Monday, December 11, 2006

Preserved Meyer Lemons

On a recent business trip to San Francisco, I picked up 2 lbs. of California's sweet Meyer lemons at the Ferry Plaza farmers market, so I could preserve them in Mason jars as Christmas presents. Preserved lemons are commonplace throughout the Middle East, and are especially integral to the cuisines of North Africa, where they perfume tagines and add a piquant zing to meze.

When I first started making these years ago, I loved the look of them on my shelves, but only used them once or twice a year. With more daring experimentation, I've come to rely on preserved lemons in my Bloody Marys, a quinoa salad with pine nuts, feta, and mint, and in this no-brainer preserved lemon dip when guests drop by unexpectedly.

1. Use as many lemons as you like--Meyer lemons are preferable, as their skin is thin and somewhat sweet.
2. Cut each lemon 3/4 of the way, horizontally. Now make another cut, perpendicular to the first one, also only cutting 3/4 of the way through the lemon. The fruit should now open like a flower that's held together at the base.
3. Pack the lemons with kosher salt (be sure to fill both cuts), and layer snugly into a clean Mason jar.
4. Cover with freshly squeezed lemon juice and store in the refrigerator.

Preserved lemons will be ready after one month and can be stored for up to one year in the fridge.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Dog Ate My Pickle

It seems that I have committed the Cardinal Sin of blogging: it's been months since my last post. However, I have a good excuse, as I've been traveling for work and pleasure since August.

I have returned home to NYC inspired by the pickles and preserved foods I encountered in Peru, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and San Francisco. Though not technically a pickle, ceviche is one of the most fascinating cured foods in the world. For starters, it's a pickled protein, not a fruit or vegetable, and it's "cooked" with lemon or lime juice, then mixed with slivers of red onions, enormous Peruvian corn kernels, and slices of sweet potato, which absorb the tangy marinade.

If you're heading to Peru, be sure to spend a few days in Lima--everyone will tell you to skip it, but it's home to some of the best ceviche in the entire country. Nobu Matsuhisa learned to master ceviche and sushi at Toshiro's, where the Japanese-Peruvian fusion is clean and vibrant (try the ceviched scallops on artichoke hearts). Gaston Acurio, gets adventurous with bold combinations, such as the black scallops with yellow pepper sauce, at La Mar, a sophisticated al fresco cevicheria with cement floors, Bossa y Stones tunes, and palm trees. Pescados Capitales, a clever play on the Spanish phrase, pecados capitales--the seven deadly sins--is another urbane spot with impeccably fresh tiraditos and cebiches. Buen provecho!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Au Courant: Pickled Red Currants

The ban on growing black and red currants is officially over! Actually, it’s been over since 1966, but I suppose being out of sight, out of mind for nearly a century makes for a slow resurgence. At $4 per ½ pint in the NYC Greenmarkets, they’re clearly back in vogue.

Cluster branches of vivid berries on a charcuterie board; toss them with a salad of wild greens, toasted hazelnuts, and Maytag blue cheese; or test their gleam alongside a glistening roasted chicken.

1 pint red currants
1 cup dry white wine (I used Lillet because that's what I had in the fridge)
1 cup Champagne vinegar or white vinegar
3/4 cup muscovado sugar or brown sugar
1/4 tsp. black peppercorns
A few allspice berries
1 bay leaf

1. Combine all ingredients except currants and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes.
2. Allow brine to cool, and pour over cleaned currants into a pint jar. Cover and refrigerate.

Yes, it really is that easy. Refrigerated pickles last for one year.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Peck of Pickled Peppers

There’s nothing modern about these heirloom hot peppers, but I had to post them as an ode to our pickle heritage. These garlicky, tangy pickles will be ready just in time for football season’s Bloody Marys, pulled pork sandwiches, and duck confit nachos.

1 lb. hot peppers--any kind you can find (Bulgarian carrot, Bacio di Satana, Serrano, Tabasco, jalapeno, habanero, etc...)
1 Qt. white vinegar
1 cup water
6 Tbs. kosher salt
8 garlic cloves
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. Tellicherry peppercorns
3 dill heads

1. Wash peppers and cut an inch-long slit in each one.
2. Simmer vinegar, water, salt, and spices for 5 minutes.
3. Pour hot brine over pickles in a sterilized quart jar. Process for 10 minutes in a hot water canner.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Pickled Scuppernong Muscadines

When I came across these oversized, green and bronze grapes in Chinatown (for $2.50/lb.) I thought them to be newfangled plum-grape hybrids from China. Not so: Scuppernong muscadines were first discovered by the early colonists along the Georgia and North Carolina coasts. They've been used to make wine and jams since the 17th century, but today, I'm going to make them pickles.
At a recent James Beard House dinner, chef Joseph Truex (of Georgia's Château Élan Winery & Resort) served these with smoked foie gras roulade with vidalia onion relish and cane sugar gastrique--the inspiration for the sugar cane vinegar, which can be purchased from

1 lb. Scuppernong muscadines
1 cup sugar cane vinegar (or Champagne vinegar)
1 cup dry white wine
3/4 muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
8 allspice berries
1 Turkish bay leaf

Simmer all ingredients and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Fill a quart jar with washed muscadines and cover with hot pickling liquid. Allow to cool to room temperature, screw on lid, and refrigerate for at least two weeks (and up to one year).

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Chef Profile: Peter Hoffman's Preserved Sour Cherries

I love to deglaze a pan of seared pork chops with these addictive pickles. Sometimes I stand in front of the fridge and eat them straight from the jar after work. Sour cherries are in season now in the NYC greenmarkets, so go ahead and double the batch to give as gifts during the holidays.

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 cup white wine
8 allspice berries
2 tsp. black peppercorns
1/2 cup pomegranate molasses
zest of 1/2 lemon
2 quarts sour cherries (leave the stems on)

1. Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat and boil until slightly thickened--about 5 minutes.
2. Reduce heat and wine, spices, pomegranate molasses, and lemon zest. Simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Add cherries to liquid, turn off heat, and allow mixture to cool. Transfer cherries and their syrup to a container. Refrigerate two weeks before using (keeps for up to 6 months).

Recipe courtesy of Saveur magazine, NO. 31.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Tutu's Watermelon Rind Pickles

(Recipe adapted from Rowene Erman's family recipe.)

True, these are Southern classics, and this blog is supposed to be about unusual, modern pickles. By updating the recipe and offering atypical serving suggestions, I'm going to let this one slide.

Don't be intimidated by the three-day process; these pickles require minimal effort overall. The spices are merely suggestions--feel free to omit all but the cinnamon and ginger, which really make these pickles sing.

Chef Mark Spangenthal incorporates watermelon rind pickles into a dish of seared foie gras with sauteed peaches. Park Kitchen in Portland, Oregon serves an appetizer of pickled watermelon, roasted beets, and goat cheese, drizzled with good olive oil.

I plan to serve them with crispy, fried pancetta slices and manchego cheese in the fall. Or maybe I'll wrap slices of Oscar's bacon around them and bake like a Spanish tapa until the sugars caramelize the bacon. Spears may even end up in a gin martini or two...

4 lb. watermelon
1 Qt. water
2 Tbs. kosher salt
2 cups cider or Champagne vinegar
2 cups sugar
3-inch piece of ginger, peeled
3 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick (use Ceylon if you can find it)
4 whole cloves
1/2 star anise
1/2 nutmeg pod
1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
1/4 tsp. black or pink peppercorns

Day One
1. Cut watermelon into quarters and scoop out flesh, leaving 1/4 inch of red flesh for color. Cut into 2 inch x 1/2 inch batons and peel off green skin with a paring knife or vegetable peeler.
2. Combine water and salt and submerge watermelon batons with a plate and refrigerate overnight.

Day Two
1. Strain rinds and rinse with cold water.
2. Bring vinegar, sugar, spices, and ginger to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add rinds to syrup and return to a boil. Simmer rinds in syrup for 30 minutes, then allow rinds to steep in syrup, submerged with a plate, in the refrigerator overnight.

Day Three
1. With a slotted spoon, transfer rind to sterilized canning jars (# of jars will depend on how much rind you yield).
2. Bring syrup to a boil, and pour over rinds, leaving 1/2 inch space.
3. Process in a boiler for 10 minutes. Pickles can also be refrigerated for two weeks before eating.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Chef Profile: Peter Hoffman's Pickled Okra

(Recipe courtesy of The Complete Organic Pregnancy, by Alexandra Zissu--to be released September 2006.)
Peter Hoffman is the owner and chef of Savoy Restaurant in New York City

"Caribbean folklore is that okra helps the baby come on and starts labor. My wife decided that she had had enough of being pregnant the second time around, so she ate a big jar of pickled okra (also took some castor oil, which certainly didn’t hurt) and she started her labor fast and furious,” recalls Peter. “One hour to be exact. And I delivered the baby on the front steps of our apartment.”

1 lb. small okra pods - cut off any darkened stems, but leave whole
½ tsp. dried red pepper flakes
2 tsp. mustard seeds
3 cloves garlic, halved
1 tsp. dill seeds
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup rice vinegar
1 cup water
3 Tbs. kosher salt

1. Pack three 1-pint canning jars with the okra standing vertically, and alternating stems and tips. Put a halved garlic clove in each jar as well.

2. In a metal, non-reactive pot bring liquids to a boil. Add salt and spices. Allow to steep 20 minutes. Fill jars with the liquid to within ½ inch of the rim. Wipe rims and put on lids.

3. Put the glass jars on a rack in a deep kettle canner and cover with hot water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, cover and boil for 10 minutes. Remove jars from the bath and leave to cool. Let pickles mellow for two weeks minimum before tasting. Best at 1 month.

Makes 3 pints

Pickled Glassworts and All

This is perhaps the easiest pickle to make--you simply fill a mason jar with glasswort and cover with white vinegar. The glasswort is so alkaline, there's no need to add salt. Let them pickle for one week in the refrigerator before eating; they last indefinitely in the fridge.

The only hard part can be finding glasswort. In late spring through early summer, glasswort--or sea beans--are harvested in the Pacific Northwest and shipped to specialty markets across the U.S. (Whole Foods and Garden of Eden carry them in NYC).

With their salty, ocean taste and crisp, cucumber-like texture, pickled sea beans are a whimsical substitute for olives in dirty martinis. They're also lovely served alongside Alice Waters' slow-poached wild King salmon.

Pickled Habanero Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapes are the buds of the garlic plant (just as capers are pickled flower buds). Be sure to include both the bud and the stem, which lend a mellow garlic flavor to Bloody Marys, fingerling potato salads, and charcuterie boards.

1 lb. fresh garlic scapes
3 habaneros (or jalapenos, for a subtler kick)
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. dill seeds
1 tsp. black peppercorns
1 recipe basic pickling brine

1. Wash and dry scapes, then wind them into bundles that comfortably stack into a quart-size canning jar.
2. Bring basic brine recipe to a boil, add habaneros, garlic, and whole spices, and simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Pour hot brine mixture over scapes and seal jar tightly. Refrigerate for at least 1 week before using, and keep for up to one month. (See canning entry for long-term preservation method; process for 10 minutes.)

Basic pickling brine
Building on the basic pickling brine, you can create myriad varieties of pickles by adding whole spices and aromatics, such as hot peppers, citrus peels, and garlic.

1 Qt. white vinegar
1 cup water
6 Tbs. kosher or pickling salt (I use kosher because I prefer the flavor)

Gingered Red Campaign Gooseberries

See below for Zuni Cafe recipe; add 4 or 5 slices of ginger.
Two pints of fruit = two pints of pickles.

(Incidentally, pickled gooseberries were popular during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but are making a comeback at NYC Greenmarkets.)

Spiced White Currants

See below for Zuni Cafe recipe.
Two pints of fruit = two pints of pickles.

Spiced Zante Grapes

(Recipe adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers.)

1 lb. Zante grapes (or other ripe, tiny grapes)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 cup dry white wine
A few allspice berries
1 bay leaf (Turkish, not Californian, which tastes medicinal)

1. Wash and dry the grapes, then cut into small clusters. Leave naturally "raisined" fruit on the stem, as they will take the brine well and further raisin. Place fruit in wide jars with shoulders to keep the clusters in the brine.
2. Combine the sugar, vinegar, wine, allspice, and bayleaf in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring for about 1 minute.
3. Allow the brine to cool, then pour over the grapes. Seal and store in the refrigerator at least 1 week before using (keeps indefinitely).

This recipe makes 2 pints

Note: For the best quality pickles, use a fine Champagne vinegar and Muscovado sugar, which is a higher-quality version of brown sugar (the cane is grown in volcanic ash on Mauritius):

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Power to the Pickle

Lately I’ve noticed that scores of urbanites with seemingly better things to do in their spare time are spending hours over boiling canners in crammed, apartment kitchens--all in the name of pickling. Ok, so maybe they’re not out there in droves, but this 30-year old Manhattanite is not above admitting that I’d rather pickle than party.

I'm downright obsessed with unusual pickles, and my hope for this blog is to cull as many offbeat recipes as possible. Sure, we all love the classics like bread-and-butters and dilled kirbies, but I want to find those quirky recipes that take a bloody mary to the next level or introduce finds, such as pickled sea beans (AKA glasswort) or Jean-Georges' wasabi-pickled cauliflower, to a dinner party.

For example, last summer I made Judy Rogers’ (of San Francisco’s Zuni Café) spiced Zante grapes, and at a fall harvest party, served them alongside ribbons of smoked duck breast from Blue Ribbon Bakery’s latest outpost. They were stupendous--at once tangy and sweet--and this summer, I’ve adapted the recipe to pickle the red campaign gooseberries and white currants that have been abundant in the NYC Greenmarkets.

I’ll be posting photos and commentary on this recipe and other pickle progress as often as possible (with a focus on seasonality and a distinction between refrigerator pickles and ones that require canning). I welcome you to do the same!

I wholly admit that this is a dorky endeavor, but secretly, you know your inner-pickler is dying to come unsealed.