It’s a technique that sounds waaaay harder than it actually is. Even though we’re usually thinking of the cucumber version when we say “pickles”, you can make a pickle out of almost anything. It’s a really old fashioned way to preserve food that it definitely useful now with the current state of the world. You’ll want to get the most out of all your produce in particular, so for this week, I’m going to walk you the The Basics.
You don’t need much to get started–just water, salt, sugar, and vinegar. You could just combine those to get a pickling liquid going in less than five minutes, and keep it moving…
But you’re Craving Mad– I know it. You want to push the limits.
Well, that shouldn’t be a problem here. You can make a lot of different choices to shape the flavors. You even get to toss in whole spices! Eventually, I’m going to make a “flavor guide” that will show you how I combine spices, but it’s a long work in progress.
Since this week’s is all about laid-back food prep, let’s keep it simple. If you’re going for Sauerkraut or something German-inspired, add in cloves, caraway seeds, and mustard. Going for a more Middle-Eastern vibe? Try adding coriander, allspice, and cumin seeds instead. How about standard American? Try black pepper, dill and garlic.
But don’t stop there–Do you have any hard produce like fennel or onions on hand? Go ahead, throw some of that in too. You can add dried herbs, but I usually avoid the leafy ones–they will just get mushy. Instead, go for the harder herbs like thyme and rosemary. It just depends on your end goal.
You also need to choose your vinegar. White vinegar is the standard; it’s very sour, but that’s about it…lots of room for other flavors. More recently though, I’ve been using cider- and wine vinegars, depending on what’s available. Those are more mellow, and usually lead to “sweeter” pickles, depending on the amount of sugar you add. One final factor to consider is color– white vinegar will keep most of the pigment intact, while some other types my make the pickles look more dull. As they say though–the flavor’s all there.
Since pickling is supposed to preserve the food, you’ll want to keep the acid content in the liquid pretty high to prevent spoilage. With white vinegar’s 5% acid content, you can probably get away with a 1:1 ratio with water. For weaker vinegars though, I’ll use 2:1 to do the job. I’d say you should also use a salt/sugar ratio of about 2:1, but taste it as you go.
Speaking of salt– if you’re fancy, you can use pickling salt…but honestly I just use sea salt or kosher salt for everything, so you don’t have to go buy anything fancier.
If you’re using big produce (cabbage, onions, fennel, etc), slice uniformly, then transfer to a bowl, and brine in salt to preserve the texture. Think about this step like blanching.
You could also just salt the produce to speed the process up. You’ll notice the salt pulling water out, and you might even see your produce start the shrivel up. No worries–you want that to happen! You’re basically dehydrating the produce, which will speed up the pickling process.
From there, rinse off the excess salt, and transfer to the pickling liquid. Hold it at a low boil for anywhere between five and twenty minutes. Honestly, the “quick pickles” taste fine, but it doesn’t always work as well for things like cabbage. Once it cools down, you can transfer to a glass jar, and seal it. Don’t use plastic!
If you’re in a rush, you can use a vegetable peeler to get paper thin slices of things like carrot and daikon. That way, you can skip the extra brining process. Other less common things, like these red chard stems, can be thrown in whole. Just trim away any leaves or bruised parts.
These will stay fresh in the fridge for weeks–just make sure you keep everything completely submerged, otherwise the pieces could spoil in that tiny air pocket under the jar lid. You might need to stir or shake the jar sometimes, but other than that, just seal these and forget about them…until it’s time to eat of course.
There’s so much more to unpack here, but this quick guide will get you started. The key is to taste your combinations often to figure out what you like best. There’s also an even older version of pickling that uses actual fermentation, but I’m still learning. If you have slight nerd tendencies like me, there’s a bunch of cool food science info out there.
What are you going to pickle first? Don’t forget to tag @craving_mad on instagram!