Pardus Pickles, photo by Donna

Chef Pardus blew through Cleveland a couple weeks ago, and with summer in full swing we had loads of little cukes on hand (we also did veal heart again, got it on video, stay tuned).  While there was much to do in getting dinner out (tongue salad with new potatoes, calves liver and onions, corn relish, cucumber sunomono, grilled foie gras (grilling foie takes some serious attention!), and the grilled heart with an herb shallot vinaigrette—Pardus found time to get my pickles on the cure.  Because of time constraints and other issues, he didn’t add aromatics.  What he did was make a 3% brine.

I have for years been using a 5% brine for everything, pickles, chicken, pork, etc.  But this 3% worked great and I’m thinking that if you’re not going to be removing more salt through cooking (as you might a corned beef), 3% is the magic number.

The pickles above actually got about two weeks at summertime basement temps (oops!) and I found a big matt floating on top—looked like vintage 1970′s shag carpet.  I dumped the carpet and the brine, rinsed the pickles thoroughly, made a new brine with garlic and bay and refrigerated it all.  They are intensely tart from the long cure, and I love them; you’d never believe no vinegar was used.  And the aromats afterward flavor the pickles nicely.

Next time, here’s the plan:

1 liter water

50 grams sea salt

aromats (bay, garlic, dill, tarragon, black pepper, coriander, red pepper flakes, what you will)

1 liter water

30 grams sea salt

Cure pickles at room temp for 7 days or till desired tartness.  Make a new brine, this time, 3% salt, new aromats, return pickles and new cooled brine to the jar and refrigerate at least a couple more days for the salt to even out. (Our book Charcuterie goes into this in more detail, as does Ratio.  And there are a number of good pickling books out there–if you have a favorite, please call attention to it in comments).

Remember, you don’t have to use cukes: use turnip, cabbage, kohlrabi, carrots, or even those blasted chard stems!

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66 Wonderful responses to “CSA Pickles: Revised Ratio!”

  • BrandonA

    Thanks for this. I just made pickles using the ratio from your book and they were quite salty. I just got a new patch of fresh pickles and I think I’ll try the 3% now.

  • Reuben

    The Joy of Pickling is another great reference – lots of great brine pickle recipes.

    Michael – Without any tannins or such – how is the texture on these?

    • ruhlman

      these were dense with good crunch. i frankly don’t know what maintains the crunch. some say the minerals in sea salt, so that’s what i use.

  • David

    Michael: Why not just add 650 ml of water after the week-long room temp fermentation? That way you take the salt down to the desired 3% without wasting all that delicious brine.

    My favourite pickling book–especially for no-vinegar recipes like this–is Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation. Following his lead I always add a handful of oak leaves (grape or horseradish also work) to my pickle crock to enhance crunchiness.

  • Rachel Ward

    Do you plant a certain variety of cucumber? My cucumbers don’t have very great texture, the centers seem especially mushy. Would love any pointers.

      • Kathleen Leverett

        I asked my farmer’s market produce stand attendant/daughter of the farmer… I had same prob, plus holes in the cucs and assumed she would say “uneven watering/not enough water”. So wrong! The opposite was true – TOO much water/too frequently. I switched to every other day, less water, and ceased watering the day after a rain , at her suggestion. The next harvesting just a few days later was nearly perfect. Did same with my squash and yield has improved

  • Rachel Ward

    Oh, and where do you get your jars? Love the flip tops!

    • ruhlman

      i don’t know that either. they seem to reproduce in my basement. i’ve never actually bought one!

  • Karen Downie Makley

    oh! you can remove the scary stuff and keep going?? i used my grandmother’s salt/water/pottery crock/cheesecloth/quiet-spot-in-the-garden method a few years back and thought i was going to poison everybody with the hairy-scary brine, so i pitched the whole thing. but i’ll try grandma’s method again if you are still standing!

    • Jim

      I have an old recipe from Ronnie’s Restaurant in Orlando (Kosher). They made outstanding brine pickles, placed free on the table. To keep the fuzzy stuff away, they place slices of stale rye bread on top during fermentation. Works great, just lift them off carefully when fermentation is done.

  • Rhonda

    Ruhlman,

    I am going to try this (Brine Ratio).

    I need to pickle some fresh beans for “Ceasars” (NOT GIRLY Bloody Mary drinks) for you and @sistercarri. And then, teach you how to make them. Clam Juice, people — clam juice.

    Carri sent me outrageously good jam and pickles. Sisterly payback is needed and if I can find the opportunity to do so, I will take it.

    If this works out, I will rock your Writer’s Blocks! If not, I’m pretty sure we won’t care after 2 and move on.

    For me, this is a Win-Win

    :)

    • Carri

      Oh, Rhonda…your making me very, very thirsty! Seriously, clam juice? my curiosity is peaked!

  • Debbie Fox

    I love “The Joy of Pickling”. I have pickled asparagus, cauliflower, and now two kinds of pickles using cucumbers: a no-brine method, or quick dills, and traditional, brinded cucumbers. I love the asparagus and cauliflower. The cucumbers have to wait a few weeks before tasting. I also enjoy Eugenia Bone’s book “Well Preserved”, where I got the recipe for pickled cauliflower. I think I’ll pickle everything this year!

  • Steve

    I’m just starting my first batch of pickling and I had a question. If I am going to do speares or chips, do I cute the cukes before the first brine, second brine? Any help would be great. Thanks.

  • Marc

    Last year I used grape leaves to line the crock (plastic food grade bucket) and over the top. Supposedly the tannin in the leaves help with maintaing the crunch. The definitely maintained their crunch over months in the fridge so I’ll be repeating!

  • rockandroller

    We’ve found ours mushy in the center too. I wonder what causes that.

  • Nick (Macheesmo)

    I REALLY need to make some pickles. They are my favorite food and yet I’ve never made them. What’s my problem?!

    Doing this very soon.

  • Dave_C

    In a pickling class, the instructor mentioned that you need to cut about 1/16″ to 1/8″ off the blossom end of the cuke. There are enzymes in the blossom end that will cause the pickle to soften.

    • David in San Antonio

      Thanks, Dave_C. I haven’t had that problem (yet) but there’s no reason not to do it.

  • Chuck

    Why do you post recipes in the metric system?
    This country tried to have the metric system rammed down our throats, by those that stood to profit by its inclusion. It was overwhemingly rejected. Post in ounces and pounds; cups, quarts and gallons.
    You live in the United States of America, not the United Kingdom, you dolt!!

    • David in San Antonio

      It’s easy to see that you are not in the medical profession, where you’d be dealing with cc’s of this and grams of that.

      Also, what could be easier than adding 50 grams of salt to a liter of water to make a 5% brine?

      • Chuck

        There are things in life that require exact measurements.
        That’s why bakers come in way before line chefs.
        Your medical metaphor doesn’t merit mention.
        It makes me wonder how the citizens of Japan, China and Korea
        Manage to do their pickling. Do you really think that rural Korean’s use exact measurements when pickling their Kimchee?
        If you can’t pick up an exact teaspoon of sugar or salt then you need to practice. Almost all cooking is instinctive. Get caught up in exact measuring (absent baking) and things grind to a halt.

    • Mantonat

      If you are using a digital kitchen scale, it’s usually just the click of a button to go from standard to metric measurements. Even most analog scales have standard and metric lines. Seems like my volume-based measuring cups (everything but the spoons) have standard and metric.

    • pastrymann

      Chuck, it is not the United Kingdom but rather the entire world that uses the simple metric system. If you knew anything about the culinary field this would of been obvious to you. Big biz rejected metric as being to expensive to retool.

    • ruhlman

      ok,

      32 ounces of water
      32 x .03 ounces of salt

      is it really easier to weigh out .96 ounces of salt?

    • Jennifer

      Because it is SO much easier to figure out a 3% ratio using metric. There are several great conversion calculators on the web. 30 g = 1.058 oz. 50 g = 1.764 oz. (by weight, not volume). 1 liter = 33.81 oz (or just over a quart). I, for one, wish we HAD gone metric.

  • David in San Antonio

    @Rachel: Those are French canning jars (I have a batch of cucumber pickles going in one at this very moment). I got mine at the Container Store, but if you don’t have one where you live, you could call around to cooking supply places. As a last resort, you could find several sources on Google.

    • Rachel Ward

      Thanks for the help, David. I will check into google–I didn’t know the name for them!

  • Emily

    Chuck, do you really want to measure out 1.06 ounces of salt? Metric is vastly easier for any recipe where you’re trying to use relative amounts of anything, or small amounts of anything (since grams are a smaller base unit than an ounce, and almost any cheap digital scale measures grams easily). And it’s just better in general.

  • Linda

    In Romania tradition says brine should be salty enough to float an egg until a quarter-size (says I) part of its shell shows at the surface of the liquid. To keep cornichon dills pressed down in the jar, they use sour-cherry tree twigs. Small pieces of horseradish are also added.
    Other delicious pickles: carrots, cauliflour and green/bell peppers stuffed with sauerkraut.

  • Chuck

    The rest of the world.
    Every time I hear this the only answer is the rest of the world
    Would like to be over here.
    Ruhlman, bless your heart, you measured the salt; .96 oz.
    You can’t use three fingers and pick up an oz. of salt?
    You, of all people, know how simple cooking can be.
    Why make it difficult. Recipes printed by professional chefs never point out the techniques and chemistry knowledge required to make the recipe work. No wonder Bourdain works your rear end over.

    • Rhonda

      Chuck,

      Ruhlman is not writing for Chefs exclusively. He is also a fantastic teacher for home cooks.

      Internationally, the metric system is used. Sorry to break that to you old Chum.

      Home Cooks may need a scale because they do not understand what a finger pinch is — little on a three finger pinch.

      Lighten up, Poodle. No one is asking you to become a Pastry Chef.

      • Chuck

        Ruhlman
        I apologize. I should not have been so flip.
        It was uncalled for. You do good work. You didn’t deserve that.
        As for the rest of you, be advised:
        Recipes are not commandments set in stone.
        They are guides down a new and winding road.
        They are the wind through the trees.
        There are uncountable numbers of people all about the world
        That prepare wonderful food without the use of a metric, standard conversion scale or any other measuring device.
        Learn to use your nose; your eyes; the tactile feel of your fingers. Take your face out of the printed recipe, stand up straight and have fun. Don’t be afraid to fail.
        Oh, yeah. Keep your knives sharp
        Chuck

    • Dave_C

      The current topic is pickling which is a form of food preservation.

      Scientific research has gone into pickling and food preservation. The results of the science is the 3% (by weight) number gives the best results.

      Sorry to break the news to you, but with food preservation and food safety you have to be more accurate than using a pinch here and a pinch there.

  • rich

    Q: What’s a dolt?
    A:World English Dictionary
    dolt — n
    a slow-witted or stupid person
    probably related to Old English dol stupid; see dull ]

    So it’s OK to use Old English insults but not international measures? LOL!!

  • marco

    correction – Russian pickles are made with any number of aromatic leaves, not necessarily Oak. I can say the most popular are blackberry leaves in my experience (and I’ve been living in Moscow for almost 4 years).

    Russians pickle green apples, which really create on an umami experience with the combined salt and fermentation. There is alos a great tradition of stuffing a red pepper with an onion and then pickling it. So nice to slice them open and have layers of different flavors that are created when they interacted in the process.

  • chadzilla

    Could the nice tartness have developed from fermentation during the ‘mold’ moment… as with sour pickles?

  • Paul

    I have a surfeit of long hothouse type cukes (Japanese longs and Armenians) that I will give this a shot on. I also have just harvested my onions and most of the small bulbs will go in their too.

  • claudia @ceF

    geeshk… tough room, ruhlman

    and the pickles au naturale in just the 3% were quite delicious after just a few days… we quite liked them as they were and could not have imagined them any saltier.

  • Mike

    This sounds great and I put some cucumbers in a jar to pickle tonite, starting with the 5% solution. However I roughly chopped some garlic as well to flavor it, and the garlic is floating at the top of the brine. Should I fill the brine as much as possible and then screw on the top? I’m afraid of some fermentation in the brine that could cause the jar to burst.

  • -dsr-

    Chard stems!

    Dice them, dice an equal weight of onion, and saute together until the onion is translucent. Mix sugar into vinegar at about 1 tbsp per cup; pour into the vegetables and simmer over low heat until the liquid is reduced by 2/3. Makes an excellent relish for steak.

  • patrad

    anyone know where to source the mini-cukes that you’d find pickled in the store as baby dills . . or the european cornichon?

  • luis

    Hello!… not saying.. but I am saying….. this is a breakthrough in brining Michael. Chef Pardus and you are a class act. I will again shamelessly copy your new recipe and get to work on it. Excellent Post Michael and I look forward to more..yours and.chef Pardus podcasts…This is great!

  • allen

    We were having dinner on the porch last night and saw a large branch from our apple tree crash to the ground loaded with young unripe apples, which I will spend my Sunday picking and drying and saving the wood for smoking pastrami and bacon. I will be trying Marco’s recipe for pickled apples, we have lots of young blackberry leaves too. Something tragic may turn into something delicious, thanks Marco

    • marco

      brilliant! please let us all know what you think of it. the salty, aromatic pickled green apple has found it’s way into a lot of my dishes. in a funny way, it’s versatile like preserved lemon. the right amount in a salad, as a garnish, as part of a side (think using these with a quick stewed red cabbage).

  • Michelle

    Not sure if this is the correct place to post a question about a cooking appliance, but I was wondering how you feel about slow cookers. It’s hotter than you know where, and I’m a busy working gal, and thinking this might be a great way to cook some beans, or a roast, and keep the heat out of the kitchen. Any recommendations or should I just stick to the good old Le Crueset in the oven?

  • Dave

    Was at the Boathouse in Central Park recently and had a pickled peach. It was served with a nice pork chop. I was able to duplicate them at home, but they’re vinegar pickles, not the fermented one described above.

    I just saw a recipe for pickled watermelon rind – looking forward to trying that.

  • Jeremy Hulley

    I’ve got some cukes, pickling spice and garlic in a giant gallon jar and a 3% brine with sea salt. I took the extra cucumbers and but them in another jar in the traditional dill picle recipe From Ratio. By the way the tip calculator on a cell phone is great for figuring out amounts/ratios.

  • Nate

    Just want to be sure…you make the batch at 5%, THEN put them in a 3% brine, or do you do the whole ferment at 3%????

  • Darren

    Hey Michael, do you ever use Indian bay leaves?

    Here’s info from Wikipedia:
    “The leaf of the Cinnamomum tejpata (malabathrum) tree is similar in fragrance and taste to cinnamon bark, but milder. In appearance, it is similar to the other bay leaves but is culinarily quite different, having an aroma and flavor more similar to that of cassia. It is inaccurately called a bay leaf because while it is in the same family, it is of a different genus than the bay laurel.”

    I picked up some of these at an indian grocery and I like them infinitely more than bay laurel (I’ve never really thought much of bay). I don’t know that I’d agree that they’re cinnamon-y. It’s kind of sweet herby and buttery smelling and tasting. Also they’re quite large, up to two inches wide and 4 to 6 inches long. Oh, and a large bag of them cost $3. All spices are cheaper at Indian grocers!

  • Mike

    I followed the 5% recipe above with some pickles last week. The jar was clean, I washed the pickles, etc. Now after about 5 days their is no scum at the top but the solution has turned cloudy. Is this expected or has something gone wrong?

    • Dave_C

      I use the “USDA” method of fermenting pickles in a crock, where the cukes are submerged with about 2 inches of brine and weighed down with a ziploc bagful of 3% brine (if the bag leaks you’re not diluting the brine with plain water). I cover the crock with a towel to keep out fruit flies and other curious insect.

  • Jeremy Hulley

    I’m a week in. The Brine has gotten really cloudy and there is lots of sediement/fuzz that’s fallen to the bottom of the jar. It smells like pickle and I’ve eaten two, one on Friday and one Monday. Its still not quite sour enough for me so I’m going to let them go for ten days. Rinse thouroughly and replace with fresh brine and aromatics, pickling spice, garlic, red pepper flakes.