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!