Vegetable

How to Make Fridge Pickles Without a Recipe

July 21, 2014

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.

Today: Michael Anthony, executive chef and partner of Gramercy Tavern and author of The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook, shows you the simplest way to pickle seasonal produce—all without a recipe. 

Fridge Pickles

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. 

Brine Ingredients

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.

Carrots

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. 

Pickles and Brine  

 

2. Place the cleaned, prepared ingredient to be pickled in a medium bowl and pour the hot brine over it.

Brine

 

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. 

Pickled Carrots

 

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.

Pickled Carrots

Photos by Mark Weinberg

24 Comments

JoAnne L. January 7, 2018
I don’t like my pickled vegetables sweet, I’ll try this without the sugar.
 
Sharon January 7, 2018
Good call. You're on the right track.I find that most pickling recipes call for unnecessary amounts of sugar. I don't like sweet pickles unless I'm MAKING sweet pickles. Pickling recipes are merely guides and starting points. Since acidity levels vary considerably between different brands and types of vinegar, this is especially true. Everyone really has to develop their own brine according to their tastes. It's really all about trial & error. All of my pickling efforts were a bland flop until I started flavoring them the way I wanted them to taste. I like much more salt, no more than maybe a pinch of sugar, and I season my pickling solution with my choice of herbs and spices. You might also prefer a different ratio of water to vinegar. Try adding crushed coriander or fennel seeds, dill, onion, etc. Smoked paprika, for example, was a revelation in my pickled okra! Keep tasting the brine as you go until you've achieved the flavor you're satisfied with it. That's what our grandmas did!
 
Margaret T. January 5, 2018
1 T salt to 1 cup liquid equals 1/16 part to 1 part (2 T per oz, 8 oz per cup), which is not the same as the "parts" ratios given. According to the parts in the "not-recipe" , if the liquid total (4 parts) is 1 cup, at 1/12 part the salt should be 1 T plus 1 t.
 
Margaret T. January 5, 2018
As an indication of how complicated this is made by not using actual quantities, I see that I still got it wrong. If the liquid total (4 parts) is 1 cup, then 1 part equals 1/4 cup, and 1/12 part of salt is just 1 teaspoon. Thus the "e.g., 1 T per cup of liquid" is three times as much salt as the parts ratios say. So it's entirely unclear what the real proportions are supposed to be.
 
lumpynose June 8, 2018
Smart cooks use weight when doing ratios (see Michael Ruhlman's book). If you look up the weight of salt and the weight of a cup of water a tablespoon of salt is about 1/12 of a cup water.
 
diana February 1, 2015
Read his intro to the recipe. He suggests "lightly toasted coriander seed and orange zest" for the carrots and others for different veggies.
 
Michael A. February 1, 2015
Thanks for answering Diana. You are right...coriander seeds and orange zeste are used here to make a super aromatic foundation for the carrots.
 
Sharon December 22, 2014
Some people have asked some very good questions here. Might be nice if Michael would answer them. Ya' think?
 
Michael A. February 1, 2015
I'll do my best to keep up.
 
Lisaly August 2, 2014
This looks fun! I would also like to what the spice that shows up in the photos is. It is not listed with the ingredients. Also, can less sugar be used? I think I will try decreasing it by a third.
 
EmilyC August 1, 2014
Your post reminded me to check out the pickle recipes in the Gramercy Tavern cookbook. I made the pickled Bing cherries last weekend: they're incredible! The gently spiced, sweet brine is perfect for the cherries. I bought fairy tale eggplants yesterday and will try them next! Thanks so much.
 
Michael A. February 1, 2015
Cool. Since a long time has passed since you posted could you let us know how they turned out?
 
Mary N. July 28, 2014
Other than the salt and sugar, the picture shows other spices. What are they? What is the lower sugar alternative? And, a quart of carrots is how many pounds?
 
Michael A. February 1, 2015
that represents about 1/4 lb
 
Jennifer W. July 27, 2014
I have only ever eaten pickles. How does pickling affect the flavor of other foods, such as carrots? You mention they stay crunchy, but do the taste the same, enhance the flavor or completely alter it? thanks
 
Maddie A. July 23, 2014
We used these guidelines to make pickled grapes - and they were great!
 
Horto July 22, 2014
can these be hot water processed,and how many minutes?
 
Dawn M. July 21, 2014
What's a good lower sugar option? I prepare meals for a diabetic.
 
danusha3 July 27, 2014
GREAT QUESTION!!!!!! i am not surprised that no one at FOOD52 answered it
 
Lina C. July 21, 2014
How much of the ingredient to be pickled should be used?
 
Kristen M. July 21, 2014
Lina, this method is flexible, but above Michael mentions the amounts for 1 quart of Thumbelina carrots as a benchmark.
 
Lina C. July 21, 2014
Oops, must have missed that. Thanks!
 
Norbert B. July 21, 2014
The ingredient list lists a pinch of salt but the recipe instructions say to use 1/3 a cup. When should we use a pinch versus using a larger measured amount? Obviously the more liquid the more salt that will be needed but what is the actual ratio of salt to liquid?
 
Kristen M. July 21, 2014
Thanks for asking -- I added some clarification from Michael and team. You're looking for 1 tablespoon of kosher salt to every cup of liquid (vinegar and water combined).