Thursday, 13 August 2009

A jar of Asian pickles, or four

Its taken me a while to post this recipe because the very nature of it is always changing. I have finally realised that, rather than trying to produce the perfect brine immediately, this is something that has to evolve slowly over time, like a personality.

I have been eating pickles all summer long, while watchjng TV, for breakfast, dipped in chilli sauce, rolled into Vietnamese spring rolls, or to add a sour crunch into any recipe. In fact I'm eating them right now.

The beauty is, if you're not happy with the taste of one batch, you can change the seasoning and taste the difference in less than a day. Keep eating and changing the mix and you get a feel for how to achieve what you want. You can experiment with added a sliced fresh chilli, a spoonful of spices, some garlic, or anything else that takes your fancy. I have four jars of pickles now and each one tastes different depending on what I feel like.

You can use any crunchy vegetable. Daikon is my favourite as it soaks up the vinegar quickly, in just a day, and has a lovely crisp crunch and clear taste. I also like carrots although they usually need to sit for a day or two more. I bet you could use any radish, cucumber would be lovely, cabbage of course, just to name a few options. I have been so in love with daikon I haven't wanted to try anything else yet, but I will...umm...soon?

This basic recipe makes enough to fill one 850ml jar.

300ml rice vinegar
300ml water
2 tbsp Chinese rock sugar
1 tbsp sea salt
400g daikon, peeled and sliced into finger sized sticks
2 tsp rice wine

Combine the vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a pan, cover and heat until all the crystals dissolve. Bring the liquid up to the boil then remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, still covered.

While the liquid cools, put the jar and lid into a big pot of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes or so to give them a good clean, then drain and allow to cool. Its best not to try pouring in cold liquid when the glass is hot as it could crack.

When everything is back to room temperature, pack the jar loosely with the daikon, add the rice wine and fill it with liquid up to the neck. Make sure all the vegetables are submerged in the vinegar before sealing tightly, then put it in the fridge.

The daikon only needs a day to marinate before it's ready to eat. This is when the fun begins - each time you eat, top the jar up again with more vegetables, taste the brine and add more vinegar, sugar, salt, wine or any other seasonings depending on your tastes.

Over time the pickling liquid takes on some of the characteristics of the vegetables you put it. I have one jar exclusively for daikon, and others are a mix of daikon and carrot. You can also add garlic, spring onion, chillis, Sichuan pepper, star anise, cinnamon, green peppercorns, or anything else that takes your fancy.

You could try packing the jars while they are hot and pour in hot liquid - this gives the pickles a more translucent appearence, different texture and stronger flavour. I prefer using cold jar, cold vegetables and cold pickling liquid as I find the taste is fresher, more raw.

This method of pickling is perfect if you eat the pickles fairly regularly, and is not meant for long term preservation. The pickles should always be kept in the fridge or they may spoil. Sometimes I find one of my jars tastes a little fizzy - the result of lactic bacteria fermenting the sugar in the liquid. It is not harmful, but if, like me, you don't like the taste, strain the liquid, bring it to the boil, allow to cool and return.

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