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- What Is a Pickle?
- How Does Pickling Work?
- What Vegetables Can You Pickle?
- 5 Different Types of Pickles By Culture and Region
- What Do You Need to Make Pickles?
- Which Cucumbers Are Best for Making Pickles?
- How to Pickle in 3 Easy Steps
- How to Make Fridge Pickles
- How Long Do Dill Pickles Last?
- Basic Dill Pickles Recipe
What Is a Pickle?
A pickle is a food that has been preserved in a vinegar solution, or naturally fermented with a salt brine.
How Does Pickling Work?
There are two main methods used in pickling:
- Vinegar-based, or quick pickling, is a result of boiling vinegar with salt and water and submerging your produce with aromatic additions of herbs and spices. The vinegar acts as a preservative and lends a tangy crunch.
- Fermentation. In this method, a light pickling occurs after a natural reaction between the sugars in the produce and naturally-occuring bacteria.
What Vegetables Can You Pickle?
You can pickle just about everything, but some ingredients work better than others.
- Alliums, like onions or ramps. Pickled red onions are a subtle way to introduce a briny sweetness to things like Chef Thomas Keller’s arugula salad, grilled fish tacos, or charcuterie.
- Firm fruits like unripe strawberries and rhubarb. When lightly pickled, unripe green strawberries give an unexpected grassy, puckering jolt to everything from delicate ceviches to richer dishes like braised meat or buttery lobster.
- Root vegetables like carrots, radishes, beets, and baby turnips are all fantastic additions to a pickling jar for their sheer density and ability to hold a good crunch. (Adding a few slices of beet to your brine will give everything a stunning electric pink hue. Add ¼ tsp of turmeric for a goldenrod yellow).
- Vegetables like cauliflower, celery, green beans, and of course, cucumbers. Some vegetables with firm, cruciferous structures absorb brines without becoming water-logged. Even some variations of squash with a high water content, like zucchini, can benefit from a very quick pickle—aim to imbue its crunchy, raw consistency with just an extra zip of vinegar—but play it by ear depending on the vegetable you’re looking to use.
- Eggs. Pickled eggs are peeled, hard-boiled eggs preserved in a vinegar solution. Add beets to the brine to dye the egg whites purple, or impart subtle flavors with herbs and spices.
5 Different Types of Pickles By Culture and Region
- Achaar. Indian pickles, also known as achar, rely on salt, spices, and the blazing heat of the sun to pickle everything from green mango to garlic.
- Kimchi. Korean kimchi is made from salted and fermented vegetables like cabbage and scallions. The lactic acid produced during fermentation lends the final product a fizzy, pickle-like crunch.
- Torshi. Torshi is a staple pickle of many Middle Eastern cultures. The emphasis on sour flavors (similar to the relish character of giardiniera) comes from a heavier use of vinegar in the pickling solution. Vegetables are boiled in a 1:1 ratio of vinegar to water, then coated in a mixture of chopped garlic, chopped herbs (like mint), and salt. They’re packed in a glass container and covered with a fresh 2:1 vinegar-water solution.
- Gherkins or cornichons. These tiny pickles are cucumbers that are harvested and pickled early. Sugar is sometimes included their brine, which can give them a slightly sweeter flavor profile.
- Pickled pig’s feet. In the American South, pickled pig’s feet are a soul food staple, but you can also find them in Chinese and Mexican cuisine. The meat is salted and/or smoked before being preserved in a standard vinegar brine.
What Do You Need to Make Pickles?
To make pickles, you’ll need a basic brine (a mixture of vinegar, sugar, and salt, dissolved in water) whose overall flavor can be tweaked with spices like whole black peppercorns, red pepper flakes, dill seed, mustard seed, or garlic cloves, and aromatic herbs, like fresh dill, springs of thyme, or bay leaf. Create a profile based off of the very best seasonal produce you can get your hands on—cruise your local farmers markets for ideas.
Which Cucumbers Are Best for Making Pickles?
Kirby cucumbers are the Platonic pickling cucumbers: they stay incredibly crisp thanks to their lower seed count, and are sold unwaxed, so there’s no need to peel them. They’re small and uniform in size—usually about the length of your hand or less. If you can’t find Kirbys, it’s not a dealbreaker, but once you taste the difference, it’s hard to go back to a potentially mushy dill.
How to Pickle in 3 Easy Steps
- Choose a vinegar. Whether you go apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, or red wine vinegar.
- Choose a salt. Some recipes call for something called pickling salt, which is just pure granulated sodium chloride. Experienced picklers like it because it keeps your brine clear and won’t run the risk of discoloring your pickles. That being said, you can absolutely still use kosher salt (just be sure to avoid brands with anti-caking agents) or a good quality sea salt. You want grains that will dissolve easily—and something as pure as possible. Iodized table salt is a no-go.
- Choose a vessel. Canning jars come in all shapes and sizes. Mason jars are a favorite, though any glass jar will do, as long as it can be tightly sealed.
How to Make Fridge Pickles
Refrigerator pickles are one of those things that seem too good to be true. Simply fill 1-2 Mason jars with cucumbers sliced to 1 ½ inch thickness. Stir together 1 cup of vinegar, 3 tablespoons salt, and 1 bunch of chopped dill, and pour it over the cucumbers in the jars. Seal, then shake up to evenly distribute the brine. Store in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours, and enjoy.
Basic Dill Pickles Recipe
Total Time10 min
- 2 lb Kirby cucumbers, whole, sliced lengthwise into quarters, or sliced crosswise into chips
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup vinegar
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 bunch dill, blossom ends intact
- 1 tablespoon pickling spice (whole coriander seed or mustard seed)
- 5-6 cloves garlic
- Bring water, vinegar, salt to a boil in a medium sauce pot.
- Meanwhile, pack cucumbers, dill, and any whole spices you’re using into clean glass jars.
- Remove the vinegar solution from the heat and pour over the cucumbers, filling all the way to the top.
- Allow the jars to cool completely to room temperature before sealing and storing in the fridge. Allow to sit for at least 24 hours before opening.
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