OLIVES

by Ed Halmagyi

Instructions

I am a seriously uncoordinated dancer.

It just so happens that I have very little depth perception, but that’s not the key issue. Have you ever watched a really tall person dance? It’s like watching a slinky trying to balance on chopsticks set on a trampoline. Entertaining, but not very effective.

You see, some things are meant to be one way, and not another. Tall folks can do so many things: basketball, rock-climbing, shelf-stacking. But the disco is a no-go.

In a similar vein, some olives are meant to be eaten, while others just aren’t. Get these confused, and your mouth is in for a world of pain.

The problem is a chemical called glucoside. It’s so bitter it’d make a lemon squint. The abundant presence of glucoside in raw olives is what makes them inedible off the tree. You need to brine olives, or dry-salt them, to draw out the chemical bitterness, create lactic acid as a preservative, and enhance their flavour through fermentation. This process will also soften the olive to make them more table-friendly.

Olives for oil, however, are usually picked and pressed on the same day. While varietal differences play a big part in determining the eventual flavour, so too does ripeness. Olives ripen from green to black over the course of a month on the tree, and in doing so take on more sweetness and lose some of the peppery robustness that can make you gasp.

These ripening changes, not surprisingly, happen in table olives too. Green olives are firmer, tarter, and have a narrower aftertaste. Black olives are full and hearty to eat, with a developed and complex flavour.

But does that mean one is better than the other?

Not at all. In fact it’s wonderful to have both styles of flavour available in the kitchen. I use black olives to add layering to dishes, while green olives can cut through fat and give a pleasant sourness that makes sense of rich base flavours. In fact chicken and green olives are a match made in heaven, a pairing that makes both ingredients better than they started.

It’s a taste so remarkable that you’ll feel like dancing on the table tops. I, however, might sit that one out!
Chicken and olive tagine with moigraib couscous

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