Your Next Pork Dinner Needs A Side Of Pickles

Pork and pickles sound like the most natural pairing in the world, so why don't we actually see it on a plate at home that often? Home pickle use generally falls into two categories: either as a topping for a sandwich or as an easy snack. Maybe this is a function of the more limited idea of pickles as convenient supermarket items, but it ignores just how versatile they can be. Think of how much chopped pickles can elevate something like potato salad, or how much a sprinkling of giardiniera can perk up a slice of meat, and you'll quickly see the possibilities. You need to start thinking of pickles as a side, and the best place to do that is alongside a pork main course.

Why pork and pickles? Well, pickles can come in a variety of flavors, varying from sweet to herby to spicy, but what they all share is that acidic, vinegar bite. That taste will pair with plenty of meats, but it's especially well matched for rich, fatty foods, and those are the defining qualities of pork compared to beef or chicken. Pickles may be great on a burger, but do you know where they are even better? On a Cuban sandwich, where they get paired with both juicy, fatty roasted pork and sweet ham for a perfect combo that fires every synapse in the taste center of your brain. It's time to bring that chemistry onto your dinner plate.

For every kind of pork dinner, there is a pickle pairing

The first step towards thinking of pickles as a side dish is looking past your standard dill pickles in a jar to the much wider world of pickled veggies. Even within the realm of cucumber pickles, there are many styles that work better depending on the dish. One great pairing to start with is pork katsu with Japanese-style quick pickles. Made with rice vinegar and sugar, Japanese quick pickles have a crisper, lighter flavor than other styles, which is a nice contrast to the heavy taste of katsu and also means you can eat a whole bowl of them without getting overwhelmed. Another East Asian favorite, pickled radish, can be mixed with quick pickles for a bright, crunchy salad that goes great with sweet barbecue pork belly or char siu.

Roasted pork is maybe the dish most calling out for the help of pickles. Pork loin especially can be a little bland and flat, and pickles add some real pop to each bite. The less powerful flavor of a roast makes it a great place to experiment with stronger flavors like spicy pickles or pickled hot peppers. Finally, a great pickle option for any pork dish is a coleslaw made from shaved pickled veggies like carrots, cabbage, and beets. Vinegar coleslaw is already a classic pork pairing, so swapping in pickled vegetables is an easy way to mix it up.