There is something utterly charming about France beyond the bicycles, baguettes and éclairs, and that’s their love of jars. Chickpeas, crème fraiche, and my precious pâtés and rillettes all come in elegant glass jars, and it’s just so rustic and homely scraping crème fraiche out of a jar, why don’t we do it everywhere? Recycling has become the aim of my game and I’ve hoarded at least six empty jars in our limited cupboard space. One has even become our toothbrush holder. And now, finally, I have something to put in all these jars, besides toothbrushes. Pickles.
I adore pickles. Not the most profound thing you’ll read today, but at least it’s sincere. Is there anything better than that sweet, crisp crunch as you bite into a pickle? Or layering it in a sandwich with cheese and cold meat? Those who swiftly dispose of their Big Mac’s gherkin with the speed and force of an ejector seat are missing the point of it being there in the first place; it provides that much needed sour sweetness that freshens the burger, and raw, juicy crispness to contrast the fatty, doughy chew. As I write this, my mouth is honest-to-god watering.
There’s such variety of pickles, all so fresh and sour and quick to make. As a result, it’s difficult to know where to begin if you’ve never pickled before – let’s start with the basics. Here are my top four favourite pickles – the quick and easy, the bright, flamboyant and eye-catching, and the spectacular – in my humble opinion, the best pickle recipes:
A tribute to the sad and sorry McDonalds’ gherkin – I still love you! And I’m sure many readers who’ve got to this point do too – which is also known as a dill pickle. Those short and stout pickling cucumbers are (it’s in the name after all) perfect for dill pickles thanks to their thicker skin which can be preserved in a long vinegary bath. Plus they’re suitably sized for sandwiches, burgers, or for simply munching from the jar.
Dill pickles are easy, they just require flavourings and good quality vinegar. I experimented with the most basic vinegar, one that’s so alcoholic that I keep it under the sink with the cleaning products, and I have to say, it’s perfectly fine if you want your tongue to shrivel up. If not, definitely use a smoother vinegar like white wine.
- 260 g pickling cucumbers approximately 1 packet
- 100 ml white vinegar preferably good quality
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp mustard seeds
- 120 ml hot water
- 1 clove of garlic
- Small handful of fresh dill
- In a measuring jug, combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, and hot water. Stir until the sugar and salt dissolve. Set aside until cool.
- Wash the cucumbers and cut them into quaters lengthways so that they are long strips. Roughly slice the garlic and the dill.
- Toss the cucumbers with the garlic and dill, then scrape everything into a clean sterilised jar. Pour over the cooled brine and make sure all the cucumbers are fully submerged. Leave to pickle in the fridge overnight, then serve with cold meats or in sandwiches.
Richard Hsiao’s pickles
I found the recipe for these spectacularly moreish pickles on Taste and will continue to call them Richard Hsiao’s pickles, even though I never met Richard Hsiao. The author Mari Uyehara knew him, and she addresses that these pickles are a misnomer – they’re more of a marinated cucumber salad with Sichuan pepper, soy and a slight hit of crisp vinegary sourness. They are the kind of ‘pickles’ that live outside the fridge meaning they are far too convenient for snacking. And what a snack – one which needs to be scoffed over the sink thanks to the red oil dripping down your fingers.
Richard Hsiao’s Pickles
- 1 cucumber
- 3 cloves of garlic
- ½ tsp salt
- 75 ml flavourless oil
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- ¼ tsp sichuan peppercorns
- ½ tsp Korean pepper
- 2 slices of fresh ginger
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp rice wine vinegar
- A pinch of MSG available at Asian supermarkets
- Wash and slice the cucumber into rounds then pop them in a colander. Thinly slice the garlic. Sprinkle the cucumber slices with salt and toss them and the garlic all together. Place the colander on a plate to catch the cucumber juice, then leave it for about 1 hour.
- When you come back there'll be a little puddle of green liquid on the plate, and if you squeeze the cucumbers they will be soooo juicy. It's very pleasing to squeeze them. Squeeze out some stress; you won't get all the liquid out but do what you can/can be bothered to do.
- Heat the oils in a frying pan until hot, then remove from the heat and add the Sichuan peppercorns and Korean pepper. Leave to cool slightly.
- Put the cucumbers in a bowl. Pour over the cooled oil. Mix together the ginger, soy sauce, sugar, rice wine vinegar and MSG, and add to the cucumbers. Toss everything together then gently tip everything into a clean and sterilised jar. Seal and leave to marinate overnight. Keep out of the fridge.
Pickled red onions
A few weeks ago, Gaylord asked me how to make pickled onions. It was a recipe I used reliably while I worked at various restaurants and cafes, however, I gazed at him blankly as that reliable recipe had been cleanly erased from my mind. I think my Inside Out emotion of Perfectionism had a highly efficient memory clean-up, and saw pickled onions as irrelevant. However, I can promise you that they aren’t.
I mean, just look at them! They’re so pretty! Not to mention that the harsh flavour of raw onion has been replaced by an evenly balanced sweet sourness like a Haribo Tangfastic. We keep a jar of pink pickled onions in the fridge and sprinkle them in salads or bring them to the table when eating croque madames, sliding them inside with the ham and melted cheese. This time, the recipe won’t be hard to forget because it is so freaking simple.
- 1 red onion thinly sliced
- ½ cup white vinegar
- ½ cup water
- 1½ tbsp sugar
- 1½ tsp salt
- Mix together the vinegar, salt and sugar in a bowl or jug, then add the onion slices and the water.
- Pour into a clean and sterilised jar and seal with the lid. Leave to marinate for 1 hour the keep the pickled onions in the fridge.
If pickled onions are Pretty in Pink, then pickled cabbage is Purple Rain – dark, moody and funky.
I would describe all the other pickles with the adjectives ‘bright’, ‘sharp’ and ‘cleansing’ (although some are heavy on the garlic so kissing may not be on the agenda). Pickled cabbage on the other hand, while it is still sour and there’s yet more garlic in there too, has a noticeable earthy funk to the flavour. If you’re not shy or retiring when it comes to pickles, this is the one for you.
As with the other recipes, the vinegar and spices you use is up to you. This recipe asks for a fruity vinegar such as red wine, and I added cloves because to me cabbage and cloves are harmonious and Christmassy.
- ¼ red cabbage I used slightly less just because of the size of my jar
- 120 ml red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 120 ml water
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 clove of garlic thinly sliced
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp cloves
- Cut away the cabbage's white core then finely slice the leaves. Squash them into a jar.
- Mix together the remaining ingredients and pour over the cabbage. Seal with the lid, shake to ensure everything is immersed in brine, then leave for 2-6 hours to pickle. Store in the fridge.