How to Pickle : Pickling Tips from Brooklyn Brine

Want to try pickling at home? Shamus Jones from Brooklyn Brine shares some tips.

Brooklyn Brine makes small-batch, seasonal, artisanal pickles. We asked owner/pickler extraordinaire Shamus Jones, a former chef, to share some tips for easy pickling at home. 

Even if you've never pickled before, you'll be well on your way after reading Shamus' answers to our pickling FAQs. 

For more on the pickling process, check out our photo gallery from Aida Mollenkamp's visit to Brooklyn Brine on FoodCrafters.

Brooklyn Brine pickles can be ordered online at BrooklynBrine.com, or you can check out the store's list of vendors.

For starters, what goes into a great pickling brine?
I always suggest that brine is really similar to vinaigrette. Switch out the oil for water. It's usually three-fourths oil to one part vinegar, and people can imagine what kind of herbs they like to go into a vinaigrette. That can translate to a brine.

What's a good vinegar to use?
For a simple introductory pickle, I think the best tasting is apple cider vinegar. It has a natural sweetness and natural tartness. Most recipes call for distilled white vinegar, but using apple cider vinegar instead already gives you a lot of flavor.

What about salt? How much is too much?
Go light on the salt, then taste as it's coming to temperature and adjust the salt. It's kind of like making a soup. You can taste the brine; it's not going to kill you or make you sick. A good brine should be relatively balanced on your palate, not too sour, not too spicy, not too savory, not too sweet, not too salty.

You use all kinds of flavor combinations — can you recommend some spices to start out with? 
I like a ton of garlic and a ton of dried spice — but be careful with what you're using. I wouldn't go really heavy with chili flakes or too much mustard seed. An extra tablespoon of coriander is not going to kill you, but too much of something like cumin will dominate the flavor.

What vegetables pickle well?
My favorite things to pickle are micro-seasonal. I love garlic scapes and ramps, chanterelle mushrooms, eggplant. I like to try things people wouldn't think to pickle. Of course we do cucumbers, too — one that's called Damn Spicy, one New York deli-style and we just made one using rye whiskey.

How can you ensure that your homemade pickles are bacteria-free and safe to eat?
Just really sterilize your jars; sterilize your lids. Wash and scrub whatever produce you're using. The worst is to bite into a cucumber that has dirt on it. Sometimes you can tell they didn't wash it. The risk of botulism for home pickling is so low ... if you don't get a proper seal on the lid, you will get a white cloudy effect. The jars need to be heated to 190 degrees to get a proper seal. You can look at it and know if you've done it right.

How long should you let the pickles "pickle" before cracking open the jar for a taste?
I keep them in dry storage for a month. Osmosis is happening inside the jar; it's also pulling in all the flavors. The longer you let it sit, the better it tastes. I'd let it sit two weeks to a month. If you're doing refrigerated pickle, it will expedite that process.

How is the process different for a refrigerated pickle?
With refrigerated pickle, you have your brine and just dump it over vegetables and put it in the fridge. You heat the brine just to incorporate the sugar and salt — you don't have to worry about the temperature. I'd recommend refrigerating for instant gratification.

Any more tips for novice picklers?
Pay attention to the freshness of the produce that you're using. Go to a greenmarket and know that you're going to be pickling whatever you buy that day. No one wants a limp pickle.

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