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Here at Food52, we love recipes—but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.
I’ve been fascinated with pickles since I lived and cooked in Japan. There, pickles are an exciting and crucial element of so many meals. At Gramercy Tavern, they work their way into the composition of numerous dishes, too.
Pickling is a traditional and natural method of preservation that captures the season and lengthens the life of ingredients that are available for only a short time. But the way we use pickles at Gramercy Tavern is hardly old-fashioned: We use them to add important and unexpected hits of acidity to our dishes while enhancing their brightness.
When this process becomes familiar to you, it’s easy to combine spices and herbs to develop different flavors. With carrots, we like to add lightly toasted coriander seed and orange zest to the brine. In addition to carrots, we pickle green tomatoes in a brine with fennel seed and garlic, and combine eggplant with apple cider vinegar and pepper flakes. The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook includes recipes and suggested uses for pickled shallots, rhubarb, ramps, green tomatoes, watermelon rind, fairy tale eggplant, cherries, and more.
More: Step up your spice game with a starter collection from Provisions.
How to Make Fridge Pickles Without a Recipe
1. For pretty much any kind of produce, the basic proportions of ingredients are the same:
3 parts rice vinegar
1 part water
1 part sugar
1/12 part salt (e.g. 1 tablespoon kosher salt for every cup of liquid—rice vinegar + water)
At this time of year, I like to pickle carrots. So many varieties appear at the Greenmarket all at once, so we preserve their bright colors and enhance their crunchy texture by pickling. We usually start with a quart of carrots, so the measurements for the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt follow proportionally: 1 quart rice vinegar, 1 1/3 cup water, 1 1/3 cup sugar, and 1/3 cup kosher salt. Combine the components of the brine in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
2. Place the cleaned, prepared ingredient to be pickled in a medium bowl and pour the hot brine over it.
3. Make sure that the ingredient is completely submerged in the liquid (easily done by covering with a plate), and allow to cool to room temperature.
More: These carrots are of a different color.
4. Once the pickling liquid has cooled, transfer pickles and liquid to a container, cover, and refrigerate. Most pickles are ready in 6 hours or less, and they will stay bright and crunchy for up to a month.
Photos by Mark Weinberg