Tackling barley shio koji

Just before the release of the Noma Guide to Fermentation I found a particular interest in an ADORABLE and delicious little mold called aspergillus oryzae. I know, I know. Certain questions arise like, “Is this edible?”, “Is this an ancient disease thats come to smite our children”? “Is this a Greek mythology character?”.

No, no. If you’re familiar with sake, miso, mirin, or soy sauce then you have tasted the iceberg of wonder that this little mold brings to the world. I mentioned the Noma Guide to Fermentation because they describe AT LENGTHS how to inoculate, grow, utilize, and consume many different kinds of koji. I will VAGUELY describe my process that I took the grow the koji and make the marinade.

Let’s discuss the heavenly taste of shio koji. Shio koji is basically a CURED marinade made from combining fresh koji, salt, and water. It is completely delicious… It adds salt and umami to anything. You can use it to grill vegetables, marinade meat, or do anything your heart desires. Here is how it’s done!

1. Grow the Koji

The first and most obvious thing to do before making a shio koji is to grow that fun stuff. Now since this can be a bit of a difficult task that requires equipment and planning and I tend to be a bit of an experimentationist (not a real word I don’t think) I will just touch on the basics.

Items you will need:

  1. Koji spores (I used barley koji spores) You can buy them here.
  2. A clean tea towel
  3. An electric thermometer
  4. Polished barley or rice depending on the type you choose
  5. A vessel (Can be MANY different things, I used a lipped baking sheet
  6. A warm environment
  7. Patience and excitement!

Step One:

  1. Soak barley overnight and then steam until just tender. Make sure not to overcook the barley! Strain barley. Following place the barley inside slightly moistened tea towel onto a tray and spread the barley out evenly. THIS PART IS IMPORTANT:
  2. Use the electric thermometer to wait (anxiously if you are me) for the barley to cool down to 35 degrees Celsius or 95 degrees Fahrenheit! If it is too hot the spores will die.
Koji spores placed in a shaker to be distributed.

3. Evenly distribute the spores, you really don’t need a lot. Just distribute light salting across all of the barley. Mix up gently and spread out evenly.

4. Place the the tray inside the oven with the light on. I used some tupperware covers to cover the stray to keep the humidity and condensation inside. Get creative, but you will need to cover the koji without letting the item actually touch the rice/barley or it will not sporulate.

Step Two:

  1. Check koji every 12 hours or so. You should start to see signs of little mycelial growth! Wee! If you are not seeing condensation you can place a small bowl of boiling water inside the oven to increase humidity. Try different things and see if it works.
  2. At 36 hours you SHOULD be able to see lots of growth. It should also smell OTHERWORLDLY, similar to a nice warm sake if you can imagine it. Break up the koji and distribute evenly. Furrow the koji into three mounds, almost like sand dunes in the desert (lol, sorry I didn’t take a photo).
  3. . After 48 hours you should get your koji! It should look something like this. My growth was not SUPER evenly distributed but guess what? It doesn’t matter this is just supposed to be fun!

2. Prepare Shio Koji

Once you have your finished and fresh shio koji you need to break it up and add it into a bowl with salt and water.

The ratios for this are simple. You MAY need a scale for this part, or you can wing it… like me.

  1. Break up and massage grains in your hands. Should become very aromatic.

2. Add equal parts of koji & water and 10% of the koji’s weight in salt. If you have 1 cup of koji, add 1 cup of water, and around 4 tablespoons of salt.

4. Massage well. Transfer to a container to sit for around 7 days. Make sure you check this every 12 hours because it can become very active and explode your container if you don’t check it!

5. After checking and stirring well for 7 days, you can blend it with a blender to make the sauce uniform. Place in refrigerator and use for everything! I hear many different things on how long shio-koji can last, but I have been using mine for 2 months now. The flavor has matured so much since that first blend! Happy koji-ing!

Finished shio koji!

I have now used this to marinade vegetables and grill them, added to salad dressings, and added to bone broth at the last stage of cooking. EVERY single thing has been paradigm shift delicious.

Lactofermented Chard Stems

What’s up my dudes! I’ve tried something a little funky because I have an abundance chard in my backyard that my landlord planted and left for me to munch on while she is living in her summer house in Mexico. I have developed a deeply penetrating love for lacto fermentation in the last year and I will attempt pretty much anything because let’s be honest – IT’S MAGIC.

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There are a few basic steps to lacto-fermenting vegetables and its incredibly simple. Like I’ve mentioned in some of my previous blog posts… I am not really a recipe person. I look for frameworks on how to do things and then I experiment in my own way!

Things you will need:

  1. A sterile mason jar
  2. Chard stems (duh)
  3. Filtered Water
  4. Salt
  5. Spices of your choice!
  6. A fermenting silicone lid (optional) allows gas to escape without letting anything in

First you will need to gather your product. I cut the stems in half and made them roughly the size of carrot sticks. You can pour boiling water into the mason jar and let it sit for awhile to sterilize it. Once you’ve done this you can prepare your brine.

For the brine you will need salt and filtered water. Choose whatever kind of salt you want. Sea salt, kosher salt, pickling salt, your salty attitude… Dissolve the salt in luke warm water over the stove. It should be pretty salty. You pretty much need a tablespoon per cup depending on the size of the mason jar you intend to use.

SO the spices. I found some amazing Merquen smoked pepper which totally blasted me to the past from when my friend was living in Chile and sent care packages of Pisco and Merquen pepper! I added this, a few springs of fresh dill, some smashed garlic cloves, and a few brown mustard seeds.

Nicely stack the stems in the jar with the spices in the bottom and pour the brine over the top. Make sure there is no air for the product to sneak up and hang out in or you can risk mold contaminating your fermentation creation! You can also check it every couple days and add water if needed. Some people use weights to keep the product down, I have not tried them.

Once you pour the brine and secure the lid, you don’t NEED the silicone tops, but they are nice, you can leave your jar in a cool dark place for about 24 hours to get things going. After that you can leave it on the counter for 2-3 days depending on your preference! If you have normal aluminum tops on your jar, leave it on loosely so gas can escape! Obviously the best way to tell if it is ready is to taste it!

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Before the magic happens!

Elderflower Soda Recipe

One of my favorite things about being in Santa Barbara is the access I have to a variety of plants and herbs that are quite different from what I am used to. One of my favorite finds so far has been the elderberry bushes! I found some accidentally while walking a path down to the beach and I shrieked like a teenager and pulled out my phone to positively identify. The flowers appeared slightly more yellow than I had commonly seen and the berries had a white coating or “bloom” over them rather than the dark shiny varietal I am used to seeing. After positively identifying I learned these are Sambucus cerulea or otherwise known as a blue elder.

1. Identifying an elder bush

The trick to identifying an elder bush once the flowers/berries catch your eye is to look closely at the leaves. They should be opposing each other on each side of the stem and have ragged edges on the side. The bushes can become quite large so keep your eyes looking upward! In the right season finding the flowers is the easiest. The second is the look at the flowers. They are pale yellow to white and have a wonderful delicate smell. They tend to split off of the stem in a sort of “spray” pattern. I ALWAYS recommend using a guide book or checking an ID before doing anything with foraged goods because there are so many look-a-likes out there and we’ve all seen or read “Into the Wild” am I right…

2. Soak the flowers

First you need to get all the little buggers off unless you don’t mind a bit of extra protein. Gently soak them in water and strain them off.

3. Make a syrup with honey, purified water, and lemon zest.

Firstly, I am NOT the queen of measuring for recipes. I believe I collected as many flowers as I could filled a large jug with how much water to yield how much soda I wanted and really just went from the there. First you’ll bring your water to a boil with lemon zest and add depending on how you want to do it at least SOME white sugar to the mix, likely 1 cup to yield a gallon of soda. (You can stick with all honey but the white sugar will really get your ferment going). If adding honey wait until the mixture is bath warm and then add it so you can save all the wonderful enzymatic benefits of honey in your soda. I used manuka honey and a combination of white sugar and had amazing results and flavor. Add 1 cup or more. This mixture should be almost sickeningly sweet because the yeast needs to eat the sugar for carbonation to happen! 

3. Add the flowers to the syrup

Alright so add those bad boys to the syrup that you made! The bloom on the flowers will ferment over a few days! At this point I squeezed in the juice of about 3 or so lemons to give it a nice citrusy flavor. It blended amazingly with the honey. Transfer to a glass jar and top with a few layers of cheese cloth or a clean tea towel. Make sure the mixture can breathe but no insects can climb in and destroy your beautiful creation. You can also use a fermentation jar with a rubber stopper, but just make sure whatever you do there is a way for gas to escape or BOOM.

4. WAIT *twiddles thumbs*

Boom. Keep the jar on your kitchen counter in a temperate place out of direct sun. I left my mixture go for about 2.5 days (because it’s hot as balls in SOCAL) and it didn’t take long to ferment. It will start to smell a little funky, almost like beer.

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As you can see above, the jar has a rubber stopper on it. It allows gasses to exit but prevents little dudes like ants or fruit flies from drowning in my stuff. Check your jar every day for signs of fermentation! If you swirl it around you should be able to see some active bubbling going on. This is a great sign! High five! Woohoo!

5. Strain the mixture and transfer into bottles

After your mixture has fermented you need to strain off the flowers/lemons and transfer into bottles. I have some glass bottles with stoppers that I use but I want to issue a fair warning… If you have never played with fermented sodas try using plastic soda bottles first so you can feel how carbonated they get; It is possible for glass to shatter if it becomes too pressurized. It can be tricky when you are trying to release the carbonation to check the progress.

6. Wait some more…

Leave your bottles out on the counter for another day. Gently release the carbonation at first to taste it! Once you refrigerate the bottles the carbonation will settle down a little and become far less….implode-y. I got 2 1 L bottles from what was in this jar and it was just enough for me and some friends to share for cocktails.

7. ENJOY and revel in your hard work! It’s rewarding and delicious my dudes.

Fungi Frenzy

Chanterelles

I decided for this first post to be about the beautiful, the golden, the sometimes elusive but not AS elusive as morel mushroom, the chanterelles! It’s peak season in the midwest baby, and those golden beauties are out there waiting for an invitation onto your plate. Being from Wisconsin I have some experience foraging for mushrooms and I am all too familiar with the feeling of excitement when you stumble across a forest floor covered in yellow. How do you find chanterelles? Look for thick forest with nice dark soil after a few days of rain! Just get out there in the woods and check it out. Chanterelles typically grow on hardwood trees in mossy forests mid to late July depending on the season.

Chanterelles

Chanterelles are the type of mushroom that you need to eat fresh as opposed to porcinis or morels, because they just don’t for whatever reason hold that “shroomy” flavor that we want. Just a side note of caution for all: If you binge eat foraged mushrooms you COULD get sick. It’s just possible. Take it easy. I mean it…

Make sure that your identification is spot on, and double check everything with online images or a guide book before you put it in your mouth! We found some sneaky Jack-o-lanterns in our pile that we dutifully exiled before preparing our delicious meal. So put em in pasta, put them in a killer frittata with who knows what. Give em to friends and family and enjoy yourself!

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