You Can Pickle That: The Best Introduction to the Trendy World of Pickling

June 13, 2012 10:22 PM EDT | By Staff Writer
After reading this article, you'll be able to spot which of these cucumbers is the perfect one for brining. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

This happens to you too much: you're eating a wonderful sandwich, and you chomp into that half-spear of pickled cucumber lying supine next to it. Typically, you think: oh, good, salty and sour-- just like I like it. But this time is different. Your eyes are watering. You don't care about your sandwich anymore. You don't think you've ever cared about a sandwich less in your whole life. You've just taken a bite of the perfect pickle, and you want to know more. You ask the person behind the counter where they got that little green piece of heaven, and with a smug little grin, they tell you: "It's local."

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A chill crawls up your spine. Locally sourced food is wonderful and everything, but in your heart of hearts, you know what that phrase means: begging a group of flannel-clad twenty somethings to sell you a jar of pickles they brined in Bushwick for way too much money. With trepidation, you ask for another piece, and they give you one, smiling because they've done their good deed for the day. And that second piece-- it's every bit as good as the first. It's better. You were surprised before, but now you can taste each and every single nook and cranny of its flavor. You'd be willing to grovel for more. But should you have to?

No need to debase yourself to hipsters anymore: these foolproof tips will have you pickling absolutely anything perfectly. All you have todo is remember this cardinal rule: It's only going to taste good when it's done. And that means you're going to have to wait.

1. Cucumber Selection

You'll want to stick with fresh Kirby cucumbers, picking one that's nice, green, and fat. If the pickle's been sitting in the supermarket for too long, it will make for a mushy pickle-- the kind that you can get anywhere. The best thing you can do for yourself is go to a farmer's market and tell the farmer your pickling plans. Barring that, just look for a cucumber that's firm to the squeeze and doesn't have any yellow spots on it.

Cut your cucumber into spears.

2. Sanitize Your Pickling Jar

You don't want any germs to interfere with this process. Boil your pickling jar and the lid. Make sure your jar is nice and hot when you add the brine to it.

3. It's Brine Time

Here's the part where we get creative. Your basic brine consists of a ratio of a gallon of water to a pint of coarse salt. You bring that to a boil and add 1/2 cup of whatever vinegar you like. For an eyebrow-raising wow-factor, I go to an Asian supermarket and pick up coconut vinegar for my pickling. It has a wonderful, milky sweetness to it that complicates the sour saltiness of the end product. But you can use absolutely any robust vinegar for this.

For a spicier pickle, add chopped hot peppers. Habaneros do very well here. If you're adding habaneros, I also like to add a chopped watermelon and some mint to the brine. It rounds out the spice with a freshness that's pretty wonderful. 

For a sweet brine, add one part sugar to every two parts vinegar. I like to add some corn and carrots to my sweeter brines to give them an earthiness that ensures your final product isn't cloyingly sweet.

Once your brine is done boiling, wait for it to cool. Transfer it to the jar. Add the cucumber spears. Seal it tightly. Kiss the lid and forget about it until the next time you pay your rent.

4. Wait a Month

Surprise! You're going to have to wait. Put the jar somewhere dark and cool and wait a month, skimming any weird foam off the top of the brine when appropriate. Wait, and wait, and wait.

And that's it! Oh, and one more thing:

5. You Can Pickle Anything

There's a really funny Portlandia sketch to this effect. Once you try your hand experimenting with cucumbers, you'll want to move into other vegetables and fruits. My absolute favorite thing to pickle is fennel. I opt for a sweeter brine when I use fennel, one loaded with fresh vanilla bean.

What's pickled fennel good for? Get some fresh beets, top them with sweet pickled fennel, olive oil, rosemary, and warm goat cheese, and serve it to someone you like. The wedding will come shortly after.

Share your favorite thing to pickle in the comment section!


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