Sunday, July 31, 2016

Chanh Muối (Vietnamese Preserved Limes)

Chanh Muối (Vietnamese Preserved Limes)
Growing up in the 80's in Maine my mother "the jack of all trades" kept large glass jars of home-made preserved fish (known as mắm cá in Vietnamese) from fish that we caught in fresh water, preserved wild Maine shrimp (mắm tép) and preserved limes or lemons (chanh muối) in the basement. At a young age she had learned excellent preserving technique from her father and neighbors so that the food can last for years at room temperature without spoiling. In the part of Vietnam where I grew up it is common for people to preserve food using either dry or in a brine using salt and sugar. I feel ancient to write this but when I was a young child in a small village in Vietnam I don't remember that anyone around me had a refrigerator in their house. Most of the food was made fresh, almost always from scratch and we must consume them within 24 hours. The only canned food that I remember back then was the condensed milk.

I noticed that my maternal aunts and mother made chanh muối using very similar methods...probably from watching their father (my grandfather or Ah Con) make this in his youth. I think it is important to be observant in such instances since no one bothered to write down any instructions or recipes in my family! For example if you ask how much salt to use the typical response may be "enough to taste salty". How much sugar? The response may be "just a little". If you want to make something in my family you better get in the kitchen and prepare to get your hands dirty--by helping out and keeping your eyes wide open and taking good mental notes! This is probably the one best way to learn something.

My mother has not made chanh muối for several decades but advises me that during the day you let the limes sit in direct sun to dry. According to her the brine liquid must be salty or your limes will get moldy. At night they need to be soaked in salty water. You can use the same salty water for the entire batch. Tua Y (my maternal eldest aunt) reminds me to keep a plate and a bowl or cup over the limes in order to submerge them in the brine. Repeat this method of sunning during the day and soaking them at night until the limes have natural dents on them and soft per Si Y (my maternal fourth aunt). The next few days it will be in the 80s (Fahrenheit) so that will be the ideal time to sun dry the limes. My husband has dried an abundance of various seeds over the years. He discovered an economical, hassle-free, simple and clean technique to dry seeds using a hot car in the sun! In direct sunlight everything dries extremely quickly, and you also don't have to worry about insects landing on your food, dirt blowing on it, someone stepping on it or any other problems that could potentially ruin your hard work!

--soak the limes in a brine bath overnight
--place a plate and a cup or even a small rock (anything heavy)
over the limes to submerge the limes
--sun dry the limes on plates (inside the car) during the day
--keep the car in direct sunlight
--initial stage of soaking in a brine bath and sun drying
Chanh Muối (Vietnamese Preserved Limes)

-Step 1-

Ingredients:
 
12 limes, wash well, air dry
1/2 cup sea salt
6 cups water

Method:

1) Choose limes with the thinnest skin for this recipe. Wash them well. Let them air dry.
2) Make a brine bath by heating 1/2 cup of sea salt and 6 cups of water. Be sure to have enough water to cover the limes. One way to measure out the water you will need is to put the limes in the pot (I use a 3 quart pot) you are using then pour water over them until they have submerged in the water. Remove the limes and heat that pot with salt and water. Once the salt has dissolved let the pot cool completely. Taste the salted liquid. This should taste salty! ;--)
3) Soak the limes in this brine bath overnight. Put a small plate and a cup, bowl or even a small rock on top to submerge the limes in the liquid.
4) In the morning remove the limes from the brine bath and let them dry in direct sun on a plate during the day. Save the brine bath to continue soaking the limes at night.
5) Continue to soak the limes in the brine bath each night and remove them to sun dry during the day. Repeat this process until the limes are soft and have dents. When there is good sun it may take as quickly as 3 nights of soaking and 3 days of sun drying for the limes to be ready for the final pickling process. At this stage you may discard the old brine bath.

--when the limes are ready for step 2 they should look like these,
soft and have natural dents in them
--the white patches and specks on the lime are just salt residue
-Step 2-

Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup sea salt
2 Tbsp sugar
A small ceramic sauce dish

Method:

Once the limes are sun dried and ready then make a final brine bath. Cook new salt, sugar and water. Dip the sun dried limes in the hot bath briefly. Fish them out and put them in a clean glass jar (I use a 6 1/2 cup jar). This process will prevent the limes from cracking according to my mother. Let the pot cooled completely and pour this brine bath in the jar. Anchor the limes down with a small (must be much smaller than the jar opening) ceramic sauce dish. Make sure the limes are below the liquid or they will get moldy. Cover and store the jar in a cool place. Be sure to put the jar in a bowl in case the liquid leaks out. It will take about 2 1/2 weeks before these limes are ready to be eaten. Use only clean utensils to remove the limes.

*This final brine bath may be double, triple or quadruple strength. You may use the same ratio to make a larger batch.

--the final stage of chanh muối
(Vietnamese preserved limes)

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