How To Pickle Like A Pro
Whether they're stuffed into a burger, chopped through a salad or eaten straight from the jar, homemade pickles taste miles better than the stuff you can get from the shops. Learn to make your own and once you've got the pickling basics down you can start playing around with different fruit and veg, vinegars, sugars and flavour combinations. The possibilities are, quite literally, endless.
I’ve included a couple of my favourite recipes for you to try. Classic Dill Pickles and Sichuan Pickled Plums. Give them a shot and use them as a jumping-off point for dreaming up your own tangy creations.
What are quick pickles?
Let’s get something straight. These aren’t long-winded, fermented old fashioned pickles. Quick pickles are unfermented and don’t require any technical preservation techniques. They’re fruit or vegetables that sit happily in a brine made with salt, water, vinegar and sugar and are ready to eat, well, quickly.
What should I pickle?
The short answer is: anything. Vegetables are the usual suspects, however, fruit is also delicious. The best pickles are made of produce that is bang in season and perfectly ripe. Don’t go pickling anything that’s on the turn!
Salting your fresh ingredients before you pickle them is very important. When added to a fresh fruit or vegetable, salt draws out water whilst simultaneously seasoning food. This guarantees a delicious, crunchy, properly seasoned pickle. This lost water is replaced with your tasty brine. The presence of salt also prevents the growth of microorganisms, a big plus.
Vinegar is what gives quick pickles their twang. The most common being distilled white vinegar. However, red wine, white wine, balsamic, rice or apple cider vinegar are all delicious and all bring different flavours to the pickle party. Balsamic vinegar and sweet onions are a match made in heaven, or, try radishes with chopped ginger and chilli in a rice vinegar brine.
To balance all that vinegar you’re going to need some sugar. If you’re after a clean, bright, simple pickle then use a white sugar. Darker sugars (e.g light brown or muscovado) yield a much deeper, rich, caramelised flavour. For a more complex sugar flavour you could use maple syrup, honey or agave (beer and honey pickled onions are very good) but keep in mind these are a little more expensive. It’s possible to use a combination of sugars. In my pickled plum recipe, I use both white and dark brown sugar to achieve the balance of sweetness I'm after in the brine.
This is where things get really fun. You can use any herbs, spices or aromatics to infuse your brine. Any dried spices will work. Toast in a hot, dry pan before you toss them into your brine. Fresh herbs like dill, thyme, rosemary and tarragon are also packed with flavour. Kaffir lime and curry leaves are extremely aromatic and would work well too. To give your brine a savoury kick, add thinly sliced onion and garlic. To introduce heat, use peppercorns, fresh or dried chillies, or even a few dashes of your favourite hot sauce. You can also add other flavourful liquids like fresh fruit juice, soy, beer or wine. But remember, vinegar needs to make the up the majority of the brine.
You’ll want to store your pickles in something non-reactive (glass/ceramic/plastic) and airtight. Glass is by far the favourite. It's easy to clean, doesn’t hang onto any unwanted aroma like plastic can do and make your pickles look gorgeous. Brands like Kilner, Ball and Weck all make a variety of great glass jars that are designed for pickles. The size of the jar is up to you. Recipes can be easily scaled up or down to fit any jar. Once your jar is sealed, the pickles can hang out at room temperature for a couple of days. Once opened, they will need to be kept in the fridge. They should last for up to two months, but you’ll likely eat them all before then.
- Think about the texture you want your pickles. If you add a hot brine to your fruit or veg they will cook very slightly, this is great for pickling carrots, hard-skinned cucumbers or other tough veg. Adding a cold brine results in crisp, raw textured pickle.
- Re-use your pickle brine, it will be good for another two batches of fresh produce.
- Use any leftover brine in salad dressings.
- Pickled fruit brines make amazing cocktails. Pineapple, plum or peach are especially good.
- Write down your creations, so you can tweak them for next time!