Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Staples: A Pound (Give or Take a Few) of Pickled Padrons

I get a kick out of making pickles. The smell of brine and spices takes me back to college when, during a couple of summers, I worked as seasonal help at a pickle-packing plant during cucumber season when they fresh-packed pickles (as opposed to a long brine). I came home every day smelling like vinegar, dill, garlic and other spices. My mom frequently made me take off my work clothes in the garage and throw them directly into the washing machine before I came into the house. I was -ah- rather pungent smelling and often sticky.

I really love pickles, but it always took me a month after working there to be able to eat them again.

The worst job was sorting the cucumbers. They'd dump  bins of cucumbers onto several conveyor belts and workers, on either side of the belt would sort out any that weren't  the appropriate size or shape - depending on what they would be used for - and throw out the ucky looking cukes and any leaves or stems. The smell wasn't good, but I got used to it. The worst part was staring at a moving conveyor belt for hours at a stretch. When you looked up, you were a little dizzy and anything stationary you looked at appeared to be moving like the conveyor belt. Dumping glass (overturning boxes of glass jars at the start of the production belt to be filled with cucumbers, pickling spices and brine) wasn't bad once you got a rhythm going and adding the pickling spices wasn't too bad either.

This is exactly like the thumb guards I wore.
I think I might still have one, somewhere.
The second worst job after sorting was... Do you know why the first dill pickle's so hard to get out of the jar? Well, that's because one of our jobs was eight workers standing four to a side of a bin filled with cucumber, with the conveyor belt split to run along each side of the bin and after most of the cucumbers had been added to the jars by going through the "shaker" and the pickling spice added, we would shove in one or more cucumbers so that the jar was completely full and the cucumbers tight against the upper shoulders of the jar.

This was hard on the back and the thumbs. After I got used to it, I had thumbs of steel, but my back never acclimated. I also wore thumb guards under my gloves. As summer jobs went, it paid very well. I liked working swing because once the sun went down, the plant cooled off a little. The absolute best job was when you got to drive a fork lift. Whee!

Just a hair short of a pound.
I'm going out of town for a few days and had a surplus of Padrón peppers - Pimientos de Padrón - a generally mild chile used frequently as tapas - quickly and gently fried, then seasoned with salt. To round that out, I had about 8 really small sweet peppers. I knew that I wouldn't get to them before I left and I didn't want them to go to waste. Pickling most vegetables is dead easy and fast, especially if you're making a refrigerator pickle. If you want to make something shelf-stable, make sure you follow the rules regarding canning, else bad things may happen.
This was the last time my face got this close to the pan while cooking the brine.
Vinegar fumes can knock you sideways. Opening a window or turning on your kitchen fan helps,
once the liquid starts to come to a boil.
This brine will work with just about any peppers or other vegetables and the spicing can be adjusted to your own taste. You should let the jar sit in the refrigerator for a week before eating. I'm looking forward to eating these when I come back, in a salad, as a part of another garnish or just for snacking.


RECIPE: PICKLED PEPPERS

Inspired by Michael Symon's Pickled Chile recipe and David Lebovitz's adaptation of same.
Fills a 1-litre canning jar

I really like Michael Symon's method for estimating the amount of liquid you'll need for the brine. You can find it at the link above. I made the larger amount of brine (specified below) and had about a cup left over. I'll use Chef Symon's method the next time - or make a few pickled eggs with the remainder. As mentioned earlier, spicing is up to you. Pretty much everything after the sugar, in the ingredient list below can be adjusted, left out or swapped out for something else. Also, these are refrigerator pickles and are intended to be stored in the refrigerator, not on the cupboard shelf.

Equipment: 1-litre glass jar (or a few smaller jars) with a tight-fitting lid, one non-reactive sauce pan, 2-3 quarts in volume, wooden spoon.

Ingredients:
  • 1 lb small organic peppers (or other combination of vegetables), washed and set on a kitchen cloth to dry. Discard any that are past their prime or have bad spots.
  • 1 1/2 cups of white, distilled vinegar
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 1/2 cups of water
  • 3 tablespoons of coarse kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1" squared cube of ginger, sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons whole coriander
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 generous pinch red pepper flakes (optional).

Preparation:
Gentle press the peppers into the jar.

Add the remaining ingredients to a 2-3 quart sauce pan and bring to a boil on high heat. Reduce the heat and let the brine simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally with the wooden spoon.

Pour the brine into your canning jar in several additions of about, pressing down gently on the peppers so that the brine gets into every nook and cranny and when you press down on the peppers, there are no bubbles rising up to the top. Fill the jar to the bottom of the neck adding in as much of the seasoning as you wish. Seal the jar with the lid and allow it to cool completely. Store in the refrigerator. The peppers are ready to eat in a week.

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