Salt cured olives are olives which have been treated and preserved with salt. Salt curing is one of several curing options for olives, and one of the oldest and most traditional. There are a number of styles of salt cured olives which can be used in a variety of ways, and many markets carry one or two versions of salted olives. For people with access to fresh olives, salt cured olives can also be made at home relatively easily.
This cure works best on black olives, although the olives can be of any size. To salt cure olives, the olives are simply covered in non-iodized salt and allowed to sit in a cool, dry place for up to four weeks. To promote drainage of fluids from the olives, the container may be lined with cloth or dotted with small holes, and the olives must be stirred periodically so that they do not sit in their own juices.
As the salt curing proceeds, it draws out the bitterness common to fresh olives, and softens the olives up so that they can be eaten. However, salt curing doesn't leach out all of the bitterness, and it tends to concentrate the olive flavorings, generating a slightly salty, bitter, tart end product which some people find a little bit too intense.
After four weeks, salt cured olives are typically rinsed in warm water to remove the salt and allowed to dry completely before being packed in oil or repacked in salt. Repacking preserves the olives for a longer period of time, while packing in oil generates olives which are ready to use. Oil-packed olives can also be seasoned with herbs and spices.
When making salt cured olives at home, cooks should be aware that mold can become an issue. To reduce the risk of mold, the olives should be thoroughly covered in salt during the curing process, and stirred frequently. After the olives are rinsed and packed in oil, they should be kept under refrigeration, and they should be used within a month. Plain salt packed olives will still require periodic turning, and they should be stored in a cool, dry place. They will keep for one to three months, depending on climate and storage conditions.
Salt cured olives are often served plain as snacks, but they can also be baked into breads, included in various dishes, and used as a garnish. Cooks should be aware of the somewhat bitter flavor: salt cured olives do not make a good replacement for other olive types in recipes, since the intensity of the flavor can become overwhelming.