I’m really into Jewish food for lunch this week. That’s probably evident from going public with the sardine and cream cheese sandwich, my secret favorite thing ever. And eschewing quinoa, relative newcomer to the trendy food scene, in favor of the rustic and delicious buckwheat kasha. Gotta stay true to those roots (unless you’re following our “updated” Hanukkah menu).
Sardine sandwiches and buckwheat kasha are both dishes that are always on a Jewish deli menu but never ordered. I place the blame squarely on delicious, show-stealing sandwiches, piled high with wondrous cured meat sliced just for you, and their accompanying bowl of dual-colored pickles, essential for cutting the meat’s richness. Contributing editor and fellow deli-frequenter Matt Rodbard calls them “new” and “old” pickles. I call them “half-sours” and “sours.” Whether they lay sliced (with or without ridges), in sandwich slices, spears, halves or even whole, they’re a sandwich’s best friend. Cured with herbs, garlic, spices or chili peppers, fished from the bottom of a fragrant barrel in the Lower East side or an unrefrigerated jar of neon-green brine, pickles are no small matter. They’re more than just a garnish atop the toothpick spine of a mammoth Dagwood.
As an addict of all things pickled, you can imagine my surprise the first time I bit into a bread and butter crinkle-cut “chip,” expecting mouth-puckering tartness and tasting mellow sweetness with just the slightest hint of sour bite. I felt betrayed. But then I discovered how delicious they are on anything that loves relish, like a fried chicken biscuit or a tricked out hot dog.
France’s simple ham and gruyère on a buttered baguette begs for a couple of cornichons, as does its griddled kin, the croque monsieur. Japan’s famed carb-warehouse, the yakisoba sandwich, isn’t complete without pink shreds of pickled ginger and who wants an Italian hero without pepperoncini? Not I. Want to see an angry Cuban, disappointed bubbie, totally confused Vietnamese person or judgmental Korean food truck vendor? Try ordering a medianoche without dill slices, a Reuben without sauerkraut, a banh mi sans pickled carrots and daikon or a bulgogi slider with no trace of kimchi whatsoever. Yikes.
So peruse this extensive Wikipedia entry on world pickles and devote some time to discovering exactly which one goes with that boring sandwich you’ve got there. I believe that brine heals all.