Serious Eats: Recipes

Seriously Asian: In a Pickle

Clockwise from top: Napa Cabbage, Daikon, and Carrots; Cucumber; Daikon and Carrot.

I don't know why I chose late July of all times to start a biscuit-baking, cannel├ęs-experimenting week, but I did. The temperature in my non air-conditioned apartment must have been eighty-something degrees, and my steadily simmering pot of menudo worsened the situation. I labored in the kitchen with the sort of awful, sticky perspiration that never quite leaves despite repeated showers and cool drinks. Still, with visions of crusty cannel├ęs and buttery biscuits dancing in my head, I slogged forth until the evening, when something truly awful happened.

After hours of cooking, I realized to my great horror that I was no longer hungry.

This was something of a dilemma. If I cannot eat, then I cannot be happy. And now, I was angry to boot: angry at the heat for taking away my appetite but mostly mad at myself for being so bothered in the first place. Regaining some of my composure, I knew what I had to do.

Pickling is my answer to intolerable heat.

Pickling is my answer to intolerable heat and loss of appetite. Not gelato, not sorbet, but Asian pickled fare, which cools me down better than anything else. On a truly hot summer's night, all I want is a bowl of rice, one or two pickled vegetables dishes, and a tiny piece of fish. Best of all, on those scorching days when applying heat to one's food seems abominable, pickling is an ideal treatment for your cache of vegetables. Cucumbers, radishes, daikon, turnips, carrots, and cabbage all take well to pickling, as do about a dozen or so other vegetables.

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Pickling requires no culinary prowess whatsoever; it's simply a matter of getting everything lined up in one bowl. Furthermore, pickling can be as easy or as elaborate as one wishes. A pickling procedure may involve salting and then draining a thinly sliced vegetable, or it can be a full immersion of the vegetables in a brining liquid--or some combination of the aforementioned. As long as you're drawing out moisture and adding in flavor, then you're pickling.

20090731-weights%20on%20pickles.JPGThe versatility of the techniques makes pickling well-suited for experimentation. Taste your brine or the amount of salt as you're going along, so that you can gauge somewhat immediately whether or not your pickling will be successful. From the beginning, the pickling solution should taste powerful but balanced in terms of sour, sweet, and salty. Experiment with different types of vinegars to see what you like. For Asian pickling methods, I prefer to use rice vinegar, which is subtle but suggestive. Sometimes, I will add some apple cider, red wine, or sherry vinegar to the mix if I'm so inclined. A pot filled with water, or a heavy tin of canned food, makes a good weight to press the vegetables into the brine.

The Recipes

This week, I've chosen to highlight a trio of recipes in order to demonstrate the flexibility of the process. In the first recipe from Shizuo Tsuji, a simple salt cure is applied to cucumbers or radishes; a piece of kelp and citrus rind are thrown into the bowl for a hint of brininess and zest. Within one hour, you'll have crispy and refreshing slices that will keep for days in the refrigerator.

In the second recipe from Susanna Foo, napa cabbage, carrots, and daikon are immersed in a brining solution of vinegar, sugar, and salt. Jalapeno peppers are added for just a touch of spiciness. Though the vegetables must be soaked in the brine for at least a day, the mixture will hold for two weeks. Crunchy and juicy, the julienned vegetables are pleasantly sweet and sour.

The third recipe, from Hiroko Shimbo's excellent book The Japanese Kitchen, is my favorite pickling recipe of all time. Shimbo's technique is a hybrid process, involving an initial salting followed by a soak in a brining liquid of mirin and rice vinegar. The mirin imbues the vegetables with a winey sweetness that surpasses the abilities of plain sugar. During the summer, I try to have a bag of Shimbo's pickled daikon and carrots on hand, for any overheating emergencies involving baked goods and tripe.

Quick Pickled Cucumber

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adapted from Japanese Cuisine: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji

About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, My Chalkboard Fridge.

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