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Conservation processes: an introduction and practical application

In this fully didactic document, some conservation techniques/processes will be presented in a general way, with practical examples that we apply at O Paparico.

These processes will be drying, smoking, fermentation, and pickle.

Talking about seasonality, we talk about a short period of time where we have the products in their splendour. Thus, we apply conservation techniques that accompany our history to "transform" / preserve them.

Drying, is the conservation technique that dates back to the beginning of mankind.

The drying of a protein acts at the osmotic level, that is, at the level of water concentration.

Osmotic reactants such as salt, sugar and temperature are the main players.

By reducing the water concentration, we reduce bacterial proliferation, increasing the product's shelf life.

Each product has its own organoleptic capabilities and an optimal range of growth, maturation and development. Bacteria, live on nutritional constituents as living beings and are the main actors in the degradation role.

Osmotic control is the main means of control. In this way, by controlling the water, we control the state/phase of the product.

In the case of dried fish, making a technical relation of the process, we start it with a liquid curing with water, salt, and sugar, making 10% solute concentration per solvent for 1kg of protein, that is, 100g of solute (50g sugar and 50g salt) for 1lt of water, for 1 kg of protein, and leave it for 1 hour.

In this way we extract the water from the product and start the curing process.

After this hour, we spread the fish with spices and leave it for a week in the cold on a net, turning it over every day in order to dry it out.

By spreading the spices, we add new flavours and create a protective layer between the flesh and the environment.

After this week, we let the fish hang over burnt hay, twigs and bark, to smoke for 1 day.

The smoke, besides tasting, also helps in the drying process and prevents bacterial growth.

This process used with fish, is the same used with hams, the times of the processes differing due to the organoleptic properties of the protein.

The dry fish, emerged from the need to reduce losses, transforming this product and using the techniques and traditions, in order to evolve into another product. A study began on the curing and smoking techniques, in order to apply these techniques to the product, enhancing its quality. The curing and smoking processes act at the osmotic control level (water control), drying the product and causing its flavour evolution.

By reducing the water, we increase the flavour of the fish; thus, to balance this accentuation and raise the level, a mixture of herbs and spices such as black pepper, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, and chili pepper was made with salt and sugar, so that this saline curing would further enrich this product of ours.

The creative basis is the utilization/preservation of protein. We idealize a flavour pattern and work around it to enhance the product and the technique.

The idea of a dish or the applicability of a product created comes later, naturally. It can arise by deconstructing flavours and products, it can arise by recipe, or even by sensory expression. In the end, the dish has to reflect us as a whole.

For the dried fish, we presented it as a snack, composed of a sesame crunch, “à Algarvia” style carrot, a fermented lemon cream, dried fish and dried fish roe, where we finished it off with some halophyte plants.

Deconstructing, the sesame and carrot “à Algarvia” style, get all the spice blend that was used in the fish.

The fermented lemon provides an iodized and citrus flavour, which enhances the protein and balances the toasted flavour of the sesame that is at the base.

The halophyte, in addition to freshness, bring some saline notes that leave the mouth searching for something it doesn't recognize.

The whole is a relationship of flavour and balance. All the elements have their role, and even if you don't recognize any of them, if you subtract them, you will notice the difference in the flavour.

Following the same reasoning, we apply throughout the seasons, the fermentation / preservation technique by catalysis action and precipitation of sugars, caused by osmotic reactions (salt and sugar) and oxygen volume.

Each product has its optimal fermentation conditions, due to the water concentration and its nature. Establishing a standard, we adapt the needs of the products based on the expected final result.

Of the fermented and canned products, we present two examples as a basis. All fermented products go through the same base, differing concentrations and times, depending on their organoleptic needs.

The standard concentration is: 2 parts vinegar to 1 part water for the brine (preservative solution) and 2 to 5% salt, depending on the weight of the product to be fermented.

Capsicum annuum: Smoked and pickled Padrón peppers:

Padrón peppers, came from our own culture in a plantation 150 meters from the sea. The peculiarity of these peppers is that they are spicy throughout and show a lot of flavour in their spiciness.

This is because they are not watered much, and the lack of water increases the levels of capsaicin (the enzyme component that enhances the spicy sensation).

At the end of the summer, it was decided to preserve some. To balance the spiciness and inspired by BBQ, the peppers were smoked with cherry bark (not only smoke, but also strong heat to break down the fiber).

After the smoking process, a very light (2% lacto) fermentation (about a week) takes place, just to raise the salinity and get some notes from cheese and the mother lump. Lactic fermentation occurs, due to the constituents of the Padrón peppers. The lactic fermentation, is the reduction/segregation of sugars into lactic acid.

After that week, they go into a brine, that is, a solution (this will stop the fermentation) sweet (10% sugar) and low acid (there is already some acidity from the fermentation), based on reduced vinegars (balsamic vinegar and sherry wine vinegar).

Here the sugar will add another layer of flavour and helps to balance "the whole".

Only after 2 months, we started using it in the ham dish as a flavour enhancer for this dish.

In this elaboration, there is a balance between smoky, spicy, sweet and a very slight acidity, in addition to the texture of the grilled peppers.

The resulting brine, is also very interesting and can be used in marinades or emulsions. We use this finished product, as a garnish for the emptiness of old beef matured in charcoal coals, enhancing the smoky notes of the dish and at the same time, harmonizing the natural and rich fat of the cow, with the acidity that we can extract by this method of conservation.

Purple clover vinegar:

Due to an excessive existence of purple clovers (which were part of a dessert that left the menu), in one of our usual suppliers - H2Douro - we took advantage of the fact that at that moment pickles of flowers were being tested, (such as elderberry and capuchin) and thought it was good to experiment with clovers.

In this case, we made the brine slightly sweet (7%), with a very low percentage of acidity (instead of the standard 1:1) and with a sparkling vinegar, already more delicate. Clover already has a very characteristic acidity and fleshy bitterness, so the vinegar was lighter and differentiated so as not to unbalance it.

The initial idea was to use the pickled leaves, but after a week we noticed that they had already lost all their colour and the brine was beginning to take on that purple hue, which came off the leaves by osmotic action due to the acidity. The idea of using the leaves was discarded, as I tasted a bit of the brine and felt the floral notes appearing.

It was left aside to evolve, and when we tasted it again a few months later, we obtained a pink brine, quite floral, with an acidity reminiscent of red fruits, almost spring-like, and with some winter notes.

To make a pickle or fermented wine, one must know at least the products one is going to use, in order to get the most out of it. This is the only way to obtain a fine, delicate, and differentiated final product.

We used a gel from this purple clover leaf pickle brine in one of the dishes from the truffle menu (carabineer dish), which gave it a nice note of acidity and raised the slightly bitter earthiness of the truffle.

Fermented Lemon:

We also introduce our salt-fermented lemon preserves, inspired by the ashara of Moroccan origin.

It is a preservation technique, which imparts lactic and iodized flavours to the lemon. Applying the standard base mentioned above, the salt forces by osmotic reaction, the water exchanges, promoting the appropriate concentration to the fermentation of the product.

The time of this fermentation varies with the size of the product. At O Paparico we currently have lemons that have been in the process for 11 months.

Of course, the fermentation does not continue, because there are no more sugars available for this process to occur.

So, in order not to cause this product to putrefy, we stop the fermentation at the moment we find the best flavour pattern, vacuum packaging them where we remove the oxygen and stop this process.

These lemons, were used in a cream that enriched the dried fish snack and in the composition of a white truffle ice cream that accompanied the pumpkin cheese.

Canned cherries, carrots, apples, pears, almonds, pumpkins, radishes and tomatoes were some of the products that we applied a conservation technique in order to be able to use them out of season.

Some we have already used, others we are saving for the next season, where we want to use them with fresh produce, enhancing and contrasting.

The cycle doesn't stop and we don't stop it. We move forward with it and get involved in its cyclical auras, called seasons or micro-seasons.