SFC: The Deep Pickle, Part 1

           With my recent forays in Cubano and Pickled Hot Dogs, I thought it only prudent to finally get into making some pickles myself! Well, that and the giant load of cucumbers my sister dropped on me with the recent co-op bag.

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            It was also a good way to use up these leftover Garlic Scapes I had from the previous adventure; I swear these things are just MADE for pickling. Such a strong, intense and delicious flavor, but you can’t really keep it through cooking; not to mention their interesting little texture.

            Start with actual vegetables; sliced the cucumber to a sorta-thin, sorta-thick pickle slices with a knife. If you have one, a mandolin or other set blade-in-board is great for getting something super-thin, or just keeping consistency. As you’ll see later, I also thought it’d be fun to cut a few spears just for the heck of it, see how they turned out. The scapes just got a few simple cuts; about 1-2” long.

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            Once these are prepped and ready, sitting in whatever container or jar one has or prefers (the best of these should probably be done in a jar or other highly sealed device, with a whole list of sanitary procedures and whatever; but for the simple at-home pickle, whatever will work), we can get to the actual pickle.

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            Now, there are recipes all over the net for thousands of different pickles, and personally, I almost never go off any of them. And I’m not gonna try and give you any “special recipe” to go along with all the other “special recipes” out there. For those who want to make some nice, simple pickles from whatever you have at home, all that you need to know about is the Components. Ultimately, the final balance of ANY pickling liquid will be determined by what one is trying to pickle and what sort of flavor one wants out of it.

            First and most important is Vinegar: this provides the all-important tangy, sharp qualities that make a pickle a pickle and not a brine or anything else. Generally speaking, one is using very simple, subtly flavored vinegars for it; either White Wine, Rice, or Apple Cider vinegar. IF one wants to use things like Red Wine, Sherry, Balsamic, etc, then they’re usually best added as a small part, either in tandem with others or as the base if one goes for a highly diluted pickle. That’s the second thing about the vinegar aspect; one can go from using JUST vinegar for their liquid or dilute with water, for those times they want such a sharp flavor (delicate ingredients). I myself used Rice and some White vinegar (the only ones I had in the pantry!) with about an equal proportion of Water to bulk up (another use for it, when you don’t have enough).

            Seasoning, salt and pepper, doesn’t play any more important role than in other dishes; unless one is in the rare scenario where they WANT a salty cucumber pickle or something, only use in simple pinches. Only thing to note is it’s better using the black pepperCORNS than just grinding it.

            If anything, Sugar is a bigger key; though we’re most used to the simple, bone-dry pickles of both popular and mass-produced variety, the sweetness in sugar can help round out and enrichen the flavors and mouthfeel of any pickled item. I always make sure to get some in mine, just that extra aspect on the palette is more pleasing to me vs the “just acid and spices” of a sugarless mix. And once again, the amount is gonna be determined by preferred style, as well as what one’s balance of vinegar and flavors are. I will say it’s really nice getting a lot when doing fruit pickles; sort of like a little treat to add to desserts.

            The last, and just as important, component to flavor is, of course, the actual Spices, Herbs, and Aromatics used. These can be, well, basically anything you want; can use as few as only 1-2 things to flavor or as many as 40 (warning, do not attempt 40 unless a seasoned pickle and flavor specialist!). Important to note, this is where one cranks out their WHOLE spices; avoid the grinds and powders as much as you can, using only in those situations where you HAVE to have that one flavor and don’t have anything except (I myself always get a bit of mustard into mine, but didn’t have any of the seeds this time…). One can then put these in as-is, or toast those spices beforehand; always a good bet if one’s spice mix looks like you’re trying to make your own Garam Masala.

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            Now, where the spices can, and should, simply be in the pickle mix for the entire cooking process (will get to that later), herbs are a different matter. Highly delicate, I probably wouldn’t even suggest using leaves; save those for food, and grab the flavorful but other-wise impractical stems for infusion. I myself had a whole bunch of parsley and basil stems leftover from previous use. Best put it in once one’s done with the boiling, either letting them steep briefly on their own (what I did) or having the stems stay in with the vegetables being pickled.

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            I myself used a very basic but old favorite; a few bay leaves, some black peppercorns, and mustard (again, wanted seeds, but had to use something different). Was going to also get some red pepper flakes, also a good pickle standby, but forgot; I would have normally also put in some Garlic Slices, but since I was doing the scapes anyway I figured no need.. And, since I was doing more of a bread-butter-like fella, one last, often not-well-known component; Turmeric. It adds an interesting little rich component to this classic style.

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            Well, everything is mixed together (save herbs and the veggies) and boiled until all seasoning particles are dissolved, and long enough for flavors to infuse if need be. At this point it is VERY important to be tasting, adjusting, making sure one gets the flavor they want; though be careful, that hot vinegar can be quite pungent, so keep away from the nose!

            Once we get things where we want, we get to consider the first of the Two important non-mix considerations: Temperature. We could add this pickle right now, after the boil, while it’s still hot, or we could let it cool down completely (even put in the fridge to get cold), and everything in between. This is usually determined by two things: what you’re pickling, and when you need it.

            If you need the pickle fast and/or you have something a little tougher, crunchy, big… usually certain veggies… basically could use a little “cooking” action to soften its structure, then go for Hot. This can make a pickle that’s ready in a day or two at the most; one could even make an “instant pickle” of sorts by having the veggies in the mix while it’s boiling.

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            On the other extreme, if you want to “properly” pickle for a longer time (don’t ask me what happens molecularly, I don’t really know, and don’t feel like researching, haha) and/or have more delicate items, ESPECIALLY if doing this with Fruit, then go room temp or cold. This ties in to the other factor, Time; generally speaking, those pickles that become ready in only a day are good, though a little rougher than if they were allowed to sit for at least a week.

            In a side note, I’m not sure what the call is for whole/big items; they need LONG times, though I’m not sure if they should get started with heat or not. I’d say start off with cooler pickles if you want to try whole cucumber pickles or whatever; if anything, it helps preserve color.

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            Letting mine cool down, I took the herbs out and poured it over my filled container of prepared cucumbers. Not only should this come to the top, we need to now make sure that the veggies STAY UNDER the pickle; in a jar, this is simply done by filling to the top, the seal is good enough that that’s all we need. For everything else, there are tiny plates and bowls! Great for covering most of what we need.

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            After letting it sit for a day, or a week (mine), or whenever, we now have a pickle ready to be eaten as-is or piled onto whatever sandwich, hot dog, soup, or whatever you want; or fried! So tasty fried.

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            I’d normally finish with some awkwardly-reached-for paragraph styled in the hope that it makes me look at least semi-professional, but I am so not done with this pickle thing! Stay tuned for part 2 of my Pickle post when I tackle Sauerkraut! (… it’s gonna be a while…)

SFC: The Great E”scape” to Frying!

             So my sister has recently started doing the weekly Co-op delivery thingy where she gets a giant bag of whatever produce is in season; I’m so proud, it’s such a great thing for her! Well, except for the fact that she just passes off the entire bag to me every single week from her lack of time and will to actually do anything with them… which is great for me!

            Though there is the challenge of trying to get through the entire bag each week… so many things I have to consider how to cook for the family. And then there’s the garlic scapes… so many garlic scapes… every single week.

            Oh, for those who aren’t aware, I should probably explain. When growing, garlic has these long, curly green tops; when cut off, they look like this!

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            Weird, long, curly green snake thingies that are a little bitch to cut… but they taste so good, raw at least. As-is, they basically taste like a Ramp, which tastes like a LITERAL cross of garlic and onion (not the “supposed” cross that shallots are), strong and pungent in the best ways, but mild enough to consume. Either way, I’ve been tossing it in to soups, sautés, salads, frittatas, whatever I can find… cuz I keep getting the damn things! They won’t go away!

            But either way. Been thinking of what to do with my last batch, and realized I haven’t made anything for the blog recently. And with the many fried items monopolizing the classic Street Food items, like the recent popularity of Beer-Battered Asparagus in various Trucks and Restaurants, like Starlight, deep-frying just seemed the way to go.

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            First step was, obviously, cutting these fellas down to size… it may be fun to see an entire thing fried, especially in a restaurant, but I don’t exactly have an industrial-sized pan for frying. Got the main stems and the curlies cut in two. Note: should cut off the long string/cone attached to the “bulb” at the end; there’s no real flesh or anything to it, just string and fiber.

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            Second, we need a batter; I love Tempura, but I didn’t have any club soda… and it’s not real street food if we don’t use some beer! Not to mention I have this giant batch of home-brewed Ginger (flavored) Beer that I haven’t found much use for…

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            See that G? It stands for “God Damn that’s a lot of F@%#in’ carbonation!” Well, that and Ginger… but really the former has held more true. Not exactly my best homebrew, but it works really well for things like this!

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            So, no specific recipe tonight, this batter was a wing-it. Flour, a bit of cornstarch (tempura-tradition), some salt and pepper seasoning as always. Pop the bottle and slowly add in the beer, or other carbonated beverage, until one gets the desired consistency; if too thick, add more, if too thin, get some more flour in there (what I had to do). Dip and fry.

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            Now, I sorta went for a “375F” degree for my frying temperature. Though if working with a small pot-fryer like me, which will easily drop 30-50 degrees (minimum) once adding in a bunch of things, I might suggest starting nearer to 400. Cook until batter gets that nice golden color to it. Transfer to paper towel-covered plate, sprinkle with some more salt and any other seasonings you desire.

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            And here we go, Beer-Battered Garlic Scapes! Now, as you can see, there can be quite a few sections where the batter just slides right off; normally I would say something like “just toss in flour before battering” or whatever to try and fix it, but these scape guy’s “skin” is just SMOOTH and slick, I doubt any flour would want to stick to it.

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            As for the result… taste is good, though MUCH milder than raw (the flavor tends to decrease a lot when one cooks this; which is why frying is sorta perfect, being so quick and minimal). They do tend to be very… I don’t want to say “stringy,” but something sorta similar… so it can be sorta odd trying to eat some of them. I would suggest 1 of 2 things; either blanch them beforehand, try to soften a bit. Or, even better (since I doubt that would really do anything), just cut the damn things smaller than I did. When not having a long piece to try and rip through with teeth, the unique texture is actually sorta fun and interesting.

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            Well, whether one wants to fry or do some garlic scape cookery, hopefully this post can help at least start on one’s path towards delicious! Good luck and good eating! Oh, and if anyone has any interesting Garlic Scape Experiences, do tell!

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            Look! It’s a Garlic Scape Funnel Cake!