Olive w: Orange Zest
Photo by Donna

When I left the Hudson Valley last month, after shenanigans with Bourdain, I did have enough wits about me to grab a bagful of Chef Pardus's fresh olives to cure myself. I'd never cured olives.  Olives straight off the tree are bitter fruits, so defiantly inedible that one wonders why anyone would think to try to make them edible in the first place. But the transformation from inedible to delectable is an extraordinary one I wanted to attempt.

Neither of us knew the exact type of olive we'd procured but they were big meaty ones, like cerignola, which are my favorite kind. They need to be cured with lye, aka sodium hydroxide, the stuff often used to burn through gunk in drains. I picked some up at the hardware store, 100% Lye, the bottle said. I was told there are probably good reasons why they make a "food grade" lye, so it's a good idea to get this if you want to put your food in lye. I bought some here with the intention of making pretzles. The lye works by drawing out the glucosides that make olives bitter (a little more info on this here).

If you have access to raw green olives, this method works great and results in a fresh clean flavor.  The olives are soaked in a lye solution followed by several days of soaking in fresh water, followed by a brine. I'm sure you could add flavors to the brine as well but I kept mine plain. Be very careful working with the lye.  It's a powerful acid base when the crystals combine with water and will cause bad burns.

Home-Cured Olives

Green olives (I used about three cups)

Food grade lye

Salt

Determine how much water you'll need to cover the olives in a non-reactive container (glass or Pyrex is best) by an inch or two.  Measure one tablespoon of lye for every quart of water you're using.  Dissolve the lye in the water and pour the water over the olives.  Let them soak for 12 hours (I did mine at room temperature).

Drain the olives and soak again in the same strength lye solution for 12 hours.

Drain and rinse the olives. Soak for three days in fresh water, changing the water twice a day (you'll see a brownish haze in the bowl; I believe this is the tannins leaving the olives).

After the third day make a brine. Pardus prefers a 3% brine, but I found this not salty enough. I'm rebrining with a 5% brine, the strength I pickle foods at. Depending on your preference, make a 3%-5% brine.  That would be 30 grams kosher salt for a 3% brine or 50 grams of salt for a 5% brine per liter of water. Soak the olives in the brine for three days, then store them in the fridge for up to 2 to 3 months.