When late August folds itself into September, peppers begin to arrive in our CSA box. A beautiful assortment of both common and obscure peppers appear, and in abundance far greater than we can eat up in one week alone. There’s the long and gnarled red Jimmy Nardello sweet pepper. The screaming hot Thai bird chilies. The squat pimientos. The brilliantly colored Scotch Bonnets. And bell peppers, serranos, and jalapenos all mixed together in big baskets. I pluck out the bright green peperoncini, and separate them from the rest. These I like to pickle through fermentation, heightening their flavor. I serve them with home-cured olives throughout the winter, as appetizers.
Preserving Hot Peppers
When hot peppers appear in abundance in late summer, and they always do, there’s many ways you can preserve them. I tend to favor drying the peppers or fermenting the peppers, as both methods use very little energy and take minimal effort in the kitchen.
- I dry many of them in my dehydrator, and then grind them into hot chili flakes using a spice grinder. We season our foods with the dried chili flakes all winter long, just as we’d use black pepper.
- I puree the peppers and ferment them in classic salsas like this Raw and Fermented Tomatillo Salsa.
- I make Fermented Hot Chili Sauce from the red jalapenos and brilliantly colored Scotch Bonnets.
- I pickle jalapenos and peperoncini whole using the method below.
How to Ferment Peppers (brine-pickling)
I use two primary methods in preparing fermented vegetables: shredding the vegetables, or pickling them in a simple brine. I like the charm and appearance of a whole jalapeno or whole peperoncini pepper served in a dish of antipasto, so I typically ferment hot peppers much in the same way I’d ferment true sour pickles: in a saltwater brine, seasoned with garlic, herbs and spices.
Fermentation is a beautiful process whereby you create an environment that promotes the growth and proliferation of beneficial bacteria, either wild varieties that exist in the environment of your home, or those introduced in a starter culture (like this one). With time, the beneficial bacteria eat away the carbohydrates in a food, and transform them into various acids, giving fermented foods their characteristic flavor.
Where to Learn More about Fermentation
If you’re interested in learning more about fermentation, be sure to check out these resources:
- Get Cultured! An online cooking class with 50+ videos devoted to *ALL* things fermented and cultured. There’s three sections on culturing dairy, including yogurts, kefir, clabber, butter and more. Check it out here.
- The Art of Fermentation. A comprehensive book on fermentation in history and the fermentation movement as a whole, with a great deal of information on yogurts and other cultured dairy products. Check it out here.
- Real Food Fermentation. A great introductory book with large, vivid, step-by-step photographs illustrating how to prepare many fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles, relishes and more. Check it out here.
- 3 cups filtered water (this is the filter I use)
- 2 tablespoons finely ground unrefined sea salt (available here)
- 1 package vegetable starter culture (available here), optional
- 4 cups whole fresh peperoncini peppers, tightly packed
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- Pour the water into a medium-sized sauce pan and warm over medium-low heat until it reaches about 100 F. Sprinkle in the salt, and whisk it into the hot water until it dissolves. Pour the warm saltwater into a pitcher, and let it cool to room temperature. Whisk in the starter culture, if using.
- Pack a quart-sized fermentation jar (like this or like these) with whole peperoncini, taking care not bruise them. Place the garlic cloves and bay leaf among the peperoncini, and pour in the cooled saltwater brine. Seal the crock, and allow the peppers to ferment for 10 days. Their color will fade and yellow. After about 10 days, open the crock and try a pepper. If you prefer a sourer flavor, continue fermenting the peppers until they acquire the flavor you like, testing every 5 to 7 days, at your leisure. Transfer to the refrigerator or cold storage. Brine-pickled peperoncini will last about 1 year, properly fermented.
Using a starter culture. Starter cultures (like these) help to ensure that specific strains of beneficial bacteria become established in the fermented foods you prepare at home. While successful fermentation occurs with or without them, those who consume fermented foods as part of a therapeutic diet may see benefit from cultivating specific strains of beneficial bacteria. Others, who are new to fermentation, may feel more comfortable using a starter culture until their knowledge of and experience with preparing fermented foods grows enough to give them confidence in trying wild-fermented vegetables.