Why should you pickle? – By Iain Pennington, chef and co-founder The Ethicurean and pickling ambassador for Sarson’s

Pickling is an ancient food preservation method but something that is still both useful and hugely beneficial to both chefs and home cooks today.

At The Ethicurean, pickling was the very first method of preservation we learned. We were amazed at both how easy it was to do and how it always resulted in a delicious end product that added so much vibrancy to the dishes we used it in. The more we understood the process, the more we began to experiment with different produce and flavours and learned the many benefits of pickling.

The first benefit of pickling clear to us was the ability to preserve fresh produce in a sustainable way. We have all, more likely than not, been guilty of buying a few too many items for the fridge at home. But what I love about pickling is that if a busy week has taken you away from cooking, a quick and simple pickle can rescue the week’s ingredients you bought, thus saving you money and ensuring nothing goes to waste. What’s more, you’ve then got some awesome pickles to jazz up your next few weeks’ worth of meals!

Pickled products intensify flavours and do not require refrigeration, so a simple Kilner jar full of pickled vegetables can sit on a dark shelf for a year, just waiting to be re-discovered and add some deliciousness to your dishes.

Great taste
Vinegar and acidity, in my opinion, is still one of the most underrated and underused tools in a chef’s larder. Acidity plays such an important role in creating a dish. It can give the illusion of something being “juicy” when in reality it’s not. This is down to the acidity in the food causing you to salivate.

A brilliant way of countering the effect of an overly-fatty dish is to use acidity. Too much fat in a dish with little or no acidity becomes too rich, and for me, can be quite sickly. Again, acidity creates saliva, which helps break down the fat, cleans your mouth and cuts through the richness of fatty food.

One of my favourite cuts of meats is a good pork chop, which is always paired with something acidic. This is why pork terrines and pickles work so well together; simple, fatty and acidic working in harmony to create something delicious.
The greatest thing about pickling is that it’s so easy to do and gives a sum greater than its parts. It adds deliciousness to meals and preserves food for scarcer times, not to mention that it’s good for us!

What’s the science behind it?
Sarson’s malt pickling vinegar and distilled malt pickling vinegar were the first we used in the kitchen. Malt vinegar is produced by fermenting British malted barley. The barley grains are cracked and mashed in hot water to extract the sugars and, once cool, this liquid is added to a fermenter with yeast. After six days, the yeast is removed; having turned the sugars to alcohol and a naturally ‘good’ bacteria called acetobacter is introduced. This turns the alcohol into acetic acid which gives the vinegar its sharp flavour. The team at Sarson’s go the extra mile and leave then leave the malt vinegar to mature for a full seven days in wooden vats, unlike other vinegars which are often given less than twenty-four hours. This produces an unrivalled depth of flavour, and is why we continue to use Sarson’s pickling vinegars to make our delicious pickles today.
If you would like to get started here is a simple and tasty place to start – and who doesn’t end up with leftover carrots!

Four pickling recipes to try this festive season:-

Smokey Black Cardamom Pickled Carrots
We all know that carrots are good for us with their masses of beta-carotene helping to reduce our risks of cancer, but I bet what we don’t know is that black cardamom is coined the “queen of spices” and goes a long way to helping our little tickers keep an even rhythm. Black cardamom are cardamom pods that have been smoked over open flames, giving them a beautiful and pungent aroma. This wonder spice helps to maintain a steady cardiac rhythm, and controls our blood pressure by reducing the likelihood of blood clots forming in the body.

-500g washed & peeled carrots, roughly cubed
-300g distilled malt pickling vinegar
-50g caster sugar
-50g water
-6 black cardamom pods
-2tsp coriander seeds
-Sea salt

Place the carrots in a plastic bowl and toss with enough sea salt to lightly cover all the cubes. Leave for at least 1 hour.

In the meantime place all the other ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Once cool, drain off the excess liquid that has accumulated in the bottom of the carrot bowl. Place the carrots in a sterilized Kilner jar and cover with the room-temperature vinegar solution. Seal, and leave for 48 hours before serving.

Pickled Apples
The polyhphenols present in apples help to reduce the fluctuations of blood sugar, which is particularly important for people suffering with diabetes. Pair this with the benefits of consuming acetic acid, present in vinegar and we’re definitely on for a winner. Apples are also rich in iron and can be used to help treat anemia, however I always find that the season isn’t long enough, especially for the amount of apples we produce at the restaurant. Pickled apples are usually on the menu for the rest of the year when there aren’t any in season.

-3 large Bramley cooking apples
-300g malt pickling vinegar
-125g dark brown muscovado sugar
-2 star anise
-2 cloves
-2tsp juniper berries
-1tbsp coriander seeds
-1 small cinnamon quill
-1tsp fennel seed
-sea salt

Thinly slice the apples horizontally through the core, from bottom to top (ideally on a mandolin) to give you discs of apple. Place them in a bowl and toss them with enough salt so that each individual disc has a light covering of salt. Leave for a minimum of 1 hour.

Meanwhile add the vinegar & sugar to a saucepan and place on a gentle heat.

Add the spices to a frying pan and, on a medium heat, toast them until they start to lightly smoke. Be careful not to burn them. Immediately add them to the vinegar pan.

Bring the vinegar to a gentle simmer and remove from the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Pour the excess liquid off from the apple bowl, and then transfer the apple discs into a sterilized Kilner.

Cover with the vinegar & seal. Leave for 2 days before serving.

Pickled Chicory Leaves

Chicory is a forced radicchio, which results in a sweeter, more tender leaf than the usual, incredibly bitter (but equally delicious) radicchio. They’re delicious fresh and pickled, and we use both chicory and radicchio en-masse at the restaurant. If you can’t get hold of chicory, then radicchio works well.

-1 medium white chicory, thoroughly washed
-2 medium red chicory, thoroughly washed
-700g malt pickling vinegar
-1tbsp coriander seeds
-2tsp black mustard seed
-2tsp yellow mustard seed
-1tsp black peppercorns
-100g caster sugar
-15g fine sea salt

Divide all the chicory in to individual leaves by cutting off the root at the base and separating them all. Gently pack them into a sterilized Kilner jar.

Add the vinegar, sugar & salt to a saucepan & place on a medium heat.

In a separate frying pan, add all the spices and put on a medium flame. Keep heating the spices until the oils are released and there’s a lovely scent of warm spices. A good indicator that this is happening is when the mustard seeds start to jump out of the pan!

Add the spices to the vinegar pan and bring to a simmer (if it’s not already there). Stir through, remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Cover the chicory in the vinegar, seal and leave for a minimum of 7 days before serving.

Beetroot & Lovage Pickled Eggs
Eggs genuinely are one of the most nutrient-dense food that we can eat as a human. Few things rival this perfect food source. So long as you’re eating a healthy diet, avoiding processed food and table-salt, eating eggs will not add to your cholesterol. I’m aware that this contradicts most people’s view, but it’s absolutely true. The more eggs we can eat the better. They’re high in protein and packed with myriad vitamins and minerals like B6, B12, A, D, E, K zinc, iron, copper, and other essential fatty acids and omega oils.

-12 medium free range eggs at room temperature
-500g distilled malt picking vinegar
-3 medium beetroots, grated (retaining as much purple juice as possible)
-6 medium sized fresh lovage leaves

Bring a large pan of water to the boil (the pan needs to fit the 12 eggs in, with plenty of additional water so the temperature doesn’t drop too much when the eggs are added).

Ensure the water is rapidly boiling. Gently add all the eggs and cook for precisely 6 minutes and 30 seconds. Immediately discard the boiling water and run the eggs under cold water for 5 minutes. Allow them to sit for a further 5 in the pan of cold water.

Add the vinegar and grated beetroot to a saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil. Immediately remove from the heat and allow to cool for a little while. When the vinegar is still warm (but not boiling) add half of the fresh lovage and allow to cool to room temperature.

Put the eggs in a sterilized Kilner, along with the remaining fresh lovage. Strain the vinegar into a new jug to remove the grated beetroot and lovage leaves. Pour the liquid over the eggs and seal. Leave for a minimum of 4 days for the colour and vinegar to permeate through the eggs. The longer the eggs are left in the pickle, the deeper their colour will become.