Sweet Rice Wine Pickles
Pickles are definitely a thing right now. You’ll find them on every menu, from uppity small-plate restaurants to food trucks, and they’re the gateway drug to the do-it-yourself food craze (you guys! I made pickles!). And sure, pickles ought to be celebrated as a perfect, inexpensive mainstay alongside the grilled cheese sandwich.
Admittedly, I’m pretty late to the game. I wish I could say I had Jewish grandparents who passed down pickle recipes from the old country — instead they gave us far more complicated foods to make, and pronounce (Mustachudo, anyone?).
If I’m in need of a superb pickle, I go to Britt’s in Pike Place Market. With its gargantuan cucumbers swimming in a cloudy brine loaded with live cultures, it’s a treat at $10 dollars a jar.
Refrigerator pickles, on the other hand, need only a few basic household ingredients and don’t require you to get all Little-House-on-the-Prairie with the canning process. It will elevate even the lowliest vegetable, at no more than a few dollars to prepare in volumes.
With a load of cucumbers (not the pretty English kind, but the pre-historic looking clunkers), I put together a simple brine with what I had on hand — substituting Japanese mirin (a sweet rice wine like sake) for most of the sugar. The result was a sweet, earthy pickle that could be tossed with toasted sesame seeds and nori, or stand deliciously on its own.
Though the process start-to-finish is simple, it’s incomplete without the addition of one foundational pickle element — dill flowers. Many will find these saucer-shaped bouquets in farmers markets or peeking from the tops of their herb gardens this time of year. Don’t throw them away! They make for excellent flavor in soups and brines.
WHAT YOU NEED:
- 4 large pickling cucumbers (or 8-10 small). Carrots, green beans, or other sturdy vegetables also work well.
- 1 cup mirin or white wine
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1 cup ice
- 2 bouquets dill flowers
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 Tbsp. peppercorns
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
WHAT YOU DO:
- Scrub cukes well, and slice into thick coins (thinner ones will disintegrate faster)
- Heat mirin with sugar and salt, and stir until dissolved
- Add dill flowers and pickling spices, let simmer 5 minutes
- Add vinegar, and adjust salt/sugar (this recipe makes a sweeter brine, adjust to your liking!)
- Add ice (this process cools the brine, so that pickles stay crispy)
- Pack 4 pint jars with cucumber coins, 3/4 full
- Fill jars with cooled brine until covered, seal, and store in the fridge for up to a month