Pickels w: Tarragon 2
Photo by Donna
I screwed up the brine for these and wound up with amazing short rib pastrami, below, but I remade the brine and got it right, nothing but tarragon and garlic.  I like dill and dill pickles, but I love tarragon flavored pickles, which is the dominant herb in cornichon.
I also prefer the flavor of the "natural" or "traditional" pickle, one that uses no vinegar.  Allowing lactic acid bacteria to feed on sugars in the vegetable and release acid, you create a sharp, but not vinegar-sharp, flavor. You also get the pleasure in this style of pickling of working with something that’s alive, like yeast or creating your own vinegar.  This works with most vegetables, not just cucumbers.  How do you do this, get those bacteria working for you?  By leaving the uncovered jar out on the counter for a week. That’s it.

Farmer’s markets in much of the country are offering all kinds of cukes for pickling, so now is a great time to make pickles (grocery store cukes tend to turn out soggy, not crisp). They take a week but they’re very easy to make: Figure out how much brine you need (I usually make 20 ounces or 500 grams), add 5% salt by weight (20 x .05 = 1 ounce, 500 x .05 = 25 grams), combine these ingredients in a pot with a bunch of tarragon and plenty of garlic smashed once with the flat side of a knife, bring it to a simmer, then thoroughly chill it.

Pour the chilled brine over your vegetables and put them in a cool spot in your kitchen or basement. Make sure they’re completely submerged. Taste them after seven days.  You will have a pleasantly sour, naturally fermented pickle.  If you’ve stored them in a cold place, the fermentation can be slower.  Too hot, over 75 degrees or so, and you can develop some funky sliminess on top, which you don’t want.

There’s more detailed information in Charcuterie and Ratio, of course (if you want to keep them in the fridge for a long time, you may want to reboil and chill the brine to halt the fermentation), but the variations, whether you want to make root vegetable pickles, traditional dill pickles, or spicy kimchi, are infinite and they couldn’t be simpler. And they go just fine with a short rib pastrami sandwich!

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30 Wonderful responses to “Tarragon-Garlic Pickles”

  • Scott

    Made the pickles from your book, used the homemade pickling spice described. Everything worked perfectly but still got mush on the inside. I even pulled them on Day 4 I think. They were pickling cukes…but store bought just shipped in that day. Cannot seem to find proper cukes. My flavors work just texture. Oh well, maybe next year.

    Any thoughts otherwise

  • Aaron

    How important is the humidity in the curing chamber? I had these in my converted freezer at 65 degrees for a week, and they grew white fuzzy mold and got really soft! I didn’t have the salt and water mixture in there to regulate humidity, so I am thinking that could have been the problem? Thanks!

  • sundevilpeg

    Interesting! I’m currently awash in fennel, in need to do some more thinning of the small, young, tender bulbous stalks – and this sounds like a possible use for them. Thoughts, if any?

  • Amber

    I saw little cucumbers at the farmer’s market today and thought, “Perfect! I’ll make pickles!”

  • Jayeno

    I belong to an on-line cooking site, which turned me onto garlic scapes. From there one of your members turned me on to a pickling recipe for scapes, found here, on this site. I pickle quite frequently so it will be my next adventure. And Mr. Ruhlman, I watch you on IC all the time. Interesting take on things. Thanks for this post, I adore tarragon.

  • Chris

    I made a bunch of lactofermented pickles last year (stareted w/25 pounds of cukes) and they were absolutely the best I’ve ever had. I didn’t have room in my fridge and gave many half-gallon jars away. I found they were best after six weeks or more–they became nearly effervescent. The tannic acid found in grape, horseradish, and oak leaves helps keep the cukes crisp.

  • Saye

    I assume that the pickles are not sliced in any way before they go into the brine?

  • Cookin' Canuck

    Mmm, I’m going to try this with the green beans from my garden. Leave it on the counter for a week? I think I can handle that!

  • Becky and the Beanstock

    I’ve never made vinegar-free pickles. Didn’t even realize there was such a thing until Ratio. I am addicted to all things salty and briny though, so I’ll have to try this. I’ve never had luck keeping my cukes crisp though — they inevitably get soggy and even a little slimy. I’ve used market-fresh cukes, but I do tend to slice them and wonder if that’s my problem? I made pickled scapes a few weeks back and those, so far, are coming out beautifully.

  • John Barrie

    First of all, these look truly awesome. And not at all difficult. Secondly, I followed the link to your book Charcuterie, and I have to say that it’s the first cookbook in years that I’ve felt like I had to own.

  • baltimoregon

    Yum! I bet this brine would make great asparagus pickles, since tarragon goes well with fresh asparagus. I’ll make them next season!

  • Ktmd

    I am growing “slicing” cucumbers. Do you think they would work for this, or any, pickle recipe? I realize you mentioned store bought cucumbers wouldn’t pickle as nicely, but didn’t know if it was specific to freshness or variety.

  • Patrick Snook

    I have sauerkraut on the go, and just completed my first batch of home-made hot italian pork sausage, using your recipe in Charcuterie. Bravo! Delicious!
    Thank you!

    A question about brine: I have no difficulty dissolving kosher salt in room temperature water (in quantities greater than 5% by weight solution, too). Why go to all the fuss of heating the water, cooling it, etc? I have done some reading (McGee, et al) and I don’t see any science-based rationale for heating the water to dissolve salt at this relatively low concentration. What am I missing?

    Thanks again!

  • Theo

    I have successfully done these in my apartment which stays around 75˚ in the summer, I put the crocks (I used food safe plastic or a stainless stockpot) in a storage bin with some frozen containers of water or ice and a indoor/outdoor thermometer. To keep them submerged put a plastic bag about half full of brine on top of them and make sure they are all submerged, they will get soft spots if they are touching air or air bubbles. I think the best temp is about 65-70˚ degrees although the last batch I did got up to 75˚ for a couple days and tastes fine. No, great!

  • Victoria

    We are having a positively cool summer so I think I can even make these in the City. Yum. I love the licorice taste of tarragon.

    Michael, I am still positively reeling over the lemon curd from Ratio. The mouthfeel is sublime – completely smooth – and the taste is so lemony. A real keeper.

  • Paul Kobulnicky

    In the past I have kept a “brine crock” and it is a wonderful thing indeed. Into a large earthenware crock put a standard brine solution to fill half way. Into this brine, add carrots (quartered lengthwise), green beans, onions, pickling cukes, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, radish, turnips, peppers and anything else that suits your fancy. Follow standard procedures for brine curing … cool but not cold and keep the veggies submerged. Takes about two weeks and you can keep adding stuff. The results are truly wonderful and a great way to preserve garden abundance. And, of course, you can add garlic and tarragon or other flavorings.

    Thanks for reminding me that it’s time.

  • Hope Clark

    How long can they keep? I have room in the cupboard, but not the refrigerator, and I have lots of cukes.

  • marco North

    so happy to see pickles without vinegar. if you’ve ever had a had a real Russian pickle, you would see this tradition in full glory. The Russians pickle whole heads of garlic, green apples, scapes, plums….they add a few leaves from a blackberry bush as well, which adds a really fragrant flavor – like the forest. and last – -they’ll take the pickling jar and bury it in the earth for a week, allowing the warmth of the soil become part of the process.

  • Charlotte

    Can you can these after they’re cured? I’ve done regular vinegar/salt pickles in the past and put them up for the year by hot-water canning them — and there isn’t enough room in my fridge for a year’s worth of pickles. If my cukes ever grow this year (we’re having a really cold summer) I’d like to try fermenting them in the crock I bought last fall for kraut –

  • Sean Kelly

    RE: Salt. Sea salt in bulk sections is a good deal, usually less than $1/ lb. No iodine or anti-caking agents are added.

    For getting 5% brine, the metric system is great. 50 grams in 1 liter= 5%. If you have a kitchen scale with grams and measuring cups with mL or liters, it is much easier.

  • Wilma de Soto

    This is a sour pickle, but not like the sour Kosher Pickles.

    What makes it different, or is it?

  • Yolanda

    Living in a condo in Southern California and having no basement, I’m not sure if I have a room that stays under 75 degrees during the summer. Would the same process work in the fridge? If so, how much longer would it take?

  • Natalie Sztern

    I am an old fashioned pickler but I am always up for a challenge and this sounds do-able…after all i just bought Ratios…

  • Richard

    I’d probably have to do these in the fridge, as our ambient air temperature in the summertime tends to be over 75, even with the A/C on. Although, I may be able to make some room in the wine chiller…

  • Veranda

    Is the salt intrinsic to this? My husband must follow a low sodium diet.

  • ruhlman

    yes, salt is what works the magic. you can do one night in a 5% brine then finish with a 3% brine, according to Pardus, and he does this a lot.

  • GG Mora

    Oooh. My pickling cukes are just starting to fruit & it’s my intention to add homemade pickles to the scratch BLT project. I tried making lacto-fermented pickles for the first time last year, and they were greatly disappointing…I’m thinking my curing room is cool enough (60°) that I probably didn’t let them ferment long enough?

    I love the idea of tarragon-infused pickles & have a huge tarragon plant to snatch from. But I also have a magnificent pot of dill going – so maybe I’ll just have to try a jar of each.