Anatomy of a Classic: Quick Pickles

Johnny Autry
by Kim Severson - North Carolina - August/September 2012

Beat the heat with quick and easy pickles

Unlike intrepid cooks farther north, who pickle to get through a long winter, Southerners pickle to survive the heat. In weather that can make a peach melt on the counter and a field cucumber turn to a seedy, bitter mess over the weekend, a few quick pickling tricks turn heartbreak into culinary genius.

At Lantern restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, chef-owner Andrea Reusing embraces the best of the Southern pickling tradition with a pickle plate that is a welcome and crowd-pleasing starter. But Reusing knows that pickling isn’t really a restaurant game. “The pickle plate has been this homemade, personal thing because it’s a lot of work,” she says. “It’s a real treat if you make pickles for someone.” 

Reusing’s love affair with pickling and fermenting (pickling’s more complex older sister) started with her grandmother, who had a basement operation from which poured all manner of sauerkraut, pickles, and brandied peaches. Canning equipment often covered the Ping-Pong table. “It interfered with gaming but fascinated me,” Reusing says. And it clearly made an impression. Reusing once made her toddler daughter share a bedroom with crocks of fermenting cabbage because the temperature there was just right for storage. 

Homemade pickles are a bit easier to control. Soak a vegetable four hours in vinegar or brine, and you have a pickle. But they’re best after at least twenty-four hours. Reusing keeps the process interesting by giving it a hard Asian twist—adding shiso leaves to cucumber
 pickles and dropping all manner of vegetables into a bath of vinegar, Thai red chiles, and ginger. But don’t go crazy. “Keep it to two distinct flavors,” she says. Beyond pickling’s utility, it’s also a great way to add some unexpected punch to the table—perfect, as Reusing notes, for late summer “when your family is sick of you and your CSA.”Click "next" for the recipes


Pickled Cucumbers with Shiso
(Makes about 5 quarts)

Ingredients
2 cups plus 2 quarts cold water
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp. kosher salt
10 black peppercorns
1 head of garlic, unpeeled and cut in half crosswise
3 quarts (about 2 pounds) small pickling cucumbers, any stems trimmed to ½ inch
5 purple shiso leaves

Preparation
In a small saucepan over high heat, bring 2 cups water to a boil. Remove from heat and add the salt, peppercorns, and garlic. Let cool, and then add the mixture to 2 quarts cold water. Place the cucumbers and shiso leaves in a large crock or food- safe plastic container. Pour the brine mixture over the cucumbers, covering them completely. Place one or more small plates on top of the cucumbers to keep them completely submerged. Store in a cool (68° to 70°F is ideal), dark room for three days to a week, checking every day or so and removing any mold or foam that rises to the top. The pickles are done when they are pleasantly sour and tangy but still firm. Store refrigerated for several weeks.

Variations:
Use the same salt-to-water ratio 
with the following pairings: 
sliced red cabbage and caraway seeds; whole baby carrots and sliced fresh fennel bulb; halved baby beets and fresh dill sprigs; sliced Japanese turnips and green onion.


Pickled Radishes with Chiles and Ginger
(Makes about 1½ quarts)

Ingredients
2 bunches of radishes
1 cup plain white vinegar
½ cup sugar
2 tbsp. kosher salt
3 cups water
2 fresh Thai chiles, split lengthwise
4 garlic cloves
1 small piece of ginger, peeled and cut into thin rounds

Preparation
Wash and trim the radishes, leaving about half an inch 
of stem. Cut the radishes in 
half lengthwise and put them 
in a 2-quart jar with a lid. In a small nonreactive saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, and salt with water and bring to a boil. Cook for a minute to dissolve the sugar and salt completely. Remove from heat and let cool until warm. Add the chiles, garlic, and ginger to the jar and pour enough of the warm liquid over the radishes to completely cover them. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate for at least twenty-four hours and up to several weeks.

Variations: Green tomato wedges 
(add whole coriander seed, omit ginger); cauliflower florets (add turmeric, omit ginger); halved ripe semi-hot red chiles, such as Fresno.


Meet the Chef:  Andrea Reusing 
Current restaurant: Lantern, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Latest passion: Teaching
 at-risk kids to cook dinner for their families in a new space next to the restaurant
Restaurant pet peeve: Letting customers leave without saying good-bye to them
Southern foods she had to learn to love: Tomato pudding and hot oysters
Southern food she doubts many Southerners really eat: Okra

 

 

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