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.
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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.
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.
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.
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!