Pickling and preserving is what Sydney’s Cornersmith’s restaurant is known for. We pickle not just because we love the taste, but because pickling is an important food tradition that needs to be understood and passed down the generations. Preserving makes you understand the seasons, helps you to know what’s going into your food, and avoid unnecessary preservatives and packaging. It also massively reduces food waste. On top of all of that, it’s good fun.

Having a pantry full of pickles very quickly makes a meal more interesting. If you can toss some sliced pickled ginger through a noodle dish or throw some pickled peaches through a leafy green salad, you’ll not only have something incredibly delicious, but you’ll know you preserved the best of the season to use any time of the year. A home-made relish will make your work sandwiches a whole lot more exciting, and you’ll be the hero of the barbecue if you bring a few jars of delicious chutney.

Turmeric pickled mango

Makes 3 x 500ml (2-cup) jars

Preparation time 25 minutes, plus 20 minutes sterilising, plus one hour salting. Can be stored for up to three months.

2kg (4 lb 8 oz) unripe mangoes, or green mangoes
1½ tbsp salt
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp yellow mustard powder
1 tsp chilli flakes
400ml white wine vinegar
110g (½ cup) sugar
400ml water
6 curry leaves

So addictive are these pickles, you’ll be lucky if they make it past the first meal. They are delicious with curries, or mixed through Asian-style salads.

For a quick and tasty salsa to serve with seafood or tacos, finely dice some of the pickled mango and mix in a small amount of the brine, lots of fresh chopped coriander (cilantro), and fresh chilli to taste.

Peel the mangoes, then cut the flesh into long strips about 1cm thick. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Mix with your hands to evenly coat, then leave to sit for at least an hour, to draw the excess moisture out.

While your mango is salting, sterilise your jars and lids (see below).

Meanwhile, in a dry frying pan, lightly toast all the spices over medium heat for one or two minutes, or until fragrant, taking care not to burn the fenugreek seeds or they will become bitter.

Make your brine by combining the vinegar, sugar and water in a non-reactive, medium-sized saucepan. Place over low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar, then bring to simmering point. Turn off the heat and allow to cool a little.

When the jars are cool enough to handle, drain off and discard the excess liquid from your mango strips; you can wrap them in paper towel to dry them off a bit.

Put two curry leaves and two teaspoons of your spice mix into the bottom of each jar. Carefully pack the mango strips in. They will have become quite soft from the salting; you want to get as much as you can into each jar, without squashing or breaking up the mango strips.

Cover with the brine, making sure the mango strips are completely submerged under the vinegar.

Remove any air bubbles by gently tapping each jar on the work surface and sliding a clean butter knife or chopstick around the inside to release any hidden air pockets. Wipe the rims of the jars with paper towel or a clean damp cloth and seal immediately.

We prefer to keep these pickles in the fridge, as the texture seems to deteriorate quite quickly. They’re best eaten within three months.

Oven-dried preserved tomatoes

Makes 3 x 300ml jars

This is a great recipe when you’re completely overloaded with tomatoes. These preserved tomatoes are so full of flavour and are excellent thinly sliced through pasta, in tomato salads, or with ricotta and lots of pepper on toast. Can be stored for up to six months.

2kg tomatoes
2 tsp salt
375ml (1½ cups) white wine vinegar
185ml (¾ cup) water
75g (⅓ cup) sugar
optional flavourings, such as peeled garlic, black peppercorns, thyme, oregano sprigs and/or basil stems
150–200ml olive oil or vegetable oil

Preheat your oven to its lowest setting. We set ours to 65C, but most domestic ovens can only go as low as 100C (210F). You can also use a dehydrator if you have one.

Wash your tomatoes and cut them in halves or quarters, depending on their size. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper, or on a wire rack set over a baking tray. Sprinkle with the salt and place in the oven.

For ovens set to 100C, the tomatoes can take seven to nine hours to dry. For ovens set to 65C, the tomatoes can take 10 to 12 hours to dry. You want your tomatoes to be mostly dried, but still maintain some plumpness. If your oven feels too hot, you can wedge the door open with a wooden spoon to increase the airflow. (If using a dehydrator, refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for advice on a suitable length of drying time.)

When the tomatoes have finished drying, leave to cool completely.

Sterilise your jars and lids (see below).

Make your brine by combining the vinegar, water and sugar in a small, non-reactive saucepan. Place over low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to simmering point, then turn off the heat.

When the jars are cool enough to handle, add any spices or herbs you wish to use, such as one garlic clove, four peppercorns and one thyme sprig. Using small clean tongs or clean hands, carefully pack the dried tomatoes into the jars. Pour the hot brine over the tomatoes, filling each jar only three-quarters of the way up.

Remove any air bubbles by gently tapping each jar on the work surface and sliding a clean butter knife or chopstick around the inside of the jars to release any hidden air pockets. Fill each jar with oil, leaving a 5mm (1/4 inch) gap at the top. Wipe the rims of the jars with paper towel or a clean damp cloth and seal immediately.

Leave to cool on the benchtop, then store in a cool, dark place for up to six months. If the weather is particularly hot, store the tomatoes in the fridge.

Once opened, refrigerate and use within three months.

Zucchini pickle with chilli & mint

makes 6 x 375ml (1½-cup) jars

Preparation time 30 minutes, plus two hours salting, plus 20 minutes sterilising. Heat-processing 10 minutes. Can be stored for up to two years.

Make lots of this pickle! It’s really delicious and very easy. We made them one year when there weren’t many cucumbers around and they’ve become a staple at Cornersmith. We serve them everywhere you’d use a classic bread-and-butter pickle. You can leave the chilli out, or add more if you like your pickles hot.

Be sure you don’t overpack these jars. If you squish in too much zucchini, the excess moisture in them will be released and make your vinegar brine too watery to preserve properly. And once you’ve eaten all the pickles, save the brine to use in salad dressings – just whisk in some olive oil and cracked black pepper.

2kg small firm zucchini (courgettes)
2 small brown onions
2 tsp salt
1 litre (4 cups) white wine vinegar
500ml (2 cups) water
165g (¾ cup) sugar
3 tsp dried mint
3 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
2–3 peppercorns per jar

Thinly slice the zucchini, to about the thickness of a coin, and place in a large bowl. Thinly slice the onions and mix thoroughly through the zucchini. Sprinkle with the salt and leave to sit for at least two hours, to draw out any excess liquid; the larger the zucchini, the longer the mixture will need to sit.

Transfer the zucchini and onion slices to a colander and leave to sit until the liquid has drained out.

Sterilise your jars and lids (see below).

Make your brine by combining the vinegar, water and sugar in a non-reactive, medium-sized saucepan. Place over low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat and bring to the boil.

Place the onion and zucchini slices in a large bowl. Add the mint and spices, mixing with your hand to evenly disperse them.

When the jars are cool enough to handle, use a pair of small clean tongs or clean hands to carefully pack the zucchini mixture into them, so that each jar is full but not overpacked. Remember the brine needs to cover every slice of zucchini, and if they are packed too tightly the brine cannot coat them evenly. Slowly fill the jars with hot brine until the vegetables are completely covered.

Remove any air bubbles by gently tapping each jar on the work surface and sliding a clean butter knife or chopstick around the inside to release any hidden air pockets. Wipe the rims of the jars with paper towel or a clean damp cloth and seal.

Heat process (see below) for 10 minutes, then store in a cool, dark place for up to two years. Once opened, refrigerate and use within six months.

Sterilising jars and bottles

To sterilise jars or bottles, give them a wash in hot soapy water and a good rinse, then place upright in a baking dish in a cold oven. Heat the oven to 110C and, once it has reached temperature, leave the jars in the oven for about 10–15 minutes, or until completely dry, then remove them carefully.

For hot packing, pour the hot chutney straight into the hot jars; for cold packing,
let the jars cool before adding your pickles or preserves.

To sterilise the lids, place them in a large saucepan of boiling water for 5 minutes, then drain and dry with clean paper towels, or leave them on a wire rack to air dry. Make sure they are completely dry before using.

Heat processing

Also called “water bathing” or “canning”, this process uses heat to stop the growth of bacteria. It generates pressure inside the preserving jar or bottle, which forces out any oxygen, creating an uninhabitable environment for micro-organisms. Treating your preserves in this way has two benefits: it lengthens their shelf life, and it ensures the jars or bottles are sealed correctly.

Opinions differ on when heat-processing is necessary, but at Cornersmith we encourage our students to heat-process any cold-packed preserves, pickles and bottled fruit – as well as large batches of chutneys and jams that will be stored for some time.

Get the biggest pan you have, such as a stockpot – the taller, the better – and put it on the stovetop. Lay a folded tea towel in the bottom of the pan, then sit your jars on the tea towel, taking care not to cram them in, and keeping them clear of the sides of the pan. (All these measures are to stop the jars from wobbling around and cracking as the water boils.)

Roughly match the water temperature to the temperature of the jars (to help prevent breakages from thermal shock), then pour in enough water to cover the jars, either completely or at least until three-quarters submerged. Bring to the boil over medium heat. The heat-processing times given in the recipes start from boiling point, and will generally be 10–15 minutes for jars or bottles up to 500ml (2 cup) capacity, or 20 minutes for larger capacities.

Once the heat-processing time is up, the lids should be puffed up and convex. Carefully remove the hot jars from the water. If you’ve bought some clamps, now is the time to use them, or you can use oven mitts and a thick cloth to protect your hands.

Line your jars up on the benchtop and let them sit overnight. As they cool, a vacuum will form inside each jar and suck down the lid, sealing them securely. In the morning, the lids should be concave: either get down to eye level with the top of the jar to check for the telltale dip in the lid, or lay a pencil across each lid to show the cavity below it.

If you have concerns about the seal of any of your jars (sometimes a couple of jars fail to seal correctly), store them in the fridge and use their contents within a few weeks.

• Images and recipes from Cornersmith Salads and Pickles by Alex Elliott-Howery and Sabine Spindler (Murdoch Books, $39.99) Photography by Alan Benson

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