Crispedy, crunchedy … the perfect pickle is now a killer snack

I accidentally stumbled upon the perfect and most crowd-pleasing snack … one that anyone can make using their favorite spices and crunchy details. I learned to make pickles just last summer, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to make a delicious pickle. Honestly I am constantly surprised when I learn how easy it is to make something from scratch instead of buying it packed with preservatives and salts (not the least of which are salad dressing, mustard, bacon and sauces), but this one still blew my mind.

The principle is this: there’s a difference between pickling and preserving. Preserving entails freezing something or cooking and sealing it in such a way that means you can store it in a mason jar on a shelf for an indeterminate amount of time.

If you want to make pickles that you seal in a mason jar and store on a shelf in your pantry or basement for months and/or years, you need to follow a specific recipe that creates a certain pH level and makes it safe for whatever vegetable you are canning to be sealed in a jar using either a hot water bath or a pressure canner.

BUT … if you just want a jar of fresh pickles, that you’ll keep in the refrigerator and NOT store in a cupboard or pantry, you don’t need to worry about any of that. You can make your pickles as spicy, as vinegar-y, as sweet, or as herby as you like, using whatever vegetables you love the most. It’s really quite brilliant.

From left, pickled eggplant, sweet peppery pickled cherry tomatoes and dill cucumber pickles. The results of my first hands-on pickling class.

For this recipe, I used some lovely whole baby cucumbers, with one end trimmed ever so slightly to fit four of them into a quart-sized wide mouth jar. The only thing you need to keep in mind is the time … refrigerator pickles take a long time to get their full flavor, particularly when the flavor needs to permeate a whole cucumber of a slice of one. I let these sit in the fridge for over 2 months before I sliced and pickled them.

Make the pickles according to your own tastes, but for me, it’s sweet and dilly.  Stuff a mason jar with four baby cucumbers, a clove of thinly sliced garlic, and one tablespoon each of kosher salt, whole peppercorns and dried dill. Then I brought two cups white vinegar, two cups water, and one cup sugar to a boil (just enough to dissolve the sugar and bring it to a rolling boil), and pour it directly into the mason jar. Once the jar is cool, refrigerate it until you’re ready to use the pickles.

I cannot stress enough the degree to which the flavors of this pickle are all up to you. Add peppers or even jalapenos. Add extra garlic to spice it up, or extra sugar (even honey) to make it sweeter. Maybe use red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar for a different depth of flavor, or omit the vinegar altogether and pickle your cukes in nothing but water and salt, if that’s the way you like to eat a cucumber. It’s all up to you.

Then, we fry them. Fried pickles are a staple at many southern restaurants, and during my time in Tennessee and Texas, I had fried pickles a few times (not to mention a myriad of other fried things), and honestly I didn’t care for them very much … mostly because I really didn’t like pickles in any form. Now that my tastes are progressing, and now that I can make my own pickle just the way I like it, my chances of loving these little fried bits of goodness grow exponentially.

Now comes the fun part! You can take this custom-made pickle and make it into the most crowd-pleasing snack ever. The only tools you need are a serrated knife (seriously) and a pan for frying.

Heat your oil and slice your pickles using a serrated knife. Those ridges will help the crispy goodness to stick to your pickle during the frying process.

While your vegetable oil is heating, prepare a bowl of egg wash (eggs beaten with a little water) and a dish of flour and of your favorite crispy coating. I used panko crumbs, but you can use any seasoned or unseasoned breadcrumbs, corn meal … hell, use Doritos or corn flakes if that’s what blows your hair back.

Coat each slice in flour, then dip in egg, then coat in the crispy crumbs, then drop into the oil.

Cook for about a minute on each side or until they are golden brown.

I like to serve these with a little bowl of mayo mixed with a few tablespoons of the brine from the pickle jar. It’s amazing, but honestly, you don’t need a dip.

Eat them quickly – they’re best when freshly fried.

I almost forgot to take pictures first, and this was very nearly my best photo of the fried pickle project.

A taste of class on a budget: homemade paté

Paté is one of those dishes that people assume is difficult to make, exotic to taste, expensive to buy and luxurious to afford. But it doesn’t have to be! With a little work and the right tools (a smoker and a food processor), you can make a delicious paté for a great price.

I am lucky enough to have scored an invitation to a lovely Thanksgiving dinner, and since my help was not needed for making the turkey (although I make a nice juicy bird, if I do say so myself) or any other cornerstones of the holiday meal, I volunteered to make a cheese plate for an appetizer, including fancy cheese, cold cuts, homemade paté and sweet pickles. The cheese was storebought, but even the homemade parts of this plate were awfully easy to make.

For the pickles, I used this basic pickling spice and recipe, only obviously I used a variety of fresh veggies, and I also added a little star anise and clove for a little sweetness.

The paté was very easy to make  – although nothing is as easy as making refrigerator pickles:

Smoked Chicken Liver Paté

  • about 2 lbs. of chicken livers, trimmed
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cloves fresh or roasted garlic
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • fresh herbs (I used rosemary)
  • Worchestershire sauce
  • salt and pepper

I got two pounds of chicken livers (they’re so cheap, just over $1 each) and seasoned them with Worchestershire sauce and some seasoned salt and pepper. Keep in mind that this recipe works just as well with any type of liver — even the one from your Thanksgiving turkey.

I put the livers on my smoker, and I used wood chips made from the oak barrels they use for aging Tabasco sauce. It added a lovely-scented smoke to the livers (although feel free to use your favorite type of wood chips and your own favorite seasoning). You may also want to smoke some garlic at the same time, or roast it in your oven, just to kick it up another notch.

After smoking for about an hour at 200 degrees, the livers should be no longer pink (although a tiny bit of pink is OK). Make sure they cool completely — you can even do the smoking a day or two before.

First, chop the garlic and onion as finely as possible (not necessary if you have roasted or smoked the garlic), or grate them into the food processor. Then blend them in the food processor with the fresh herbs and 3 tbsp. butter. Pulse the mixture a few times to make sure the onion and garlic is as paste-like as possible — no one wants a big chunk of fresh garlic in their paté! Add the livers and pulse the mixture a few times to get the livers broken down as well, then slowly pour the cup of white wine into the food processor until the mixture is your desired consistency (you may not need it all).

I like my paté a little on the thin side, just thick enough that it will hold to a piece of bread or a cracker. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I served this as part of an epic Thanksgiving cheese plate with those pickles, lots of delicious cheeses and cold cuts — if you’re in southern California check out my friends at Venissimo CheeseThen, for dessert I cooked a wheel of brie on a cedar plank with roasted cherry/jalapeno jam. This is the “before” photo — and there isn’t an “after” photo because it pretty much disappeared within a few minutes.