While there may be ways to gussy up rotting food for art’s sake, I can’t taste with my eyes. And fuzzy strawberries don’t really do it for me anyway. But there are foods I’ve been “aging” for a while that are way better for it. I’m not certain they’re supposed to be aged, but if you’re brave like me and taste something that’s been in the fridge for a while — that doesn’t seem like it could possibly rot any more than originally intended — and need a big umami rush (without resorting to snorting lines of straight MSG), I have a few suggestions.
First, and maybe most logically, there’s French cheese. I justify the amount I’ll spend per wedge with this simple thought: it will last until I finish it. With my secret weapon — a roll of cheese paper the hot cheesemonger at Murray’s Grand Central let me buy — my precious hunk (of cheese) can breathe and live on. After a week, it’s perfect. After two weeks, and do not judge me because French people do this all the time, I excavate a thin portion of the outer layer, because the best flavors that cheese will ever produce are right underneath. But it has to breathe, and your local cheese shop will probably sell you a roll of the good stuff if you order a sexy enough slice, or buy it on Amazon.
Next, there’s kimchi. Why on earth there’s an expiration date on those jars is entirely beyond me. When I first became addicted to this miraculous substance I would heed it, thinking “gee, I don’t want my kimchi to spoil.” Then I learned how it was made and realized that it couldn’t possibly spoil any further. But maybe, like cheese, wine, vinegar, charcuterie, Scotch whisky and any other number of my favorite things, it could get better. I pushed my current quart jar to the back of the fridge, bought a new one, finished it and revisited the experiment two months later, well past the expiration date.
It made an ominous little hiss when I twisted the lid off, and looked…well, like kimchi. So not great. I gingerly tasted a forkful. It blew my mind. Not only was the tangy fermented flavor greatly amplified, the texture was improved and there was an effervescent kick at the end that could cut through the toughest kalbi. I currently keep several jars in the fridge in various states of glorious decay. The expiration date is the vintage.
Obviously, I’ve saved the best for last. I don’t know why I like natto, that positively repulsive mix of unabashedly rotting fermented soybeans. You’re simply not Japanese if you don’t relish it on a bowl of rice for breakfast. I am simply not Japanese, but after forcing myself to eat it several times hidden in sushi rolls in the spirit of Japanophilia, I can absolutely see what the big deal is. The Japanese love natto like the French love moldy cheese. Does it look like deer scat loosely anchored in mucus? Absolutely. Does it reek like a diaper full of Roquefort? You bet. Could I compare gross foods to what they really smell like all day? You just wait til we get our random generator up and running.
But you’ll learn that its signature stench is well-contained within the body when ingested, and the health benefits are through the roof. How else do you think those chain-smoking, whiskey-chugging stress machines live forever? Adapt their secret weapon, and thrive.
Moral of the story, don’t open my fridge.