Once upon a time, the pickle that arrived alongside your dinner could be described with one word: Vlasic. But thanks to some of the country’s best restaurants, brining is back, and a new batch of foodies is determined to turn the process into serious culinary art.
The crew behind Austin’s Emmer and Rye see pickling as a way to stay local year-round. They preserve their veggies during the growing and harvest season, and when the fields run dry, they just break out their own jars instead of importing the goods from elsewhere. “We’ve essentially created a living spice shelf that we’re able to draw from when the seasons change,” says chef Kevin Fink, who stocks the restaurant’s larder with everything from green tomatoes to garlic flowers.
This used to be the norm back when folks had to think about stretching out their supplies, but we became less reliant on it as we reached the age of mass production. “The appreciation of the process was lost,” says Fink. “It quickly became a forgotten art.”
That’s no longer the case. An updated take on the classic Big Apple pickle stand, Dickson’s Fine Brines, in New York’s Chelsea Market, knows that it has to think beyond the cucumber to excite the modern palate, so its pots contain non-traditional ingredients. The Thai-inspired yellow curry cauliflower, for example, packs an unexpected umami punch, while the Mexican mole carrots boast savory notes of coffee, making for a side that’s both earthy and acidic.
Picklephiles shouldn’t be surprised by the international influences—brining is much more common, and creative, in foreign cuisines. It’s the global restaurants that offer the really fun stuff. At Kachka, a Russian restaurant in Portland, Ore., you can chase your shot of vodka with juice from beets or white radishes. In Los Angeles, Korean sensation Baroo plays with the country’s long history of fermenting and preserving, lacing a rice bowl with spicy pickled kimchi made with Napa cabbage and serving up vinegar-spiked watermelon rinds that are a little sweet, a little strange, and very tasty.
But if you’re not looking for anything exotic, you can just go dig into the tangy house-made peppers at New York’s Maison Pickle. They’re the perfect complement to beef in the retro eatery’s delicious French Dip sandwich. Look around, and you’ll see that the U.S. restaurant scene is very much in a pickle. And that’s a good thing for all of us.
3 Tips for Home Pickling
Sage advice from chef and brining connoisseur Kevin Fink
1. Start simple
“Tomatoes are really easy to get into,” says Fink, “and very versatile.”
2. Trust your judgment
“Pickling is relatively safe. If something doesn’t look right or smell right, it’s not worth messing with.”
3. Get the right jar
Fink recommends Weck Jars, which have a layer that allows carbon dioxide to leave veggies without letting in anything bad.