Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Iconic Pickle

When you say "pickle" in the United States, people assume you mean "pickled cucumber".

It is the iconic pickled food.

Across the world, people enjoy pickled cucumbers in a variety of styles, from crisp and slightly tart to mouth-puckeringly sour; from the microcucumbers of South America and the diminutive cornichons of France to the fat deli cucumbers of New York City.

They can be eaten as a side, sliced and put on a sandwich, or chopped up and added to sauces (relish, tartar, gribiche). They can be the foundation of soups (popular in Eastern Europe). They can be deep-fried.

Their brine can be taken as a health tonic.

Pickling cucumbers prolongs their useful life, potentially a lot, while increasing their deliciousness and nutritiousness.

Here's how I make my pickles.

This recipe yields a mild, not-too-sour pickle, crunchy and maybe even a bit effervescent.

(If you're curious about the difference between "pickled" and "fermented", see the last part of this post!)

  • a 24 ounce (750ml) canning jar (you can use a different sort of jar, but you will have to adjust the amounts of salt and cucumbers)
  • cutting board, knife, etc.
  • 7 or 8 Persian cucumbers, approximately 5 inches long, with ends cut off, cut lengthwise into quarters to form spears
  • 15g natural salt (Himalayan for example) (if your jar is not 24 oz or you don't have a scale, see  notes below)
  • filtered water
  • (recommended) bay leaf, garlic clove, mustard seed, pepper corns, fresh dill, coriander, etc.
  1. Put the salt into the jar, along with an inch or two of water. Screw the lid onto the jar and shake the jar until the salt is mostly dissolved.
  2. Open the jar and add the spices and herbs.
  3. Add as many cucumber spears to the jar as you can. Squish them in until you can't get any more in. The tops of the spears should be an inch or two below the top of the jar.

  4. Add water to just above the spears.
  5. Close the jar not too tightly, label the jar with the date, and put it somewhere you won't forget about it.
Every day, unscrew the lid a little just until it "burps", then close it again.

After three or four days, start opening the jar daily and tasting a pickle.

As soon as they are a bit sour, move the jar to the fridge.

(With this relatively low salt concentration, it's important that you move them to the fridge promptly so that they don't get soft.)

  • Some recipes give you a ratio of salt to water. I find that I get more consistent results when I consider the ratio of salt to the whole finished product, pickles, brine, and all. Cucumbers are mostly water, so this makes sense.
  • For a 750ml jar, use 2% of 750 grams, or 15 grams. If your jar is a different size, use 2% of the volume in ml for the number of grams of salt.
  • If you don't like the metric system or you don't have a scale, then use one teaspoon of salt per 8 ounces of jar capacity (2 teaspoons for a pint jar, 4 teaspoons for a quart jar, etc.).
  • If you want to keep the cucumbers at room temperature for longer, or you want them to be more sour, or you want to use whole cucumbers, or you want to use bigger cucumbers, then use more salt (3% or more). Note that the more salt you use and the bigger the vegetable, the longer it will take.
"Pickled" vs. "Fermented":
  • "Pickled" can mean "preserved with acid".
  • "Fermented" can mean "preserved through the action of microbes".
  • In this recipe, the cucumbers are both pickled and fermented, because microbes find them and ferment them, producing lactic acid, which is what preserves them.

No comments: