Kitchen Confidence

Quick Pickling 101

By • June 25, 2013 • 13 Comments

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: We're learning the basics of quick pickling, with recipes to practice.

You might see recipes that involve pickling -- Pickled Asparagus, Gingered Beet Pickles, Pickled Peas -- and think they are out of the question. They'll bring to mind boiling water, specialized tongs, anxiety over a tight seal. You'll bypass the recipe, bookmarking it for another day.

While some pickle recipes take time, patience, boiling water and sterilized jars -- recipes that we're fans of, but that take a bit of planning -- today we're talking about quick-pickles: the easy, mix-and-pour pickling that brightens up your salads, preserves your summer bounty, and lets you get creative with your vegetables and fruits. 

Here's how to mix and match salt, spices, and vinegars -- and how to make your quick pickles, or refrigerator pickles, a walk in the park.

 

Salt

When pickling, all salt is not the same; it is very important you always use Kosher salt, or pickling salt, as it has no iodine, added minerals, or anti-caking agents that many other salts contain. Iodine and anti-caking agents will make your pickles bitter and your brine cloudy.

Although sea salt is far better than table salt, sea salt should be avoided as well. Sea salt has a lot of naturally-occurring minerals that are desirable for regular cooking, but not for pickling.

Brine

Now, let’s explain brine. Your brine is going to change depending on your recipe, but the bulk of it will be vinegar. Vinegar is acidic, and this acid is what helps to preserve your vegetables and kill off harmful bacteria. It will often contain sugar, water and salt -- though not always.

Substituting vinegars is likes substituting anything -- it will change the flavor. Distilled white vinegar does not have the same flavor as rice wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar. But by all means, interchange them and see what you like. Remember, this is for quick pickling, or “fridge pickles” -- canning is different as the pH and acidity is much more important.

Spices

Basic pickling spices are something you probably have on hand already. If you buy a container of “pickling spices” -- the pre-mixed and chopped blend -- you’ll be getting roughly 10 or 11 spices all mixed together. This is fine if you like the flavor, but if you make your own, you’ll have more control. The most basic ones are black pepper, mustard seed, bay leaves, coriander, allspice, fennel seeds, celery seeds, hot chilies, and cumin.

No matter what spices you use, make sure to use fresh ones; that year-old container of mustard seeds in your cupboard isn’t going to give the same heat that a fresh one will.

Main Ingredient (vegetables, fruit, or both!)

There are infinite variations to what your main ingredients are. Typically, pickling cucumbers, or kirbys, fit the bill. Kirbys have a thinner and less bitter skin than “slicing cucumbers,” smaller seeds, and are never waxed. These make them superior for pickling. 

But cabbage, bell peppers, asparagus and many other vegetables are delicious pickled. Try using just one or two kinds of vegetables first to see if you like the flavor they create, then trying the second time with an added vegetable, to see how your pickle flavor changes.

Remember to keep an open mind -- you can mix and match them!

Now that you're armed and ready, here are pickle recipes to make right now:
Cucumber Shiso Pickles
Pickled Peas
Pickled Prunes

What are your favorite pickles? Let us know in the comments!

Jump to Comments (13)

Tags: pickling, how to, how-to, pickling questions, all about pickling, icebox pickles, refrigerator pickles, quick pickles, how-to & diy

Comments (13)

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about 1 month ago Horto

some pickles call for heating brine, i make pickled red onions that way, does anyone know the difference?

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12 months ago ML

Would those of you making my mouth water share the vinegar etc. you used especially for the eggplant - I have tons of white and purple, both long and skinny depending on when harvested- and also the hot cucumber recipe. Thank you in advance!

Stringio

about 1 year ago Shelly Schrolucke

Silly question does it matter if when you are making pickles if its done refrigerated or not. Reading an easy way to start is by simply using old pickle juice which I always keep mine in the fridge but I thought when you brine something it was at room temp. Can I take cold pickle juice out of the fridge and it not go bad if that's the case.

Will

10 months ago William Widmaier

If you're going to add vegetables to a brine, you don't need to have it at room temp. Just throw them in the jar!

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about 1 year ago Johnna

My favorite pickle is cucumber red hot pickles...been making them for years...old recipe handed down...never met anyone who doesnt want a jar...

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about 1 year ago Cheryl Roland Brunk

Help! I need a banana pickle recipe. They are not the small size pickles... about inch round and one and a half inches long. I want them to have a slightly hot flavor.

Stringio

about 1 year ago Joerf48

Are any of you going to the Fancy Food Show at the Javitz enter starting Sunday?

036

about 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I am pickling blackberries right now - trying to reverse engineer them from a fancy restaurant so I can eat them on the cheap!!

Merrill

about 1 year ago Merrill Stubbs

Merrill is a co-founder of Food52.

Fancy!

Baci1

about 1 year ago HalfPint

HalfPint is a trusted home cook.

I just pickled some eggplant. Very easy and the resulting pickle is beautifully purple (I left the skin on for texture) and the flavor is dynamite. Can't wait to make more for my friends. If you've got an eggplant hater, pickled eggplant might change his/her mind.

Will

about 1 year ago William Widmaier

Great news! I've found that a lot of [insert name] vegetable haters are often swayed by a good pickle. What kind of eggplant did you use?

Baci1

about 1 year ago HalfPint

HalfPint is a trusted home cook.

The smallish ,long purple variety that you get in a Korean grocery store. Can't call them Japanese since the longest one was no more than 6" long. I've grown the Japanese type before and they get really long, at least 12".

Baci1

about 1 year ago HalfPint

HalfPint is a trusted home cook.

Here's a picture of the eggplants that I used.
http://www.davidkennardphotography...
Guess there is such a thing as Korean eggplant.