Pickle down theory
When referring to something pickled, in this country at least, you are usually talking about pickled vegetables. But most foods can be pickled, with varying success.
There are many ways to pickle. In essence, though, it is simply a matter of submerging the foods in a vinegar/lemon (acid) or salt (brine) solution. It is a method of preserving food that has been used for centuries. Spices are often added to pickling solutions to bring further complexity to neutral flavours.
Recipes vary the salt, sugar, water, vinegar ratio, but balance is the key to the pickles’ success.
This pickled fennel recipe came about as a component to a raw fish dish. The raw fish is seasoned with a Japanese pepper and then served with the pickled fennel on the side. Pickled fennel is also a treat served on its own. Snacking on pickles at the start of a meal is a great way to activate the palate; it will also kickstart the digestive system. Pickles bring punch to composed dishes and I like to use them liberally to bring acid and complexity to a dish.
I like to serve artichoke pickles as an accompaniment to antipasti with some thick-cut salami, whipped ricotta, and crusty bread and olive oil. Pickled artichokes are also lovely added to braised lamb just before the end of the cooking. The artichokes break down during the cooking process and bring a lemony tang and depth of flavour.
What first brought my attention to the importance of pickles was this recipe for pickled radish with beetroot. I had eaten pickled vegetables before, giardiniera vegetables on Lygon Street in Melbourne, but had not really enjoyed the astringent harsh vinegar often used in bottled pickles.
Better was the pickled daikon I first ate at a Lebanese restaurant, served with a shawarma. Rolled in flatbread along with wood-grilled lamb and tabouli, the pickle was, at the time, a revelation.
Pickled artichoke hearts
– 2 lemons
– 2 tsp salt
– 8 artichokes
– olive oil
Squeeze the juice of the lemons into a bowl and add salt to taste – at least two teaspoons.
Snap off the tough outer leaves from the artichokes until you reach the softer, yellow leaves.
Use a vegetable peeler to remove the peel around the base and stem of the artichoke. Trim the top half of the artichoke leaves and use a teaspoon to scrape out the fuzzy choke in the centre of the artichoke. Cut the hearts in half if they are large.
As you prepare each artichoke, rub it with a squeezed-out lemon half to stop it discolouring then drop the artichokes into the bowl of salted lemon juice.
Pack the artichoke hearts and the salted lemon juice into a sterilised jar and pour enough olive oil into the jar to cover the artichokes. Seal the jar and leave to mature for four weeks in the fridge.
Pickled daikon with beetroot
– 1kg daikon
– 2 beetroots
– 3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
– 5 tbsp salt
– 1 litre water
– 300ml white wine vinegar
Peel the daikon and cut it into batons about four centimetres long and one centimetre square.
Peel the beetroot and cut into batons two to three centimetres long and half-a-centimetre square.
Pack the daikon into clean glass jars, interspersing it with the beetroot and garlic at regular intervals.
Dissolve the salt in the water and stir in the vinegar. Pour this liquid into the jars to cover the vegetables. Seal the jars and store in a cool place. The daikon should be mellow and ready to eat in about seven days.
Once open, store the pickle in the fridge.
Makes about 2 cups
– 250ml water
– 125ml rice wine vinegar
– 75g sugar
– 1 tbsp salt
– 2 tbsp yuzu juice
– 1 large fennel bulb
In a small saucepan over medium heat, put 250 millilitres of water, the vinegar, sugar and salt and cook until the sugar has dissolved, taking care not to let it boil. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.
When the mixture is cool add the yuzu juice. Set this pickling liquid aside.
Trim the stalks from the top of the fennel and cut the bulb in half. Using a mandolin, shave the fennel lengthways as thinly as possible then transfer it to a bowl. Pour the cold pickling liquid over the fennel, cover and refrigerate for at least two hours, or overnight, before using.
Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
2015 Pheasant’s Tears Mtsvane Kakheti, Georgian Republic ($40)
– Liam O’Brien, head sommelier, Cutler & Co.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 26, 2016 as "Pickled vegetables". Subscribe here.