Pickles–meaning packing your own produce with vinegar in a jar that can sit on your shelf for up to a year–can be a daunting project. All that scientific sounding script about hot water baths and processing jars and acidity levels, all that effort to get out the big spaghetti pot to boil all that water and then corral your motley collection of Ball jars to clean them, and then of course you have to go out an buy new lids because yours are all rusty.
We’re lazy, just as we assume you are. So pickling rarely happens unless a group of us get together with a new box of pint jars and a stiff pour of Long Island rose. But as Millicent Souris, one of the chefs at Williamsburg’s Roebling Tea Room and one of the city’s most completely undersung cooks–we are being very serious here–reminded us at a cooking class this week, pickling doesn’t have to be that way. (We first met Millicent in the kitchen at Queen’s Hideaway, then at Egg.)
Yes, making shelf-stable Dilly Beans requires some patience, but if you want to quickly save a few pounds of produce for another week, or vinegarize your green beans or cukes or what have you to crunch during the cocktail hour or add a bit of needed brightness to a meaty sandwich (or in Millicent’s HO, nearly everything, a point that we agree on) then things are actually a little easier, especially if you’re comfortable with off the cuff decision-making. Plus, as Millicent says, we’re New Yorkers. Who has room to put all those jars in their overheated apartment anyhoo?
So below is her quick pickling recipe, designed for dinner tomorrow night or a week or four in the fridge. It calls for green beans, but you can really use any vegetable, like cucumbers or broccoli or onions or squash or garlic or carrots. It also calls for pickling spices, but you could use any mix of whole spices you like, from cumin and coriander seeds to chile flakes.
Then you just have to decide how much you think you need to cook your vegetables: You can blanch them in hot water beforehand, say if you have green beans that are large and starchy or enormous carrots. Don’t blanch cukes, as they’re too watery and soft already. And sometimes with tiny fresh sweet vegetables, Millicent won’t or even heat the brine at all, since the vegetables are already tender.
The key, she says, is just to try it: Like all cooking, over time you’ll figure out what tastes good, what makes the haricot verts mushy, what makes ’em magnificent (like Millicent). And of course there’s always all those master books of pickle recipes, but who has time for that when you have dinner plans at Roebling Tea Room?
Millicent’s Quick Pickling Recipe
Adapted from Millicent Souris, of the The Roebling Tea Room, 143 Roebling Street at Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn
3 C. white vinegar
1 C. apple cider vinegar
4 C. water
1/4 C. salt
1/4 C. sugar
Bring the above, minus the beans, to a low boil, then pour over a few handfuls of wax or green beans in some container that won’t react to high heat or vinegar, let cool, and then refrigerate until they taste good. That’s usually at least a day. Throw them away when they smell or taste bad. That’s usually after a few weeks.