If you're trying to find that special something to add a bit of "wow factor" to your sandwich and cheese plate, you need to look no farther than the humble pickle.
Quick pickling is one of my favorite techniques for infusing a bright hit of flavor and texture into a meal. It's easy, too. All you need to do is whisk together a bit of sugar and salt with plain white vinegar, then pour the mixture over the thinly sliced vegetable of your choice. Within 10 minutes, you'll have a tart, crunchy pickle to accompany any dish.
Of course, you don't have to limit yourself to such a straightforward recipe. Once you've gotten the hang of quick pickles, you can begin experimenting to unlock a countless variety of tasty possibilities.
How Does Quick Pickling Work?
Traditional pickles are delicious but time-consuming. If your goal is flavor rather than food preservation, you can skip the canning and fermentation by using the "quick" or fridge method.
The secret weapon in any quick pickle is vinegar. The acid content of vinegar is responsible for altering the flavor and texture of the foods it encounters. It also acts as a preservative by creating an acidic environment inhospitable to most microorganisms that cause spoilage.
Salt is the other key ingredient in any pickling solution. Salt helps act as a preservative and also plays a big role in drawing out the flavors of food. Pickles get their distinctive salty-tangy flavor from this ingredient duet, and the ingredients work together to stave off decay.
Of course, that's assuming that the pickles last long enough for decay to be an issue. In my experience, a jar of freshly made pickles doesn't tend to last long.
How to Quick Pickle Anything
When you think of pickles, your brain probably goes immediately to pickled cucumbers. While it's true, you can make a delicious dill pickle in your refrigerator, and this is just the tip of the pickled iceberg. In fact, nearly any vegetable and even some fruits can be pickled in a salt-and-vinegar brine.
Consider thinly sliced squash, red onion, carrots or ginger root pickled to soft-but-crunchy perfection. Or imagine the tangy bite of whole green beans and asparagus blanched and left in a brine bath to mellow. Even green tomatoes can be transformed into something juicy, tangy, and unique with a little help from the quick pickling method.
No matter what you're making, the basics are the same. For each pound of fresh vegetables, you will need the following:
- 1 cup vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (optional)
These ratios couldn't be easier to memorize, right? Just heat the water and vinegar together, then whisk in the salt and sugar until fully dissolved and incorporated. Pour the hot brine over prepared vegetables in a jar, and tuck the jar in the fridge.
The pickles will be ready within a few hours. For best results, though, you'll want to leave them in the brine for a day or two before tucking in.
Pickle Tips & Tricks
Once you've mastered the basics, you're free to start experimenting with your pickles:
Consider different vegetable shapes for different textures. Squash and carrots can be pickled as medallions, spears, and even thinly shaved strips.
Try different kinds of vinegar. Plain white vinegar and white wine vinegar are the most popular thanks to their mild flavor, but why not true a red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar for a variety?
Add herbs and spices. Pack your jars with whole cloves of garlic and fresh dill, or try mustard and celery seeds for the classic "bread and butter" pickle combination. If you have other fresh herbs from the garden, feel free to experiment.
Try different techniques for different textures. Dry-brining the vegetables with kosher salt before rinsing them and submerging in pickling brine will lead to a crispier pickle. Blanching vegetables in a boiling brine for a few minutes can create a deeper flavor more quickly.
Bear in mind that the brine solution can change the appearance of your vegetables. For example, red onions become bright pink when exposed to vinegar, and green beans can fade if not blanched before pickling. But don't let these changes in appearance alarm you; the pickles will be just as tasty even if the color is a bit faded.