The Chef At The World's Best Restaurant Wants You To Add This Gut-Healing Superfood To All Of Your Meals
Noma has been named the best restaurant in the world four times, and chef René Redzepi has turned the food world upside down with his embrace of deep locality, true farm-to-table fare, and creative uses of vegetables.
For his new cookbook, the Copenhagen-based chef decided to let the world in on a secret that Noma uses in many of its dishes: fermented food. The Noma Guide to Fermentation is a beast of a book (although, interestingly, it's surprisingly light when you pick it up) and covers everything a person would ever need to know about the ancient, gut-healing practice.
I got the chance to speak to Redzepi, and he told me that he decided to make a fermentation book because he thinks of it as an essential tool to create deeper, more delicious flavors for any cook (he was also shocked that the concept of hygge has become a trend stateside, but that's a story for another day).
"Having these types of building blocks in your larder makes cooking easier," he told me. "When you have a sushi, you dip it in soy sauce (a fermented food), and it makes the sushi better. You can have a bowl of steamed spinach and you add some fermented food to it, and it tastes super delicious."
He also thinks that, while fermentation can be intimidating, it's actually one of the easiest ways to transform home cooking. "I think anything new is intimidating, but people overcomplicate it," he said.
He recommends reading up on the practice before beginning (from a book like, perhaps, The Noma Guide to Fermentation). "Once you have base knowledge, then it’s easy to understand what fermentation consists of," he said. "It’s a little bit like starting to exercise again—at first you just have to do it. Then it becomes a part of you."
He also suggests people start with lactic acid fermentation, which uses salt to kill bacteria and create an environment for lactic acid to thrive. The most famous lactic acid ferment is well-known to most hot dog fans: sauerkraut. "You can do this with so many other ingredients," he said, and in fact, a whole chapter of the book is dedicated to the practice, and is titled "Thinking Outside the Kraut."
One of his favorite ferments is a lactic acid blueberry concoction that he says is the secret to making vegetables completely crave-worthy. "You can mix the liquid with vinaigrette for salad, or the berries can be chopped and put on soup for a tangy quality," he shared. "They can be eaten as a snack. If you're roasting carrots in a pan, at the very last moment, add a bit of extra butter or ghee and you can add lactic acid fermented blueberries, and it makes it taste rich and complex and amazing."
Want to try it for yourself? Here's his go-to recipe.
Lacto-fermented blueberries are one of the easiest and more versatile products in this chapter. They need no prep other than a quick rinse, and once they're done you'll find heaps of simple uses for them: Toss some onto your morning yogurt and granola, or add them to a smoothie, or puree the fruit and juices to make a salty-sweet coulis to be drizzled over ice cream or fresh cheese. Fermented blueberries freeze well and thaw quickly, making them easy to keep on hand at all times.
Makes 1 kilogram
- 1 kilogram blueberries
- 20 grams non-iodized salt
- If fermenting in a vacuum bag: Place the blueberries and salt in the vacuum bag and toss to mix the contents thoroughly. Do your best to arrange the berries in a single layer, then seal the bag on maximum suction. If you're gentle with them, the blueberries will retain their shape through the fermentation. Be sure to seal the bag as close to the opening as possible, leaving headroom that will allow you to cut open the bag to vent any gas that accumulates and then reseal it.
- If fermenting in a jar or crock: Mix the salt and blueberries together in a bowl, then transfer them to the fermentation vessel, making sure to scrape all the salt from the bowl into the container, and press the mixture down with a weight. (A heavy-duty zip-top bag filled with water will do the trick.) Cover the jar or crock with a lid, but don't seal it so tightly that gas can't escape.
- Ferment the blueberries in a warm place until they have soured slightly but still have their sweet, fruity perfume. This should take 4 to 5 days at 28°C/82°F, or a few days longer at room temperature, but you should start taste-testing after the first few days. If you're fermenting in a vacuum-sealed bag, you'll also need to "burp" the bag whenever it balloons up. Cut a corner open, release the gas, taste the blueberries, and reseal the bag.
- Once the blueberries have reached your desired level of sourness, carefully remove them from the bag or fermentation vessel, and strain the juice through a fine-mesh sieve. The blueberries and their juice can be stored in separate containers in the refrigerator for a few days without a noticeable change in flavor. To prevent further fermentation, you can also freeze them separately in vacuum-sealed bags or zip-top freezer bags with the air removed.
Fermented blueberries play a big part in our savory kitchen at Noma, but of course, most people think of blueberries as a sweet treat or a topping for yogurt in the morning. Fermented blueberries boost a simple breakfast into more sophisticated territory. A big scoop of plain yogurt, a spoonful of lacto blueberries, and a drizzle of honey will easily get you through until lunch.
Lacto Blueberry Seasoning Paste
The pulp of lacto-fermented blueberries, blended smooth and passed through a sieve, makes for a tart, savory condiment for vegetables and meat alike. It's spectacular brushed on fresh corn on the cob with a bit of butter, or tossed with roasted beets. Paint barbecued ribs or pork chops with lacto-blueberry paste before or after grilling, or make a barbecue sauce by substituting it for tomato paste or ketchup in your favorite recipe.