One of my absolute favorite treats has to be the pickle. Sweet, salty, and sour with a lovely texture to match. Be it as a snack or as part of a meal, these culinary delights pack quite a delicious punch. I have nothing against pickled cucumbers, but there is a world of pickle possibilities that do not include what most would consider when thinking of a pickle. Onions, carrots, cabbage, chiles; you name it. What is important is a basic understanding of the technique involved, not a steadfast recipe. Like many other cooking techniques, once you understand the method, there are myriad options and flavors that you can experiment with.
The basic pickling template is as follows: Equal parts vinegar and sugar. Add spices. Boil. Pour over desired pickle subjects and let sit.
The type of vinegar and the spices you use should be based on your desired flavor profile and should also take into account the nature of what you are pickling. I chose Asian-style spices as I'm pickling Thai chiles. I prefer whole spices, as they don't cloud the vinegar and strain out easily. If you like your pickles sweeter, increase the amount of sugar. If you find them too acidic, lower the amount of vinegar. If you like them salty, add more salt. There is no right or wrong, just what you like, so be bold and have fun.
Most pickling involves canning, which can be tedious, somewhat scary to the first-timer and equipment-heavy. I prefer, for ease and speed, a quick pickle, which skips the canning and assumes you'll polish off your preserved gems before they'd even have a chance to go bad. For the purpose of illustrating this technique, I will be pickling some beautiful Thai Chiles.
Quick-Pickled Thai Chiles
Large handful Thai Chiles (about 15-20)
1 cup White Vinegar
1 cup Sugar
3 Star Anise Pods
1 Bay Leaf
1 tsp. Corriander Seeds
1 tsp. whole Black Peppercorns
1 tsp. Cassia buds (or one cinnamon stick, split)
1 clove, Garlic, smashed
1 oz. piece Ginger, peeled and sliced
1 tsp. Salt
Combine everything but chiles and bring to a boil.
Remove from heat and let steep for a good 15 minutes.
Strain pickling liquid over chiles.
Cover and refrigerate.
Pickles will be ready to eat in about 3-4 hours but are best overnight. (If you want the pickles done faster, slice them before adding the pickling liquid.) The pickles will keep for about two weeks in your fridge.
Pickled chiles are great as a garnish as they bring a lovely combination of heat, sweetness and acidity to any dish. Try them with Sashimi or seared Tuna. I recommend serving them sliced thinly, and with most of the seeds removed (unless you want some serious heat.) Also, the vinegar goes great on greens.