What’s the USP? Everything you ever wanted to know about fermenting food but were afraid to ask. Plus, everything else you didn’t even know you wanted to know.
Who are the authors? René Redzepi is one of a handful of chefs worldwide that literally need no introduction but, just in case he’s not on your radar, Redzepi is the pugnacious co-owner of noma in Copenhagen, four times recognized as the world’s best by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, is the poster boy for the hugely influential Nordic food movement/marketing initiative and has twice appeared on the cover of Time magazine. He’s also the author of Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine and A Work in Progress. However, you probably will need an introduction to David Zilber, chef and photographer from Toronto who has cooked across North America, most notably as a sous-chef at Hawksworth Restaurant in Vancouver. He has worked at noma since 2014 and has served as director of its fermentation lab since 2016.
What does it look like? With more than 750 full-colour photographs, most of them step-by-step how-to guides, The Noma Guide to Fermentation looks very much like the technical manual it actually is, so the hand-drawn illustrations by Paula Troxler add a very welcome extra visual dimension.
Is it good bedtime reading? Well, there’s certainly a lot to read but, given its mainly technical nature (introduction by Redzepi himself aside, which is a fun read), whether its the sort of thing to send you off into the land of nod is debatable.
Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You may need to head online for things like unpasteurized kombucha and SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) but often the recipes are simply one common ingredient, such as plums, and salt.
What’s the faff factor? There are a lot of things to consider when fermenting anything so although the ingredients might be simple, the processes can be complex and may require the purchase of specialist equipment, all of which is listed in the book. Think of fermentation as your new hobby, like home brewing beer, rather than cooking.
How often will I cook from the book? This is pretty much an all or nothing deal. If you are interested in serving your family/guests lacto-fermented fruits and vegetables, black fruits and vegetables (e.g. black garlic or any fruit and veg that undergoes a ‘very slow, very dark browning’ over a period of weeks) or want to make your own vinegar, kombucha, miso or garum (a sort of ancient form of Asian fish sauce), then this is the book for you.
How annoyingly vague are the recipes? You’ll have no complaints on this score at all. With master recipes for each type of ferment clocking in at about 10 pages each, including those step by step photos, you’ll never be left scratching your head wondering what to do next.
Killer recipes? The book should really be seen as an instruction manual that unlocks the potential of a process rather than a collection of individual recipes that you’d dip in and out of, but that said, you might well find lacto ceps; apple kombucha; perry vinegar; pearly barley koji (grains fermented by inoculation with fungus spores to produce what is essentially a sort of mouldy, umami rich cake that can be used in other fermentation process or added to stews or just fried and eaten) compelling ideas.
What will I love? The book really does do what it says on the tin and guides you through fermentation, taking you far beyond familiar kimchi and sauerkraut. There is a sense of authority throughout, and you get the sense that these people really know what they’re talking about and have depthless practical experience to back it all up.
What won’t I like? Although there are suggested uses for all the ferments (which will be of particular interest to home cooks), there are only one or two examples of how they are used in complete noma restaurant dishes which some readers may find frustrating. That said, the book is well over 400 pages long without sample restaurant recipes so maybe we’ll just have to wait for the next noma cookbook to see how Redzepi uses all this stuff.
Should I buy it? If you feel the need to ferment and you don’t already own The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, or are a particular fan of noma and René Redzepi, then fill your boots (and fermentation vessels), you won’t be disappointed.
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars
Buy this book
The Noma Guide to Fermentation (Foundations of Flavor)