Look, I’m not saying I started the trend, people have been pickling things for thousands of years. But is it coincidental that the foodies are writing about pickles all the sudden? Could it be the acid tongue army at work? One of our most prolific food writers, Michael Ruhlman recently posted about tarragon-garlic pickles. Mental Floss, the knowledge junky site has shared 12 pickle facts everyone should immediately commit to memory. Did you catch the Splendid Table this week where Jane and Michael Stern waxed on about the pickle bar at some deli? If you do not subscribe to my nickdawson.net-centric view of the world, then here is another idea: its summer time. A cool briny pickle does a lot to satiate us on hot days. Considering pickle fact #7, there may be some science here too; according to this brief from Vanderbilt University, pickle juice is loaded with electrolytes. Pickles just go with summer. For me its all about the fermented pickles. Sure you can soak some cukes in vinegar and salt and get something tasty. But Ruhlman is right, the tang from a fermented pickle is at once more striking and less harsh. Fermented pickles are also extremely easy to execute. As the growing season for summer veggies really hits its stride, its easy to get overwhelmed by your backyard garden or farmers market. And, lets face it, there is only so many things you can with green beans before you do not want to see them again until next year. But what about a garlicky green bean pickle in a bloody mary? How about a spicy baby carrot pickle in a martini?
Fermented pickles happen by way of bacteria. You put the vegetable in a brine, which is just salty enough to kill most harmful bugs but allows salt-loving lactic acid producing bacteria to thrive. You stick the veg-in-brine jar in a cool dark place and a week later they are ready. Ruhlman’s blog post outlines everything you need to know. Anyone who wants to take a deeper dive should check out his book Charcuterie. In addition to covering all manor of sausage making, he does a nice job discussing brines and preserving veggies with them.
Here is the basic recipe for a classic cucumber fermented pickle:
- 1 liter of water
- 50 grams of salt
- 5-7 cloves of garlic, crushed with the side of a knife
- a few of any of the following: pepper corns, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, etc
- pickling cucumbers - the smaller ones from the farmers market pile, washed well, but not
- a wide jar
- a plate that just barely fits into the jar
If you are feeling flush with cash for your pickle projects, consider a pickle crock. These ceramic jars keep harmful UV light out and come with a ceramic insert that keeps the pickles submerged. Beware, they come at a considerable price, so look for them a yard sales. In the mean time, a jar and plate work pretty well. A wide pitcher and saucer would also work for smaller batches.
- Bring the water, salt, garlic and spices to a boil.
- Chill the brine until its room temperature
- Place the cucumbers standing up in your pickle vessel of choice and cover with the brine. If you need more brine, the ratio stays the same - 50g of salt to 1l of water
- Use the plate to weight the cucumbers down, making sure they are completely submerged (remember, the brine’s job is to kill all the other bacteria, anything floating is going to cause mould to grow)
- Place the pickles in a cool dark place - 65-75F is optimal, and despite pickle fact #3, sunlight will halt the process before it begins.
Taste your pickles in a week. Rhulman seems to prefer that metric, although I have found that 10 days to two weeks produces a better pickle. The longer you take them, the greater the risk of some funky slime developing on top. Keep an eye on your jar and skim it daily if need be. Should you see any velvety blooms, its probably best to toss the batch and start over. The usual culprit is something floating on the surface and being too warm.
Green beans make a really wonderful pickle. They retain their snap and have an affinity for garlic. The recipe is exactly the same, but up the garlic to an entire head. As alluded to, they make a wonderful addition to a bloody mary or a charcuterie platter.
Baby carrots, those about as long and wide as a finger, take very well to heat. A lot of it. Load up your brine with red chili flakes. Keep about an inch of their green tops intact for presentation. Being a more dense root veg, plan on at least 10 days. In the mean time, consider making your own gin for a homemade martini and a fiery garnish.
Potatoes, particularly the baby new potatoes pickle quite well. Stick with a basic brine, very little garlic (if any at all) but step up the mustard seeds and add some tarragon or dill. You can cube them and add them to a salad nicoise.
Chili peppers themselves pickle very well. Jalapeños hold up the best while some of the more delicate red-skinned peppers get a little soft. Once pickled they are perfect on burgers and sandwiches. The brine is also a nice way to kick up dressings, soup, etc.
Fermented pickles are very nice for the culinarily challenged. What could be easier than dropping something in salt water? But if you find yourself reading this and hankering for briny cool dill and do not have 10 days to spare, run to your local natural grocer and look for Bubbies Kosher Dills. Bubbies pickles are among the finest examples of fermented pickle around. To prove the point, if you give the jar a shake take note of the whitish cloud - that is the bacterial mother from the fermenting process.
So Acid Tongue Army, consider this your call to arms. Next time you are staring at a pile of baby Japanese eggplants at the market, or are sick of zucchini from the garden, let our bacterial friends have their way. Ferment some pickles to enjoy on a hot summer day.