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House of Brine

Chefs at The Progress and Betony are taking their pickles to the next level
Photo: Dave Katz/Tasting Table 
Pickled Vegetables

April is Homegrown Month at Tasting Table.

That old jar of dill pickles in the back of your fridge—it's not doing you any favors. With such an incredible array of pickle potential at your local farmers' market (okra, beets, kohlrabi) and interesting flavors (turmeric, smoked paprika, kombu) waiting to be added to brines, why waste space with something so...pedestrian?

Chefs have been pickling and fermenting in their basements and walk-ins since the dawn of restaurants. But now, enterprising chefs are getting seriously creative with every part of their preserves. In San Francisco, chef Stuart Brioza at State Bird Provisions and The Progress uses the leftover pickling liquid from turnips not only for vinaigrettes but also as a brine to rehydrate wakame (seaweed), which he mixes with sauerkraut and serves atop a salad of kale and roasted mushrooms.

In New York, Betony chef Bryce Shuman pickles vegetables with a brine of their own juices (i.e., pickled beets in a beet juice brine), using a 6 percent brining liquid—a percentage he ended up with after trying dozens of other liquid-to-salt ratios. He digs the resulting flavor so much he put a coleslaw dish on his tasting menu (albeit an upscale version with raw carrots and parsnip, fermented carrot, kohlrabi, watermelon radish, broccoli stems and chive tips, but still).

Chefs are getting creative with their pickling.  

You too can get cheffy with your pickling at home. Here's how.

Sauerkraut: Both chefs began their deep dive into pickling with homemade sauerkraut. Brioza made test krauts for three years before determining the perfect ratio (six weeks at 58 degrees with a 2 to 2.5 percent brine). He stored his experiments in one-gallon ceramic jars in a wine fridge, which helps keep the funk away from your everyday food.

Shuman had one goal when he made his: to perfect his made-from-scratch Reuben sandwich. He tried a standard brine version first, using salt and water, but quickly found he preferred the natural liquid that's released from the cabbage instead of water, which diluted the taste. He opts to use kosher salt not sea salt, which is actually too salty for pickling. Didn't think it was possible, did you?

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Kohlrabi: The lamb tartare at The Progress features turmeric pickled kohlrabi, which Brioza makes by soaking the vegetables in a turmeric-fresh ginger-Madras curry slurry and brining liquid for ten days. As Brioza explains, you can up the temperature you're storing your pickles at to speed up their fermentation, but beware, you won't get as deep of a flavor.

Parsnips: One of the 10 vegetables in Shuman's coleslaw dish is a nuka parsnip. Nuka refers to the rice bran that the chef uses as the pickling agent. Shuman buries parsnips in a container of rice bran, plus a few pieces of kombu (kelp) and chile for flavoring. After three days in the mixture, the parsnips come out with a mild, sweet pickled taste, and the nuka mixture can be used again and again.

Want to make your own kaleidoscopic coleslaw? Start with this recipe for pickled rainbow carrots and take it from there.

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