Pickling is a trend picking up all over the country, and Elise Landry, sous chef at Ça Va in Kansas City's Westport neighborhood, is pickling everything. Turnips, husk cherries, shallots … you name it, she’s pickled it.
“The other day I was called a pickled petunia by a customer, which I’ll always remember,” she laughs.
Initially, Landry started pickling to keep the seasonal produce she got from the Brookside Farmer’s Market fresh. But it’s gone far beyond practicalities.
“I’ve had a lot of great feedback,” she says. “They’re all housemade pickles. People get that, and they love it. They’re like, ‘Did you make all of these pickles?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah! This is my way of preserving summer and spring on a plate for you to enjoy.’”
When pickling, Elise says, first you have to process the produce. Slicing or dicing, slightly roasting or blanching — all of these methods ensure that the flavors of the brine will permeate the fruits and vegetables.
Whether making a traditional pickle with cucumbers, or pickling a fruit or vegetable, the pickling liquid remains standard.
“My general rule of thumb for a really basic pickle is equal parts vinegar and sugar, and half a part water,” Landry says.
Other ingredients and variations are up to preference. You can pair certain spices and various kinds of vinegar depending on what you’re pickling. For peaches, Landry pairs rosemary sprigs. For green tomatoes, she adds a dash of turmeric for a bit of flavor, but mostly to preserve and enhance the natural, lime green hue of the tomatoes. For red onions or red beets, she uses red wine vinegar.
After you bring those ingredients to a slow boil over medium heat, allowing the sugar and spices to dissolve together, you pour the hot liquid right over the produce. Cool it to room temperature, then store it.
Landry’s go-to method is known as quick pickling. It’s just one of various pickling methods that have become popular, including salt brining, vinegar brining and fermentation.
Though her pickling may be fast and, she claims, ‘simple,’ the results are complex and tasty, not to mention well-utilized throughout the menu at Ça Va. Even during brunch on Sundays, you can build your own mimosas using shrubs and syrups crafted from muddled pickles and brines.
“When I break down what makes something taste really good, it’s the perfect balance between fat and acid,” Landry says.
And pickles, she says, are a great way to bring that acid, and a little crunch and bite, to any dish.
Andrea Tudhope is a contributor for KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @adtudhope.