As a child, chef Micah Wexler of Los Angeles’s Wexler’s Deli “loved all things pickled.” But his “obsession was more with eating pickles—not making them.” His younger years were littered with “mad jars” of cucumbers dills, pickled tomatoes and pickled garlic. “I loved to eat the pickling spices, as they pop when you eat them,” he says of devouring the bottom of an almost-empty jar.
Those fond memories were the genesis for his favorite Secret Weapon recipe: pickled pickle spice vinaigrette (see the recipe).
Wexler shakes the stuff at the bottom of the jar together with leftover pickle juice, white vinegar, water, oil, shallots and herbs. That vinaigrette then jacks up flavor in dressings, spreads and even cocktails.
At the Deli, Wexler makes plenty of pickles in-house. But he’s not advocating pickling purely for the spicy remains. Rather, he wants to bring new life to the dregs of what we already devour with gusto. “Something we normally see as trash can have another life as something really delicious,” he promises.
With that approach comes endless versatility. Dill pickles can get swapped out in favor of Italian parsley and tarragon. Indian-style mango pickles make for an exciting sweet-spicy flavor profile. Fermented pickles offer probiotic benefits. That base then indicates where the vinaigrette benefits from additional herbs, a mild versus strongly flavored oil or another kind of acid.
So get out a jar and get ready to play.
Grilled Meat and Fish Vinaigrette
With some additional fresh herbs, the vinaigrette makes a strong alternative to chimichurri or salsa verde. If you're using classic dill pickles, add fresh dill—it’ll help pick up the flavors in the brine—and parsley for a fresh bite. Then, spoon it over fatty meats like grilled rib eye, hanger steak or pork; the flavors will cut through the fat and char. But don't stop at turf. “I can’t really think of a fish I wouldn’t like it on,” Wexler says. “I love it on shellfish like lobster, shrimp, salmon . . . Just grill it and throw this over the top.”
Doctor Up a Smoked Fish Salad
Don’t know what to do with those little tins of smoked or cured sardines or mackerel? For a simple summer salad, soak the little fishies in the vinaigrette for a day or overnight, maybe with a little more olive oil. They’ll take on an even silkier quality, plus the brine and vinegar will pickle them a little more, too. “You get the brightness of the pickle spices with herbs and shallots, and then you have a little pickled mackerel fillet. On a salad—delicious!”
Bread and Crudités Dipper
For an easy dip with so much flavor, employ another leftover: stale bread. Soak the bread in water until it’s soft. Toss it in a Cuisinart or blender, start the machine up, then drizzle in enough vinaigrette to emulsify it to the texture of a thick dip, like a taramasalata. “You’ll get this pickle-y, picante, vinegary spread for a crudité or for spreading on more bread. 'Cause bread on more bread is always good.”
Whisk together equal parts vinaigrette and mayonnaise. Then, add an extra squeeze of lemon, some fresh herbs and, for a huge dose of sharpness, some grated raw garlic. The mayo makes a flavorful dip for steamed artichokes and brings sandwiches to a whole new stratosphere.
“It’s particularly great on a steak sandwich with grilled onions on a baguette, toasted and rubbed with tomato and the mayo spread on it,” Wexler instructs. “Grilled steak and the vinaigrette go really well together, grilled onions are a classic, and tomato gives you one of the most amazing textures in the world—bread that’s both soggy and crispy at the same time. Mayo makes the sandwich pop—it gives a depth of flavor and character that makes you wanna go back for more until the sandwich is gone.”
Leave Out the Oil and Pour a Morning Cocktail
Use the pickle vinaigrette in place of the straight brine in a pickleback shot. Or, “it’s the perfect thing for a Bloody Mary,” Wexler promises. Shake together everything in the vinaigrette recipe but the oil, then flavor with your favorite spicy elements, like Tabasco, tomatillos and horseradish, to taste. “It makes for an interesting Bloody Mary. You get the texture of the spices in there, and the good sour flavor as well.”
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