Adapted from Hawker Fare by James Syhabout with John Birdsall
Use whatever type of mustard greens you like: gai choy, i.e. ruffled Chinese mustard greens or the grand-leafed mustard greens of the American South. The taste is slightly different, but the results are equally sharp and funkily pickled. If you want to make a smaller or larger batch, simply use the same ratios of greens to other ingredients, but scaled accordingly. A calculator and a kitchen scale is ideal for that kind of adjustment.
Oh, and if you do not have leftover cooked rice in your fridge, buy a small container from your favorite local take-out restaurant. No need to make a batch of rice just for your fermented greens.
- Chop the mustard greens—stems and all—into big bite-size pieces. Rinse well in a sink or salad spinner, then drain.
- Using a non-reactive container (glass or plastic is great) that holds at least 4 quarts, layer the mustard greens inside, adding a few garlic cloves and chiles here and there so they are somewhat evenly dispersed throughout the greens.
- Pour the water into a large bowl, add the salt and stir to dissolve. Add the cooked rice and soak for about 30 minutes. Strain the water over the container with the greens, pressing the rice to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the rice.
- Using a clean utensil, press the greens to ensure all of them are submerged. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the greens and liquid, being sure to cover the entire surface area. Lay a plate on top of the plastic to help keep the greens submerged as they ferment. Cover the container tightly with another sheet of plastic wrap.
- Store the container in a dark place at room temperature for three days. If you’re using the MSG—which you should—add it to the greens after two days. No need to stir the greens. Just agitate the liquid so the MSG dissolves. After the third day, remove a piece of greens with a clean utensil. Taste. It should be tart and sharp and tangy and the color should have turned a shade of dull green. If not, recover the container and let ferment for another day. The time necessary depends on the temperature of the room. Once the greens are fermented appropriately, store in the refrigerator. They last for months, becoming more garlicky and chile-hot as time ticks on.
Scott Hocker is a writer, editor, recipe developer, cookbook author, and content and editorial consultant. He has worked in magazines, kitchens, newsletters, restaurants and a bunch of other environments he can’t remember right now. He has also been the editor in chief of both liquor.com and Tasting Table.