Cookbook Review: Mastering Fermentation

Recipes for Making and Cooking with Fermented Foods

by Mary Karlin

Please don’t buy this book or at least don’t follow the guidance in this book.  This is great for a coffee table book with lots of big pretty pictures.  If you want to buy a book about how to start fermenting, keep looking.  If you’re new to the world of fermentation, this book will certainly get you off on the wrong foot.  I’m not an expert, but I have been researching the practice of fermentation and trying some ferments and this book scared me.

There’s a lot of seemingly great recipes in here.  The simple instructions misguide you into a false sense of security.  The recipes ARE simple, too simple maybe.   There are no supporting instructions about how and why to give you an idea of how to ensure success with your fermenting projects.  Maybe none of that matters, because the one thing I noticed is that most of the recipes call for a fermenting time of 8 hours. Everything I ferment takes at least a week!  It’s like these fermenting projects dapple in fermentation but doesn’t really take anything far enough to make a difference.  Leaving things out on the counter before leaving them in the refrigerator for a week is not “masterful fermentation”.

Even the sourdough bread recipes are disappointing.  Ms. Karlin gives some instruction on starting off a sourdough culture but then ends up bolstering the pizza dough ferment with instant yeast.   I wanted to see more information about really watching this natural ferment and learning to take cues to do a long, natural ferment and create a unique sourdough.  What this book outlines is literally a SOUR dough, not anything that relies on culturing a wild ferment to transform your food into something delicious.  If you’re looking for a quicker method to develop flavor in your bread, learn to make a soaker or “levain”.   Souring some ingredients to add to your bread is not a good first step.

Most alarming was the “Fermented Mayonnaise”!  Who, in their right mind, would make a raw egg emulsion with raw garlic (which could potentially introduce botulism) and then leave it out on a warm kitchen counter to ferment???  This is not only reaching for something ridiculous to ferment but just plain DANGEROUS.  I don’t like to think how many cases of food poisoning this has created and scared people away from a very healthy, rewarding, and generally safe, hobby.

Please do yourself a favor and pick up any other book about fermenting.  Some excellent choices are anything by Sandor Ellix Katz or Alex Lewin.  “Mastering Fermentation” is an accident waiting to happen.

About John MacDowall

I was born in Poughkeepsie, NY. We moved to a farm during middle school where I learned about raising animals and growing food. Now, I live in the affluent suburbs of Washington, DC and wonder why people eat the way they do.

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