The rising chef preserves his own vegetables by pickling them right in his own restaurant. What started as a necessity in San Francisco's farm to table food culture is now a way to add a tasty, home made bite to his Mediterranean dishes. His specialty? Spicy dill pickles infused with jalapeño and horseradish juices.
Today, he tells us the ins and outs of pickling, and what to look out for if you're pickling at home.
New Times: What are different ways to pickle vegetables?
Mark Zeitouni: There are a lot of different techniques to pickling. You can cook them. How much heat you apply to the vegetable determines how much time it takes for pickling to take effect. Using cucumbers as an example, they can be ready in two to three hours, or it can take two to three weeks. My favorite technique is one that takes about two weeks. You never let the brining liquid get above 200 degrees when you're cooking, and it makes it a lot crunchier.
What is brining liquid?
The brining liquid is a mixture of water, vinegar, and salt. Some pickles are sweet and people put sugar in the mix.
How long does take for the brining liquid to pickle the vegetable?
I leave it in the fridge for two to three weeks. I'll check it after about ten days. That's when you'll see the middle be what most people consider raw, so you can see how far in the brine has penetrated. Usually it's right around two weeks but it can take longer depending on the size of the cucumber.
How do you store pickled food?
Once it's sealed in the jar, there's not much difference from keeping it cooled or in room temperature. I generally don't keep things longer than one calendar year. And the whole thing is you're using seasonal products at the peak of their ripeness, and using them throughout the year. In theory, you're going to want to use the next harvest of the vegetables you're preserving. The whole magic of it is to use it throughout the year, and the next year you do the whole process again.
How long do the pickles keep once the jar has been opened?
Eventually there's only so long you can keep them if they're not sealed. They'll last a month, but they wont last a year. Eventually the vegetables and brine will start to ferment.
What safety measures do you have to take before pickling your food?
If you're going to can the pickles, the jars have to be sterilized first, usually by putting them in boiling water. You want to make sure your pickles and brine are not contaminated. In the actual process of canning, you're raising the temperature to the point where 99% of bacteria are not going to survive, since it has to sit in boiling water for 45 seconds to a minute. By heating it up, it actually forces out the air in the jar, and the rubber seal doesn't let it back in. Once it cools, the rubber shrinks down and pulls in the top, sealing it. Generally, with the pickles we make, we use them so fast that I don't bother canning them.
Is canning something people can do easily at home?
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Definitely, and at that point I would recommend canning them or sealing them in some way. Canning is the easiest, you can go to Target and buy the ball jars with the two part lids. First boil the bottom part of the jar, make the pickling mix, and follow instructions for sealing and boiling the jar. Make one more spin on the top of the jar, and you'll watch it sink in as it cools.
Do you have any advice for people who want to make their own pickles?
There are some loose guidelines you need to work with, because the nature of pickling is that you're using vinegar and salt to preserve food. But you really can apply your personal tastes and creativity to it. It is something where you really can have fun with it and make your own combinations, nothing is really set in stone. Each one has their own secret blend of spices. You can make your own little spice blend and it's fun that way.