How to Cure Olives: Our new house in Galveston has a small, and very old, olive tree near the back porch. I haven’t figured out the cultivar–my iPhone plant app says they are “African olives.”
When I noticed that these olives were starting to get ripe, I decided to pick them–and come up with a plan for how to use them. I went with a simple brine fermentation. So, now in the months that it takes to cure these olives, I will share my trials and errors and few thoughts about the ancient foodstuff.
When Americans think of olives, they think of green ones with red peppers inside–the kind you get at the bar. We can thank Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the Rat Pack for making the pimiento-stuffed green olive famous as a garnish for the iconic martini cocktail. Thanks to our thirst for martinis, the United States has become the largest importer of Spanish aceitunas rellenas, or stuffed olives. The U.S. accounts for nearly a quarter of all Spanish table olive exports, some 685 million pounds.
Stuffed olives are also the most popular olives in Spain, though the locals prefer different stuffings. (And the traditional drink with olives is sherry, not gin.) Anchovy-filled green olives account for around 40% of all table olives consumed in Spain. But there are some 90 varieties of stuffed olives on the market in Spain, with new ones being invented all the time. At the Andalucía Sabor trade fair, 36 different kinds of stuffed olives were displayed.
Popular fillings include: lemon, lobster, roasted red peppers, spicy chorizo, almonds, blue cheese, jalapeño, smoked salmon, garlic, pearl onions, tuna, orange and Spanish ham, among others. While the U.S. likes pimiento-stuffed olives (usually mispronounced “pimento”), Mexican like jalapeño-stuffed olives and Eastern Europeans like them stuffed with blue cheese.
Spanish olive producers have sponsored competitions among American chefs to come up with new olive stuffing (and cooking) ideas. Chicago chef Michael Kornick offered Chorizo-stuffed olives, and Florida chef Giorgio Rapicavoli made Grilled olives stuffed with Manchego cheese.
I won’t be stuffing my olives–or cooking with them anytime soon. The recipe I am using called for an initial two weeks of brining, with a daily change of salt water. I used the standard pickle brine formula for a 4% saline solution. That was my first mistake. Most of the olive producers in the world use a 9% saline solution.
Tomorrow, I will make a batch of saltier brine.