Welcome back to Hey Chef, a series where we ask pros around the country for tips on how to use ingredients we love. Today: pickle brine beyond the jar.
Have you been gorging on all those pickles you put up over the summer, only to find one sad cuke left swimming in brine in the back of your fridge? Don't drain the jar when the goods are gone. Instead, let some chefs guide you to giving pickle brine a second chance.
Alex Guarnaschelli graduated from Barnard College before working with esteemed chefs Larry Forgione, Guy Savoy, and Daniel Boulud, amongst others. Since 2003 she's been the executive chef of Butter in New York, is a regular judge on Chopped, a hardcore Iron Chef, and a member of Les Dames D'Escoffier.
If you said, "Make me 20 sauces," I'd probably make 20 vinaigrettes. I always find it exciting to use something other than straight vinegar, and that's where pickle brine wins. There's something about a pickle jar, with its coriander seeds and whatever else just sitting there, looking expectantly from the fridge.
So instead of starting a vinaigrette with vinegar, I'll take a neural oil like canola and a little olive oil and blend them together to get a smooth, blunt richness. Then I'll add a little pickle brine that has a good salt/vinegar combo to it. After that it honestly doesn't need much else. My mom would put raw egg yolks in our dressings as a child, shaking everything together in a jar, so I might add an egg yolk for richness, since there's something about the particular flavor of typical pickle brines that go well in rich things like mayonnaise or sour cream—it kind of has this wonderful flavor that rounds the fat out without being acidic, per se.
A Spicy Garlic Rub
Chicago's chef Jonathan Zaragoza makes classic Mexican cuisine that we can't get enough of. He's big into the local gardening scene, too, growing massive amounts of fresh produce that make it directly into the kitchens of Birrieria Zaragoza and (up until recently) Masa Azul.
Pickles are huge nowadays in restaurants—we pickle both to preserve and enhance. We pickle banana peppers really simply and then make mojo de ajo with it—basically a garlic rub—using the pickling liquid to provide the acid instead of introducing a new vinegar to the party. We take 700 grams of confit garlic (garlic cooked on low in olive oil until golden and spreadable), 90 grams of cilantro leaves or leftover stems (they have a greater flavor), 400 grams of pickled chilies, 300 grams of the pickling liquid that the peppers were in, 300 grams of oil from the garlic confit, 15 grams of salt, and mix everything together in a blender. We then sauté shrimp with it or smear it on tostones with habanero aioli. It's a multi-use thing.
A Dual-Fish Sauce
At Proof on Main in the 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, KY, executive chef Levon Wallace crafts a seasonally inspired menu that references the culinary traditions of the American South.
Particularly sour brines are really, really good with fish. If you're making a crudo or a ceviche, pickle brine has everything you need: garlic, dill, salt, and other herbs. Sometimes you just need a little bit of brine, thinly sliced fresh jalapeno, and some nice fragrant herbs like cilantro or a little more dill, and your ceviche is set.
On the flip side, if you're grilling oily fish like bluefish or sardines, brushing or mopping the fish with pickle brine really gives it a bright acidity, and some of the sugar in there will caramelize and smoke nicely. If it's a spicy pickle brine it's definitely going to cut into the fattiness that some people don't like very much.
Annie Pettry grew up gardening, foraging, and fishing in her home town of Asheville, North Carolina, and made some serious cooking stops before landing at Decca Restaurant in Louisville. A 2014 Starchefs Rising Star, her menu relies on the diverse products of Kentucky agriculture.
If you have a great pickle brine, refresh it by bringing it to a boil for a second and then cooling it down, and then pour it over another vegetable. Make pickled beets first so that the brine will be dyed a beautiful ruby-red color. Then when you're done with the beets, reheat the pickle brine, taste it to make sure it doesn't need more salt or sugar, cool it down, then pour it over soft or medium boiled eggs. Throw that in the fridge and in the morning you'll have these beautiful pickled eggs that are bright red on the outside and white on the inside.
Brined Fried Chicken Sandwich
Jeff Mahin is a chef/partner at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and the creative force behind Stella Barra Pizzeria (Santa Monica, Hollywood, Chicago, DC opening winter 2014), Summer House Santa Monica (Chicago, DC opening winter 2014), and M Street Kitchen (Santa Monica). Mahin has accumulated several industry accolades including Zagat's "30 under 30", Forbes "30-under-30" list of hospitality industry up-and-comers and Restaurant Hospitality's "13 to watch in 2013."
We use brine to marinate chicken for fried chicken sandwiches. It's got all of the flavors you want in regular brine already, so it makes the chicken super tart, tangy, salty, and moist. We do a mix of buttermilk and pickling liquid for the brine, then put it right into a seasoned flour and fry it. Bread-wise you want something soft and buttery, since you don't want crispy on crispy—we use a brioche bun. Take ranch salad dressing and buzz jalapenos in it to make a spicy, smoky ranch. That, bread, lettuce, and a piece of fried chicken...it's great.
Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly grew up in French-speaking Quebec, where he would later work at renowned Montreal restaurants including Toqué and Au Pied de Cochon. Brunet-Benkritly now serves as the executive chef/partner at Fedora and the recently opened Bar Sardine in New York City.
I like to do simple gelées with pickle brine. We do a lot of pickled cucumbers made from rice vinegar, sugar and salt, and the brine gets watered down when they're done. We season it with a little more salt and lemon for a citrus element, and then add about one sheet of gelatin per cup of brine (this varies depending on amount of salt). The gelatin sets it, and then we serve it with cold dishes, like sashimi or on oysters—pickled cucumber gelée on top of an oyster is really tasty and sexy. We have a small kitchen, and we like to do stuff that's a little sophisticated and has some prep to it, but we have to be smart with our space and time, so I have sympathy with the home cook. This looks really cool and sophisticated, but is rather simple.
Soba Noodle Dip
Quealy Watson is the executive chef and partner of Hot Joy in San Antonio, which Bon Appetit claimed for a spot on their Hot 10 list of 2014. There he marries common ingredients—Fritos and fried rice—with full-flavored touches from Sichuan, Mongolia, and beyond.
We use it in a play on a Japanese dish where you dip soba noodles into a sauce that's usually made with dashi, mirin, and sake. We mix two parts dashi, two parts pickle brine, and one part white soy sauce, which adds the flavor we want without darkening the green pickle color we're going for. It's kind of smoky because of the dashi—it lends an umami flavor that's not too fishy for me—so overall it's got a smoky-salty-tart thing. The amount of soy brings extra salt to it because when you're dipping noodles a lot of the salt drips off, and so you have to heavily season the sauce so that it comes through.
Chef Jonathan Benno worked in high positions at such esteemed restaurants as Daniel, Craft, The French Laundry and Per Se before opening Lincoln Ristorante in the heart of New York's Lincoln Center, where his Italian cuisine is familiar and comforting, yet highly refined and inventive.
Don't throw your pickle brine away. Make martinis with it instead of olive juice.
Pickled Fruits for Pastry
Pastry chef Miroslav Uskokovic worked under Jean-Georges Chef Joe Murphy (and former chef Johnny Iuzzini) before creating his own menus at George Mendes' Aldea and, currently, at Union Square Hospitality Group's Gramercy Tavern.
I make a pickle brine with a nice amount of honey for sweetness and use it to pickle various fruits throughout the year, often rotating what's in season and pairing them with a shortcake. The basic brine is honey, water, and Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar (something not as strong as a white vinegar since it's dessert and we don't want a full-on pickle). When pickling peaches, I'll add a little peach juice and a touch of vanilla and cinnamon, and then compress the fruit in that and let it sit for a few days. Peaches and pears work particularly well, but you have to kind of be careful with their firmness, using slightly under-ripe fruit so they don't fall apart. The honey gives it a nice sweetness, which pull in case it's under ripe, so the sweetness comes out.