Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Cooking

Easy-to-make quick pickles perk up a meal

What's sweet and tart and trendy all over? • Why, quick pickles, of course, and not just those made with cucumbers. Carrots, green beans, okra, asparagus, cauliflower, kohlrabi, jalapenos, watermelon, even cherries, pears and plums, change their tune once allowed to ferment for a bit in vinegar-fueled brine. • Recently, after another insipid and ill-conceived side dish at a local restaurant (Sludgy black beans with a lobster roll? Really?), I got to thinking about quick pickles. Specifically, how nicely the snap of a few garlic-pickled green beans or maybe even the sweet pop of pickled cherries would have accompanied the creamy lobster salad. A sour spark is often the perfect foil for rich foods. • But I am a little late to the party. Chefs around the country, including those at more forward-thinking Tampa Bay area restaurants, have embraced the quick-pickle craze, serving them alongside all sorts of main dishes, but smoked meats especially. Cold, cured meats play nicely with the tang of brine. A dilled green bean is positively spritely as the swizzler in a Bloody Mary, too.

Chef Chad Johnson at SideBern's in Tampa often serves pickled veggies with his charcuterie selections. Holy Hog and the Refinery, both in Tampa, are also on the quick-pickle wagon. Refinery chef-owner Greg Baker has pickled turnips and parsnips in a lavender brine, green beans with cumin, and green tomatoes in a malt-style brine. He has even pickled quail eggs with a kimchi brine.

Baker says pickles bring a specific, controlled sweetness and acidity to whatever they are paired with and cut the richness in heavy dishes.

In Miami Beach, the popular Yardbird Southern Table & Bar has gone positively pickle punchy, playing with pumpkin and chiles, among other ingredients, and Cask & Larder in Winter Park is pickling eggplant and cauliflower with raisins. Chef Amy Murray at Revival Bar+Kitchen in Berkeley, Calif., serves pickled rhubarb with her duck confit.

These chefs know something that could help us home cooks jazz up what we serve the family: Pickled produce brightens dishes and adds texture and flavor contrasts. Imagine how much more interesting your burgers might be with a tangle of Kohlrabi Quick Pickles on top, or what a spoonful of Pickled Pears and Plums could do alongside pork chops grilled with lots of sauce.

Home pickling

Making quick pickles is an easy endeavor, less cumbersome than canning, which requires special equipment and curing time. For novice canners, there's always concern that jars won't seal properly and they'll send someone to the emergency room clutching their stomach in pain. And that's not a baseless worry because, traditionally, canned food is not refrigerated. There is a safety factor.

No such worries with quick pickles, which cure in the refrigerator and are meant to be eaten within a couple of weeks. They can be put into jars for fridge storage or prepared in well-sealed containers. Make a jar for yourself and a few for friends, making sure they know they are to be kept chilled. Such a nice gift, and one that looks like it took some super-special talent. You and I know differently.

For quick pickles, a boiled brine heavy on vinegar is poured over whatever produce you are using, and an overnight rest in the refrigerator is all that's needed to complete the transformation. The heat from the brine softens fruits and veggies but does not cook them completely, so they retain crunch and shape.

Of the recipes that accompany this story, the most time-consuming is Watermelon Rind Pickles, and that's simply because of the effort it takes to peel the big fruit. Yes, you must peel the watermelon and it is messy. You only want the white part of the rind, so you'll need to skim off the green outer layer with a sharp knife and then think of something else to do with the pink flesh. But pickled watermelon rind is one of those foods that elicits serious nostalgia. It's not something you see much anymore, and the clove-flavored, sweet brine is such an unexpected delight that you'll hardly be able to wait to eat the pickles straight from the jar or as an accompaniment to barbecued ribs. I'll take a couple of hunks with my tuna sandwich.

I was also quite pleased with the sweet-tart flavor of the Pickled Pears and Plums. Thin slices of lemon in the mix add acid and brightness, and they look lovely in the jar. The pieces are fairly large, so they are better as a sort-of side dish than a relish or salsa.

When you are thinking of what your quick pickles will complement, consider what the elements are usually eaten with in other forms. For instance, carrots are often served with corned beef and potatoes, so how about accompanying a corned beef sandwich with Spicy Pickled Carrots? Or how about as a partner with seafood tacos?

The trick is to match them with something that's rich and fatty, not tart or overly sweet. This is why pickled foods commonly mingle with cured meats, cheeses and nuts on platters. They wake up the senses and brighten the earthiness of those foods.

Besides, they are easy to make. And so cool.

Laura Reiley contributed to this report. Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] and (727) 893-8586.

Comments
Five ideas for cooking with lavender

Five ideas for cooking with lavender

Lavender is almost as pretty to smell as it is to look at, but as far as taste goes, the results arenít always as appealing. A little like cilantro, lavender can taste soapy to some people, making it a tricky plant to use properly. But, when used the...
Published: 05/22/18
Taste test: new (and very sugary) cereals

Taste test: new (and very sugary) cereals

My addiction to sugar began as a child. I loved sugary breakfast cereals as a morning meal or an evening snack, the sweeter the better. We used to joke in my house that I even added table sugar to Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes and Lucky Charms. Thankfu...
Published: 05/21/18
Five ideas for sleep-friendly midnight snacks

Five ideas for sleep-friendly midnight snacks

When the clock strikes midnight, I reach for the cookie jar. Okay, maybe itís not an actual jar ó maybe Iím even lazier, and I reach for the cardboard box of chocolate chip cookies I bought from the store. The point is, my late-night snack habits are...
Published: 05/16/18
Exploring alternative tea drinks to toast Prince Harry and Meghan Markleís royal wedding

Exploring alternative tea drinks to toast Prince Harry and Meghan Markleís royal wedding

The year was 2011. It was the night before Prince Williamís wedding to Kate Middleton, and I stood in my kitchen making chocolate chip scones. I set my alarm for 3:30 a.m., with plans to sit in the spare bedroom of the townhome and watch Britainís ro...
Published: 05/15/18
Taste test: pineapple juice

Taste test: pineapple juice

Having always loved a fresh pineapple stick in my brewed iced tea, I wondered recently if a splash of pineapple juice would give it the same sweet kick. While few of us drink pure pineapple juice, our panelists definitely enjoy an occasional watered-...
Published: 05/14/18
Branch out: Give Sauteed Asparagus in Soy Sauce Glaze a try

Branch out: Give Sauteed Asparagus in Soy Sauce Glaze a try

Asparagus is by far the favorite vegetable of my family. I can serve nearly 3 pounds of asparagus a couple of times a week to my family of six, and my girls will still argue over who gets the last stalk. I say this not to impress you with the adventu...
Published: 05/11/18
Five ideas for Motherís Day breakfasts

Five ideas for Motherís Day breakfasts

Are you stumped for Motherís Day ideas? Donít stress. This year, surprise the mothers in your life with a special breakfast that fits perfectly with their personalities. Whether she loves the tradition of breakfast-in-bed or prefers her meals on the ...
Published: 05/09/18
Updated: 05/10/18
Review: Rick Bragg’s ‘The Best Cook in the World’ a loving food memoir about his mother

Review: Rick Bragg’s ‘The Best Cook in the World’ a loving food memoir about his mother

When Rick Bragg told his mother that his new book about her would be titled The Best Cook in the World, Margaret Bragg protested: "I wasn’t even the best cook that lived on our road." Bragg writes, "I told her we couldn’t call it The Thi...
Published: 05/09/18
Making granola at home is easy and scrumptious with this Maple Cashew Granola

Making granola at home is easy and scrumptious with this Maple Cashew Granola

If Iím being honest, most of what I do in the kitchen is recreate really delicious things Iíve eaten somewhere else. No, it never tastes the same, but itís a useful way to get cooking inspiration, and also to not spend $10 on something it takes $2 to...
Published: 05/08/18
Updated: 05/09/18
Recipe for Slow Cooked Pork Roast

Recipe for Slow Cooked Pork Roast

Slowly cooking a big hunk of tough, inexpensive meat isnít just the best way to cook this cut of meat. Itís really the only way. Most tough cuts of meat come from the hardest working parts of the animal, and therefore have a lot of collagen. This col...
Published: 05/08/18