What Is A Cornichon And How Does It Taste?

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

If you've ever spotted a dish of cornichons on a charcuterie board and didn't know what they were, you might have wondered how those pickles got so small. After all, they look exactly like regular pickled cucumbers, the kind you like to have alongside your ham and cheese sandwiches, only they look like they were put through a shrinking machine. Usually less than two inches long and about a quarter inch in diameter, these adorable little garnishes taste an awful lot like dill pickles, too, only perhaps a bit less tart.

With a mild tang and a satisfying crunch, cornichons are the same pickled veggie that the English refer to as gherkins. They are dubbed "cornichons" by the French and are known as such in America as well. The unique flavor of cornichons makes them a great foil to the super-savory flavors of meat and cheese platters, and anything else that is heavy on the umami. Plus, with their tiny size, they act as an excellent little condiment, not a supersized, sour side dish like those giant pickles found in Jewish delis (which are great with pastrami and corned beef, by the way). Anyone who loves pickles will probably be dill-ighted by the petite size and subtle sourness of the tiny but mighty cornichon.

What do cornichons taste like?

Even though cornichons are first cured in salt, they don't take on an overwhelming salty flavor. Once pickled, they are tart, but not super sour. As tiny as they are, cornichons maintain a crisp texture which almost gives them a refreshing quality when combined with their mild tartness. Some describe them as a little sweet but they shouldn't be nearly as sweet as legit sweet pickles. In reality, cornichons will take on the flavors of whatever they are pickled with, whether that's peppercorns, fresh dill, sugar, or other herbs and spices.

Many times, cornichons have a much bumpier skin than regular-sized pickles and their rougher texture complements things like smooth meat patés and salmon rillettes. They are briny, sharp, and cut right through rich and fatty foods to complement what you're eating and cleanse your palate at the same time. Occasionally, you'll see jars of cornichons with tiny pearl onions and mustard seeds inside. The pearl onions are also delicious to eat and, if you pick up some mustard seeds with your cornichon, you'll get an even more tasty texture.

How are cornichons made?

Cornichons begin with a type of cucumber called gherkin cucumbers. Small, bright green, and bumpy, they remain tiny when they reach full maturity, but are deliberately harvested while young and between one and two inches in length. The pickling process begins with the gherkins being salted overnight to draw out some of their liquid. They are then soaked in vinegar and left overnight again. At this point, the gherkins and liquid are cooked, cooled, and then sealed in jars along with flavorings like herbs and those tiny onions mentioned earlier.

Anyone who cans or makes their own pickles shouldn't have a hard time making their own cornichons, too. As long as the correct type of cucumbers are used, the method is very much like making standard pickles and is pretty straight forward. They can be canned in the hot water bath method for extended storage, or placed right into the refrigerator (without the canning) if you'll consume them quicker, and no one will blame you if you do.

How to serve and where to buy them

Cornichons have been a long-time accompaniment in France to things like liver patés and meat terrines. Any rich, meaty dish is delicious with the sharp tang of these little pickles. They work with steak tartare, in egg salad and deviled eggs, and mixed into tuna salad. A very popular French sandwich called jamon buerre features a buttered baguette filled with ham, Dijon mustard, and cornichons which compliment the rich butter and pork.

Of course, any charcuterie board or relish tray isn't complete without something briny and tangy and cornichons are perfect for these. Because of their size, they are also great for cocktails, like garnishing martinis and Bloody Mary's.

Cornichons have become fairly popular and are now, therefore, pretty readily available at most larger supermarket chains. You can typically find them close to other pickles, or in the international aisle. French or other European brands may have to be purchased online, with retailers like Amazon offering dozens of brands and sizes of jars. Once you get a taste for these tart little gems, you'll probably find yourself making sure they are in constant supply in your fridge, right alongside your kosher dills and bread and butter slices.