Pickles. Without a doubt my favorite food group. This briny treat is an excellent accent to sandwiches, salads, bloody mary’s and (in my house) midnight snacking. The perfect pickle balances sourness, sweetness and spice in a way that makes them a truly addictive snack sensation. Typically I get my pickle fix from fine vendors across Chicago. But this fall I decided to try my hand at homemade refrigerator pickles.
There are a few different ways “pickle” something, varying from fermented pickles to different brines you can use. I decided to start with refrigerator pickles. That is, pickles that are brined, but not sealed and canned like most pickles you would buy in the grocery store. Instead you brine them and then throw them in the fridge, where they will keep for a couple of months.
The beauty of pickles is their flexibility. Not only can you make classic pickles, with loads of garlic, dill and cucumbers, but you can also experiment with different vegetable, vinegars, and spices. Looking for an interesting addition to your lunch box? Why not try carrots pickled with dill seed and apple cider vinegar? Or try pickled beets for a homemade gourmet salad topper. Once get a brine going you can literally pickle anything!
There are a few key ingredients to any pickle brine. Vinegar, salt, and sugar are the main elements at work. Vinegar is a powerful preservative and flavoring agent. White vinegar is the most common, but apple cider vinegar is nice for a mellower pickle, and red or white wine vinegar can be added for flavor. Salt is also key. A lot of older pickling recipes will call for pickling salt. This is typically a non-iodized salt. If you can’t find pickling salt you can substitute kosher salt. Just remember that kosher salt is lighter than pickling salt, so make sure to measure it by weight not volume.
The final ingredient for any good brine is the spices. The spices are really what give pickles their characteristics. The spiciness of cloves, the sharpness of black peppercorns, and the mellowness of dill seed give pickles their true character. The Spice House signature pickling spice, combines many of these and is a fantastic place to start to start making your own pickles.
Here is an easy recipe for pickle brine to get you started. Use pickling spice or experiment with your own flavor combinations.
1 cup vinegar
1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
1 tablespoon pickling spice
1-2 large cucumbers, sliced ¼ inch thick
1 small onion, sliced
Combine all the ingredient s in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for two minutes. In a sterilized quart jar layer, the cucumber and onion slices until the jar is full, leaving about a half inch of space at the top. Pour the brine over the pickles until the jar is full and the cucumbers are covered. Let cool uncovered until it is room temperature, then cover and refrigerate. The pickles can be eaten in as a soon as an hour but will develop more flavor the longer they set. The pickles will keep nicely in the fridge for at least a month, but mine are usually never around that long!