There are few things that better exemplify American cooking techniques than a delicious, crunchy pickle to accompany a burger and fries, club sandwich or other handheld fare. Of course, when most people think of pickling, their mind goes directly to the salty, juicy cucumbers that we eat commonly. However, almost any food can be pickled, and you can easily pickle a wide range of veggies, fruits and meats at home with a little basic know-how. Whether you want to make a simple torshi, homemade sauerkraut or spicy kimchi, learning how to pickle is an essential skill for any aspiring chef.
What is pickling?
According to Wise Geek, pickling is simply a method of preserving food by marinating it in some form of brine. Often, foods are canned or jarred in a mix of saltwater, vinegar and oil, which creates the distinct sour, sweet or salty taste of anything that is pickled. Herbs and spices are added to the brine in order to give pickled foods a more distinct taste. Common additions include garlic, mustard seeds, dill, coriander, peppercorns and hot peppers. Wise Geek notes that pickling became extremely popular as a means of storing vegetables and other foods on long sea voyages. Today, pickles of all varieties are ubiquitous diner fare and are even used by distance runners and other athletes after a tough workout to provide electrolytes.
There are several different ways to pickle foods, but the easiest way is simply to cut up your veggies or other foods and place them in a jar filled with brine and spices. Afterward, it’s just a matter of time. Allow your pickles to marinate in the brine for an extended period of time to get the most flavor. EatingWell recommends allowing your pickled foods to sit in the brine for at least 24 hours before serving. In general, foods pickled at home have a shelf life of several weeks in the refrigerator, but eventually the food you pickle (especially vegetables) will lose some of its crunch. Make sure to purchase salt specifically meant for canning to ensure that you get the best flavor.
A note on sanitation
Good Housekeeping advises always sterilizing your jars and lids between batches to ensure you get the best tasting pickles and to avoid contaminating your product.