Quick-pickling tricks for in-season produce
Pickling never went out of style, but trending Asian cuisine, zero-waste cooking and the desire for local seasonal produce are converging to push it further into the spotlight. And while the pickling process used to involve hours of sterilizing and boiling canning jars, chefs are finding that speedier methods can produce fresher-tasting results.
Rob Newmeyer, executive chef of WakeMed Health & Hospitals in Raleigh, N.C., uses a quick-pickling technique to extend a local theme to his menu year-round. A blend of vinegar, water, spices, sugar and salt is brought to a boil, then poured over the cleaned, cut-up produce. The mixture is cooled, then refrigerated for at least 12 hours.
Using this method, Newmeyer preserves red bell peppers, green beans, okra and several types of beets at the height of the season to serve on sandwiches and catering platters with a housemade green goddess dressing in the off-season. Other quick-pickle favorites at WakeMed include local red onions—a star of the house salad, along with mesclun greens, brown sugar candied pecans, strawberries, local blue cheese and radish sprouts—as well as sweet bread-and-butter cucumber pickles served on signature sliders containing local grass-fed beef.
“Instead of discarding lots of produce, we try to minimize that [waste] by preserving,” says David Meyer, executive chef at Kennesaw State University, who dedicates a section of the salad bar to highlighting a rainbow of in-house pickles, including beets, green beans, maroon carrots, baby carrots and okra. To reinforce the Georgia school’s Southern roots, he offers a chow-chow at the salad bar—an item that was cross-utilized in a recent action station dish of fried green tomatoes topped with the sweet-and-sour cabbage relish and local blue cheese. Meyer also uses quick-pickling to churn out kimchee, bread-and-butter zucchini, spicy yellow squash pickles and whole baby dill pickles.
Quick-pickling is an ideal technique for Meyer, because he feeds 2,000 students a day and burns through supplies quickly, rendering the long shelf life of traditional canning techniques unnecessary. And while this strategy reduces wasted produce, Meyer says quick-pickling doesn’t save him much in cost. “I think it’s a wash at the end of the day, because your labor cost goes up a little,” he says. “But in the quality of the food, there’s no comparison.”