I’ve developed a new passion to engage myself in the kitchen with. Making pickles. My most common type of pickling I’ve referred to as refrigerator or or quick pickles which can be done overnight or sometime within hours. I decided to add this post as a starting point for other posts I’ll be creating later on.
Yet again I find myself inspired to write an article on a topic as a result of a question on Quora.
In review there are two major types of pickling. First is lacto fermentation which uses a salt brine normally around 2% salt. Kimchi or sauerkraut are a good examples of lacto fermentation. Proponents of this method point to the presence of probiotics as a result of the fermentation process that are said to have benefit towards gut health. The disadvantage to this method I see is attempting to can pickles made this way kill the probiotics that are what you want when pickling using the lacto fermentation method.
The other style of pickling is making a solution of water, some type of acid usually vinegar and seasonings such as garlic, dill, mustard seed and others. These can be canned allowing the pickled product to have a shelf life allowing for long term storage otherwise known as canning.
The actual method of canning normally means processing the jarred product in a pot of boiling water and allowing a seal to be formed between the jar and its closure. I’ll write a post about canning another time.
I have a standard vinegar brine that I use for most of my pickles with a few variations.
There are several vinegars I use in making up my brine depending on the flavor profile I am looking for:
- Rice wine vinegar (unseasoned)
- Apple Cider vinegar
- Distilled vinegar
Starting from the bottom and working my way to the top I find distilled vinegar to have a harsh flavor that I find objectionable. Not everyone agrees with me on this point but it’s my palate and the flavor to me as almost chemically. I do use it occasionally for certain recipes. Pickled eggs with beets being an example.
Apple Cider vinegar is my goto having a nice well rounded flavor in my opinion. Some folks point to health benefits for using apple cider vinegar but typically you consume very little of the pickle brine that the benefit in my mind is negligible. However I’ve also heard of folks adding vinegar pickle brines to cocktails so there’s that.
Rice wine vinegar has a very mild and almost sweet flavor profile and works well with items that have a subtle flavor themselves such as watermelon rind pickles.
Other vinegar I’ve seen called out for in recipes include but not limited to
- white or red wine vinegar — example giardiniera.
- palm vinegar
- balsamic vinegar (pickled cipollini onions)
- black vinegar
- malt vinegar
For a baseline your going to start off with water and vinegar in about a 2:1 ratio. Where the real flavor comes from is the addition of seasonings. There’s a holy trinity of sorts where pickled cucumbers go (this according to my wife) an those are
- mustard seed
and if she had her way that’s all we’d use. I’ll add to it:
- ginger, grated or sliced
- celery seed
- cumin seed
- fennel seed
- star anise
- dried chili peppers
and that’s not an all inclusive list. Those are my default standards usually not all ingredients in one recipe. The seasoning mix gets tailored to the flavor profile I am pursuing.
Some pickles need to have sugar in their brine to get the flavor right. Two examples off the top of my head include bread and butter pickles and watermelon rind pickle. Quantity of sugar depends on the level of sweetness I want (example 2 tbsp for a six cup brine to 2 cups in a six cup brine) and if you want to offset the pucker factor of the vinegar you are using. Pickled eggs for instance I use white vinegar and add 1/2 cup of sugar to a six cup brine.
Types of sugar I’ve seen called out for:
- white sugar; add sweetness without adding color
- demerra sugar
- brown sugar; molasses content will “brown” the brine, adds molasses flavor
- palm sugar
- coconut sugar
Here is the basic recipe to base your pickling brine on.
- 4 cups of water
- 2 cups of vinegar (see article)
- 2 tbsp kosher salt (or pickling salt)
- seasoning (optional) see article
- sugar (optional) see article
- Add all ingredients to a non-reactive stock pot preferably enameled.
- Bring to a boil
- Stir to completely dissolve salt and sugar (if used)
- Apply to pickle as directed by recipe or your own invention.
Wait! That’s more brine than I need!
Left over brine can be put in a jar with a tight sealed lid and used later. In fact I’ve seen other picklers save brine from used up pickles to add to a new brine for the next batch. Use caution and make sure your old batch wasn’t spoiled or infected somehow, rare but does happen.
You can see that the palate of variation in ingredients will give rise to creativity. Play with the spice/vinegar/flavoring variations and see what you can come up with. The possibilities are endless.