In days of old, people would gather up their vegetables and fruits in the summer and pickle them to survive the long and harsh winter. Even though pickling is no longer a necessity for most, the practice has enjoyed a recent boon from chefs and foodies alike. And with good reason — it can add an acidic punch to your dishes and it’s easy to do.
Paul Corsentino, Executive Chef at The National in New York City, is a pickling master who shares his expertise with us, and then recommends his favorite pickling vinegars. At The National, the team pickles everything from beet stems to jalapeños (Chef Corsentino’s personal obsession at the moment and a garnish on The National’s “ugly burger”).
For basic pickling, bring vinegar, salt, and your desired spices to a boil, then after about a minute pour the liquid over the food you want to pickle and let it refrigerate overnight in a bowl tightly covered with plastic wrap for quick use or a mason jar for preservation. The pickled vegetables or fruit will keep for about 5 to 6 months in a jar — always make sure to refrigerate whatever you pickle.
Corsentino encourages you to pickle anything you can think of, with the emphatic exception of asparagus, which he tells us is “unpleasant.” Otherwise, he suggests, start pickling now while the fruit and veggies are fresh!
Chef Corsentino’s Pickling Advice:
- Be adventurous with the spices you add to your pickling liquid: My favorite is something that has a strong flavor — very aromatic. A go-to for me is Indian long pepper. Ginger is always a good one. Then the more traditional like coriander, fennel seed, black pepper and cinnamon. When pickling cucumber keep in mind the cucumber is going to pick up a lot of those flavors so, for example, I wouldn’t use cinnamon. I would use more subtle things like black pepper and tumeric.
- Use expensive vinegar: It’s good to play around with different vinegars. We try to find out what new vinegars are out there — right now my favorite is a citron vinegar. I wouldn’t use expensive vinegar alone as a pickling vinegar. I would use a cheaper vinegar and add a touch of the other vinegar to it.
- Watch out for bubbles: If there are bubbles in the container that’s pickling gone wrong. Air got to it or there’s bacteria growing in it.
- Don’t overheat your pickling liquid: This is probably the biggest mistake people make. It’s better to underheat the liquid than overheat it. After you heat up your pickling liquid, pour it over your vegetable and then cover it. Then it becomes a matter of how long it sits in the liquid and how hot the liquid is. Generally, I let things sit in liquid overnight — less if the item your pickling is really soft, like squash and fruit.
- Use old fruit to make fruit-infused pickling vinegar: Sometimes we’ll take a bunch of bad peaches and we’ll chop them up and throw them in a vinegar, like a white balsamic, heat it up, and let it steep for a day or two. Then we’ll strain that and we’re left with a peach-infused vinegar that we’ll use to pickle other peaches.
His preferred vinegars of the moment:
- Banyuls Wine Vinegar
- Gegenbauer Noble Sour P.X.
- Huilerie Beaujolaise Vinaigre de Mangne
- Huilerie Beaujolaise Vinaigre de Citron