Ready to ramp up your pickling skills? Read on. Our head chef, Dan Kish, shares his best tips for jarring pickles that taste as good as they look.
Did you do much pickling growing up?
We did a lot of pickling at my grandparents’ farm. My mom had a recipe for dilly beans that we pickled every year: You had to go out every day for two weeks to catch green beans when they were just the right size, before they grew too big for the jars. We’d make a vinegar, salt and sugar brine, then put the beans and some bolting dill into the jar and pour the hot brine over. My grandmother had basement shelves lined with jars—pickled beets, radishes, elderberries—and everything she pickled, she grew.
What’s your best pickling tip?
Don’t wait to pickle until things get overgrown in your garden. Pickling young carrots is very different than pickling big, overgrown horse carrots because they’re not fibrous: You get more of a snap-crunch with young vegetables. It’s also fun because you can see the shape of the vegetables in the jar, like little miniatures, so they look much nicer. Plus, young veggies take on the flavor of the brine quickly.
Speaking of the brine, how do you make a good one?
It starts with vinegar, salt and sugar, of course, but there are all sorts of things you can infuse into a basic brine to increase the flavor. I love experimenting with fresh herbs: One of my favorites is lovage, which has an intense celery taste and goes really well with dill. You can also try infusing the brine with tea; pickling eggs with tea is really tasty. Look for a black tea that’s heavy on the bergamot, like Earl Grey, then make a triple concentration and add some to the brine. There’s a particular smoked black tea I use, Lapsang souchong, whenever I want to make a batch of smoky pickles.
How would you use a smoky pickle?
I just eat them, but they’d be great in a Bloody Mary too. When it comes to pickles, don’t be afraid to experiment. You can add pickled garlic or onions to sautéed vegetables, or if you pickle a mix of vegetables, such as a giardiniera, that’s wonderful in pasta salads. We have a new sandwich on our menu, the New Italian, that features a finely chopped giardiniera made with cauliflower, olives, celery, bell peppers and carrots. When you mix it with a really good olive oil, it works almost like a relish. It’s an easy way to brighten up the flavor in sandwiches with meats and cheese.
What’s your philosophy about pickling—the main point you keep in mind?
It’s really all about balance. You want your brine to be strong and flavorful so it can infuse the vegetable or fruit, but not so strong that it overpowers it and you lose the original flavor. You want a happy marriage between the two. So taste the brine as you go along, experiment and just have fun. That’s really the main point, I think.