Pickling All The Way

May 20, 2020

What can you pickle? Well, as it turns out just about anything.

If you were to turn to anyone raised in North America and ask them to go buy some pickles, they would come back with pickled cucumbers, probably with dill. These are such a staple at hot dog stands, burger joints, BBQ’s and cook-outs that it is hard to imagine going into a store and not finding them. Zesty, tangy and salty sour - a burger just does not taste the same to me without them!

But what is a pickle?

It can be salty, sour, sweet, spicy, aromatic. It can be fermented, cooked, quick or slow. It can be a side, a condiment, and soup ingredient. It can be vegetable, animal (pickled herring or eggs) or fruit (think about chutney and relish).

Pickling is present in most cultures and is used primarily as a method to preserve food. If you think about anything that is packed in brine - ships used to carry ham this way back in the age a sail - you are thinking of pickle.

Most pickles use a combination of salt, acid and sugar suspended in solution to stop bacterial growth. The liquid cuts off oxygen while the acid, salt and sugar prevent any anaerobic growth as well as curing the product and adding flavour. There are many kinds of brine using a variety of different ratios to achieve the desired taste, but a majority are made from a combination of water, vinegar, salt, sugar and aromatics (spices). There are other manifestations, some using oils or alcohol, but this type would account for the bulk of them.

I love going out and finding new pickles, East Indian and Asian food stores are amazing.

To say Asia is all one culture would be a gross generalization, but these ethnic culinary styles produce some of the most wonderful pickled items I have ever come across! From pungent to delicate, mild to radioactive heat they make fabulous additions to most foods. Achar Pachranga from India is an explosive, tart, heavily aromatic combination of lemon, hot peppers, okra, beans, lemon grass, garlic, ginger all packed away in a heavy oily solution is perfect in a seafood chowder. I have packets of pickled mustard weed, seaweed and daikon from Japan that elevate that ichiban noodle package beyond the quick cheap meal category. It is still all those things, but you don’t have to tell that to your guests. Serving pickled mixed vegetables in a stir-fry or on a salad is a simple way to add some umami into your regular dishes.

Pickle does not have to complicated, the brine is something you can make in big batches and store in your fridge for when you want it.

Do you have a bunch of celery, carrot, peppers, asparagus, maybe some onions, turnips, radish or any combination thereof in your fridge? Wash, trim and chop them up, stuff them into a jar with a tight sealing lid and pour boiling brine over them. Voila! Pickle!

Want to zest up a salad? I like tomato, red onion, cucumber, avocado and apple. Diced up in a bowl, pour a ¼ cup of cold brine and ¼ of olive oil. Salt, toss and let marinate in the fridge for an hour. Bam! Pickle! And a salad dressing ready to go.

Pickle are not only an easy and functional way to preserve things they are also a great source of flavour spice and fun in your fridge.

Try Chef Wade's Pickling Brine recipe here.

Contributed by Cheakamus Centre staff: Executive Chef, Wade Rowland