What’s the dill-io with the culinary world’s pickling obsession? Once a simplistic, sweet-salty topping, relegated to the sandwich sidelines, the humble pickle has truly gone gourmet. From farmers’ markets to fine dining restaurants and even cocktail bars (hello, picklebacks!), you can’t miss the pickle’s recent surge in popularity.
“We wanted to get creative with vegetables in a way that hadn’t really been done much before,” says Jaime Felber, beverage director of Boulton & Watt in New York City, which currently offers nine unique varieties of pickles on its menu. “It’s a great, fun challenge to take the traditional pickle with its savory connotations, and turn it on its head with things like sweet pineapple with habanero, mint and basil, or baby zucchini with rosemary and garlic.”
Wine lovers are in on the pickle craze, too, despite that pairing wine and pickles can be tough because of their equally high-acid levels. It's helpful to keep in mind the herbs and spices used in the brine and the sweetness level of the pickled ingredient when selecting a wine. Versatile rosés and Rieslings are go-to pairings for a variety of recipes.
“Each pickle requires a reevaluation of the notes your palate registers,” says Felber. “With each fruit or vegetable you choose, the acidity level will change, as will the wine notes that come through.”
Get ready to pass the jar. Wine Enthusiast hand-picked wine-and-pickle pairings from coast to coast: Here are our six favorites you should make at home now.
Pickled Louisiana Shrimp
Recipe courtesy Phillip Lopez, chef, ROOT, New Orleans
Since New Orleans is a seafood lover’s paradise, it’s no surprise to see pickled shrimp pop up on menus, like Chef Lopez’s pickled Louisiana shrimp and shrimp-stuffed eggs, served at his trend-focused Warehouse District restaurant. Eaten on their own, these quick-pickled shrimp make a delicious, wine-friendly starter.
24 poached shrimp (recipe follows)
18 pieces, or 2 whole jalapeño, thinly sliced
2 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped
1 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped
2 lemons (zest and juice)
1 teaspoon shallots, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup rice vinegar
¼ teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a large, non-reactive bowl, combine cold, poached shrimp with jalapeños, herbs, lemon zest and juice, shallots, garlic, olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and toss well. Let the mixture sit for at least 15 minutes to marinate. Serves 6 as an appetizer.
For poached shrimp:
1 gallon water
2 lemons (halved and squeezed of juice while reserving halves for the brine)
2 onions, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
4 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon whole coriander
4 tablespoons brown mustard seeds
¼ cup granulated garlic
¼ cup granulated onion
¼ cup celery salt
¼ cup Spanish paprika (picante)
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
2 ½ cups Kosher salt (more if desired, to taste)
3 quarts ice cubes
24 peeled, tail-on Louisiana shrimp
Add water, lemons, onions, celery, herbs and spices to a large pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and taste for seasoning. Adjust salt content to your preference, though note that when cooked items are chilled, the perception of salt content will diminish slightly, so intentionally over salt slightly to compensate.
Add the ice cubes to a separate plastic container and pour 4 cups of the hot boil over ice to create a flavored ice bath to shock shrimp. Place shrimp in the remaining shrimp boil and poach for 10 minutes or until shrimp are fully cooked. Remove shrimp from the poaching liquid and place in seasoned ice bath. Once cold, remove shrimp.
Proprietor and General Manager Maximilian Ortiz likes to pair ROOT’s Louisiana pickled shrimp with Les Chataigniers 2012 Sancerre. “The wine’s crisp acidity and mineral notes are a wonderful complement to the quick-pickled shrimp,” says Ortiz.
Pickled Pineapple with Habanero, Mint and Basil
Recipe courtesy David Rotter, chef, Boulton & Watt, New York City
This pickle recipe manages to be sweet, spicy and refreshing all at the same time, getting heat from habaneros and a cool kick from mint. At this hot spot, all pickled dishes—like Brussels sprouts with garlic and dill, or mangos with allspice and lime—are served in jars.
1 star anise
¼ stick of cinnamon
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 tablespoon mustard seed
3 sprigs thyme
1 teaspoon chili flakes
2 quarts distilled vinegar
3 quarts water
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons salt
1 whole pineapple peeled, cored and cut into bite size chunks
½ habanero pepper
2 sprigs basil
5 sprigs mint
In a large bowl, combine herbs and spices with vinegar, water, sugar and salt to form pickling liquid. Bring mixture to a boil. Then lower flame and let simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and reserve liquid.
In a separate bowl, combine pineapple chunks with habanero, basil and mint. Pour the strained pickling liquid in. Cover and let sit for an hour before placing in the refridgerator to chill for a few hours. Pickles keep for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Beverage Director Jamie Felber suggests a rosé to match with the pickled pineapple, specifically the light and fruity Moulin De Gassac 2011 Guilhem Rouge from Pays d’Hérault in the Languedoc. “It’s Grenache based and has simple but pleasant, ripe red fruit characteristics with a touch of rose petal,” says Felber. “The wine would serve mostly as a refreshing foil to the dish rather than an accent to any particular flavors.”
Asian Box Pickled Vegetables
Recipe courtesy Grace Nguyen, executive chef, Asian Box, Mountain View, California
Executive Chef Nguyen’s pickled daikon and carrots recipe is a hit at Asian Box—a fast-casual restaurant with a cult following in no small thanks to its “box topper” pickles (the menu offers different combinations of rice or noodle bases, with proteins, vegetables, pickles and spicy sauces as toppings). Whether you put these pickles on an Asian-style boxed lunch of your own creation, or eat the veggies on their own—the subtle sweetness of the carrots and daikon is addictive.
7 cups water
3 cups vinegar
3 cups sugar
½ cup salt
2 pounds carrots, julienned
2 pounds speared daikon, cut into pieces ½-inch thick
Mix water, vinegar, sugar and salt together in a large jar. Stir well to dissolve sugar and salt. Add julienned carrots and daikon. Let mixture sit for 24 hours before using. Pickles keep for 10 days in the refrigerator.
Culinary Director Chad Newton recommends Domaine Weinbach’s 2011 Riesling Cuvée Théo from Alsace to match the recipe, calling attention to the wine’s residual sugar content. “The sugar from the wine helps bring out the natural sweetness in some of our core ingredients and complements the spiciness without competing,” says Newton.
Lavender Pickled Turnips and Parsnips
Recipe courtesy Greg Baker, chef/owner, The Refinery, Tampa
Everything’s made in house at this Tampa eatery (from the salad dressings to sausages), and The Refinery’s pickles are no exception. There’s something magical about the floral note in these pickled root vegetables—demonstrating how just a hint of lavender can lift and define a dish.
4 cups water
2 cups cider vinegar
3 tablespoons Kosher or sea salt
1 cup sugar
12 garlic cloves
6 bay leaves
2 tablespoons corriander seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers, or 4 sprigs fresh lavender
1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 pound turnips, peeled and cut into matchsticks
Combine water, cider vinegar, salt, sugar, herbs and spices in a nonreactive sauce pan and bring to a boil to dissolve sugar and salt. Remove from heat and allow it to cool to room temperature.
Place the turnips and parsnips in a clean, non-reactive bucket or other vessel and pour enough brine over them to cover. Weigh the vegetables down with a clean plate, nonreactive pie pan, or plastic lid so that they remain submerged for the duration of the pickling. Place the vessel in the refrigerator and allow the vegetables to pickle for 1 week or longer, depending on your taste. Refrigerated pickles keep for up to 1 month.
“My ideal pairing with this dish for the summer months is Château Grande Cassagne’s 2012 Costières de Nîmes Rosé,” says Michelle Baker, co-owner of The Refinery. “The fruitiness of the parsnips play well off of the white pepper notes and the pepperiness of the turnips plays well off of the strawberry and dark-plum notes.”
Pickled Green Strawberries
Recipe courtesy Kevin Nashan, chef/owner, Sidney Street Cafe, St. Louis
Pickled green strawberries were arguably this year’s “it” pickle—and star in this St. Louis restaurant’s foie gras torchon dish, though Chef Nashan also pickles some other fascinating food items, including walnuts and lardo.
2 cups water
2 cups rice wine vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon celery seed
3 tablespoons salt
1 pint green strawberries
In a pot, bring the water, vinegar and sugar to a simmer. Add the cinnamon, celery seed and salt. Slowly let steep without reducing the liquid on very low heat for 30–45 minutes. Taste and adjust as desired, then remove from heat.
Rinse the green strawberries and put in a large sealable plastic bag. Strain the liquid and cool. Once the pickling liquid is room temperature, add to the strawberries. Seal and cure in the refrigerator for 1–2 weeks before using. Pickles keep for up to 1 month refrigerated.
Chef/Owner Nashan recommends pairing the pickled strawberries with a Jackson-Triggs Vidal Icewine from the Niagara Peninsula in Canada. “The sweetness of the icewine balances out the high acidity and tartness of the pickled green strawberries,” says Nashan. “Being so young, the strawberries also have a vegetable-like quality, and the wine has similar grassy notes, which makes for a perfect pairing.”
Recipe courtesy Edward Lee, author, Smoke & Pickles (Artisan Books, 2013)
Created by Top Chef alum, restaurateur and cookbook author Edward Lee, these Bourbon-pickled jalapeños can be used for garnishing dishes, in cocktails or on their own, straight out of the jar. Use caution when handling jalapeños because the pepper juice can burn.
1 pound jalapeño peppers
1¼ cups distilled white vinegar
1 cup Bourbon
½ cup honey
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
2 bay leaves
Wearing disposable gloves, slice the jalapeño peppers into ¼-inch-thick rounds. Transfer to a jar.
Combine the vinegar, Bourbon, honey, coriander seeds, salt, mustard seeds and bay leaves in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 5 minutes.
Pour the hot liquid over the peppers and seal the jar with a tight-fitting lid, let cool to room temperature and refrigerate for 3 days. Pickles will keep up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Chef Lee looks to Mas de Gourgonnier’s 2011 Les Baux de Provence Rosé to pair with the Bourbon-pickled jalapeños. “This delightful and simple rosé is a perfect match to dance with the peppers without intruding on all the complex layers of flavors,” says Lee.
Pickling Tips: While recipes can vary widely, most pickle makers follow these five basic steps:
1. Thoroughly wash the vegetables/fruits you’ve selected to pickle.
2. Cut vegetables/fruits into even-sized spears, bite-sized pieces or slices and pack tightly into glass canning jars (or other container).
3. Prepare a basic brine: For every pound of vegetables/fruits, use 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup water, ½ cup sugar and 1 tablespoon Kosher or pickling salt (feel free to add herbs and spices to taste).
4. Carefully fill jars with brine (usually up to within ½ an inch of the top of the rim, submerging the vegetables completely).
5. Seal and refrigerate. While times vary between recipes and depend on ingredients, a general rule is to let pickles refrigerate for at least one week but not longer than one month.
Pickling Tricks: Chefs dish their pickle secrets
1. “Always try to use the freshest in-season produce when choosing what you’re going to pickle,” says Chef Rotter. In September, scour your local farmer’s market for inspiration: French beans, carrots, cauliflower, artichokes, bell peppers and cabbage make interesting late summer/early fall pickling choices.
2. Before adding spices to your brine, “toast them to bring out their full flavor,” suggests Rotter. Spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, mustard and coriander add extra fragrance to pickles. To roast, simply place spices in a dry nonstick sauté pan and toast over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, or until fragrant (seed spices will darken or pop when ready).
3. “Fresh herbs always add an added burst of flavor to pickles,” says Rotter. Get creative with the herbs you select: Beyond the common dill and garlic found in most supermarket pickles, experiment with basil, oregano, thyme, mint, sage, rosemary and chives. Leftover herb twigs and stems can add flavor and visual appeal to your pickle jar.
4. It may seem obvious, but when you’re ready to taste your pickle masterpiece, always use a fork to pull the pickles out of the jar. “Don't stick your fingers in the jar, or they might contaminate the remaining pickles,” says Chef Lee.
5. Once you’ve run out of pickles, don’t discard the brine. “Save the pickling juice,” advises Lee, for use in “vinaigrettes and in cocktails in small amounts for a little kick.” Pickleback, anyone?