For a few years, I had the distinction of being the pickle chef at a seaside restaurant called The Back Eddy. The job title might sound a bit out there, especially at a casual fish-and-barbecue restaurant, but the pickles we served on the side were tremendously important. Bright and spice-laden, they provided a much-appreciated crunch and burst of acid to cleanse the palate between bites of rich, tender meat or fish and added variety to the meal without overpowering the proteins on the plate.
As the pickle chef, I became an aficionado of quick pickles because they could be whipped up as easily as a salad to complement whatever was on the menu that day. Unlike making fermented pickles, which involves soaking vegetables for days or weeks in a salty brine (see Pickling to learn more), quick pickling is really about infusing vegetables with vinegar and other flavors, and it takes only a few hours.
If I’m using vegetables with high water content, like cucumbers or cabbage, I start by salting them for an hour or two to draw out some water, which makes the pickles crunchy. After that, I make a pickling liquid of vinegar, water, spices, and salt, sugar, or both. Then I submerge the vegetables in it and let them sit to absorb the flavor. That’s it. That’s all it takes to make crunchy pickles that I think taste fresher than canned pickles. And because the acid in the vinegar slows bacterial growth, these pickles will keep in the fridge for weeks—if you don’t eat them all right away, of course.
All of these pickles are great for snacking, but they can also bring out wonderful flavors and add texture to other foods. Here are some of my favorite ways to serve them:
• Chop and mix with horseradish to make a tangy relish for grilled steaks or roast beef.
• A dd to gazpacho for sweetness and tang.
• Purée and add to hummus for an earthy, vividly pink dip.
• Top burgers for a sweet note to counter the rich meatiness.
• Chop and add to tuna, chicken, or egg salad for crunch and tang.
• Fry for a tasty appetizer (see Battered Deep-Fried Pickles and Pan-Fried Pickles for two ways to do this).
Dill Garden Pickles
• Toss with a green salad and use the pickling liquid to make a vinaigrette.
• Finely chop to make a piquant relish for grilled hot dogs or bratwurst.
• Serve on a cheese platter to offset rich, creamy cheeses.
• Garnish spicy fish or shrimp tacos for crunch and sweetness.
• Toss with Asian stir-fried pork and rice.
• Add to a grilled cheese sandwich, especially one made with a pungent melter like Taleggio.