people are asking questions about where their food comes from and how it’s produced,” says the American food writer and activist Sandor Katz. That’s led to more awareness of healthy eating, and a boom in gut-boosting fermented products like kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir. “Many people are seeking out fermented foods as rich sources of probiotic bacteria,” says Katz. “Probiotics can potentially improve digestion, immune function and even mental health.”

Fermentation and pickling are also a great way to minimise food waste. Chef Massimo Bottura’s work on the Refettorio project, supported by Soho House in London, has inspired a new generation of chefs to cook sustainably – as seen at EMMA, a waste-free popup run by some of Soho House & Co’s rising stars in New York late last year.

“Pickling and fermenting your seasonal glut is the best way to preserve it – like saving the season,” says The Modern Preserver author Kylee Newton, who gave a talk at the Soho House Food Summit in September. One third of all food produce is currently wasted but the Newton & Pott founder believes that traditional methods will help us to reduce that figure. “Before refrigeration we had to preserve so that we could eat nature’s produce in the months that were less fruitful,” she says.

For the chefs experimenting with fermented and pickled ingredients on our menus from the Electric Diner to Soho House West Hollywood, it’s all about the rich umami flavour. The salty, sour taste of ferments and pickles helps add new dimensions to classic dishes, explains Gilbert Holmes, executive chef at Shoreditch House. “My journey into the realm of pickling and fermentation came about fairly recently,” he says. “‘I’m fascinated by the amount of flavour a good pickle or kimchi can add to a dish, or how intense they can be just on their own.”

According to the National Restaurant Association’s culinary forecast, homemade pickles were rated as a hot trend by 63 per cent of chefs polled. Already a staple in Asian, African, European and Middle Eastern kitchens, fermented ingredients are rapidly making their way on to a variety of menus worldwide. In London alone, half a dozen new restaurants have opened this year in celebration of them. As Littleduck Picklery in Dalston, Salt+Pickle in Crystal Palace and Pickled Fred in Shoreditch show, the appetite for pickles and preserves has never been greater.

This is also a DIY trend, with masterclasses like Anjoy’s recent member event at Soho House Berlin – where the Prenzlauer Berg-based Vietnamese restaurant explained how to ferment vegetables Asian-style – always packed out. In the US, there are even fermentation festivals, where you can learn how to make your own kimchi, kombucha, kefir, kraut and other foods that don’t begin with K. “For anyone who loves cooking at home, I would strongly recommend trying it – it’s very satisfying and can be a great hobby,” says Gilbert, whose kimchi recipe is shared below.

But how to serve it? Many people believe the popularity of kimchi has helped to elevate preserved foods to haute cuisine. Or go simple: “Kimchi is fab in an omelette or with scrambled eggs on sourdough, served with a strong cup of coffee as a morning wake-up call,” says Kylee Newton.

For his part, Gilbert adds kimchi to Bloody Marys, mayonnaise, soups, stocks, fried rice and noodle dishes. “The final product is so spectacular – it’s spicy, sweet, sour, salty and most importantly, it’s good for your gut,” he says. “For me it’s one of those things that if it’s done right, you have something really moreish. Plus, it’s a good talking point for your guests.”

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