Pickling is fun! I pickle fruits, vegetables, fish and meat – everything that comes near me has the potential to be pickled. My cat stays clear. Not only does pickling give food an interesting texture it is also delicious and preserves nutrients. Think how good the pickle tastes on your burger. Pickling also conserves vegetables of the moment such as ramps (wild green garlic) meaning it extends their shelf life. Sturdy vegetables such as raw cauliflower or raw beans become palatable when pickled.
Over the years of cooking I have differentiated among three kinds of pickling:
Gotta Have Time Pickling
You can pickle food naturally over an extended period of time by simply adding spices in water to your vegetable which, after two weeks or so at about 55 degrees Fahrenheit, starts to develop “good bacteria” which softens and acidifies the pickled food.
Sometimes this way of pickling at home is a bit finicky if the temperature fluctuates or when the process isn’t done in a hygienic way (meaning the pickling containers are dirty and such) bad spoiling bacteria will grow and vegetables will sour in a bad way.
Pickling with vinegar is another way of tenderizing and flavoring food and is relatively fast compared to the natural style, and has a controlled outcome. Make a spice and vinegar broth sweetened with sugar if you’re on a budget, otherwise I prefer to use honey or maple syrup for a healthier approach. This hot liquid is then poured over “manicured” (cut) vegetables in shapes like rosettes (e.g., broccoli) or diamonds (e.g., peppers). Vegetables pickled in this way are ready to be used after a steeping time of six hours or so. This enables all the flavors to be absorbed from the spice/vinegar broth. Another benefit is that you can store these pickled vegetables in the refrigerator for up six weeks.
Flash Pickling – My Favorite Method
I call it the cryo-vac-quick-pickling method which is pickling for the 21 century and the sky’s the limit in terms of variations. With this method, it is possible to “pump” just about any flavored liquid into a vegetable and within seconds!
The only draw back is that you need equipment such as a food saver food saver and specialized vacuum plastic pouches. The technique is rather simple: place the spiced liquids such as a pickling/spice broth and the vegetable to be pickled in a vacuum pouch and suck the air out of the bag with the air extracting device and within seconds the flavor is forced into the food. What happens is that the cell walls of the particular vegetable get stretched and combined with the natural cell liquid. The same technique can be used when marinating fish or meat to “inject” flavored liquids such as wine with spices into the desired dish. As you know from juicing, there is a significant amount of natural juice in vegetables – think of juicing a cucumber how much liquid they have. The difference is that we’re reversing the process and pumping the flavor into the cucumber and thereby making it even tastier. Dill and vodka infused cucumber anybody?
The Longer I am a Chef The less I Cook - With Heat!
The cryo-vac-quick-pickling method opened a whole other dimension of cooking for us chefs -- or should we call it “pumping” since there is no heat applied. Fruit is also fun to work with. I played around with “infusing” pears with grappa (Italian grape skin pomace brandy), honey and vanilla – mmmm very good!
Besides saturating flavors with the cryo-vac technique, the appearance and texture of food is completely modified. For example, whisky infused cantaloupe comes out bright orange with a somewhat translucent look to it and has a soft candied fruit texture.
We only derive textures and appearances of fruits like that by cooking them which destroys valuable vitamins and nutrition. But cryo-vac pickling enables us to highlight the beauty of the food while keeping its nutritional integrity. This is a big leap.
As a finishing touch I like to sprinkle pickled vegetables over stews or salads to brighten the appearance and flavor of dishes. They also add some texture with their vinegary snap!