How to Make Quick-Pickled Anything—and What to Do with Your Leftover Brine
Making quick pickles at home is easy, and that zippy acidity can make a great bite even better. Pickling works year-round, with all sorts of produce (vegetables and even some fruit), and it’s especially useful if you’re working through a glut of summer veggies from your garden or CSA box.
We’ve got three of our favorite brines and suggested pairings—all highly customizable. Play around with your favorite whole aromatic spices, mix and match different types of vinegars, adjust salt-to-sugar ratios, and of course, select the veggies you’d most like to pickle. Keep them in the fridge and enjoy them with sandwiches, in salads, or alongside cheese boards for a couple weeks.
But whatever you do, don’t toss that brine. It can be used again for a new batch of pickles, or you can simply add a splash to marinades and salad dressings for a little oomph.
While bread-and-butter pickles tend to skew a bit sweet, we reined it in for this version. We also found using a little turmeric in our brine adds a touch of bitterness to further balance the sweetness—plus it gives a beautiful color. While this brine is a good all-rounder, it’s especially nice paired with something with heat, like a jalapeño. We opted for a small amount of regular sugar for its clean taste, in addition to seasoned rice vinegar, which also contains some sugar. Sugar alternatives in pickles are tricky because they can affect the color and impart additional (unwanted) flavors. If you do want to use a substitute, in our experience, neutral-tasting ones like agave and liquid stevia have yielded the most favorable results.
These pickles have that addictive must-go-back-for-one-more thing that we love about our favorite spicy foods (hello, buffalo wings). The heat level here is spicy but not crazy—feel free to adjust to your liking or explore different sources of heat. Maybe add a few whole dried chilies de arbol, or some toasted Sichuan peppercorns for that famous tingling effect. The combination of white distilled vinegar and apple cider vinegar keeps the sweet-tart balance, so there’s plenty of room to play around.
Red wine vinegar makes a really nice pickle: piquant and fruit-forward. But the star of this pickle is the star anise. Warm aromatic spices bring an extra layer to the brine and can be really fun to riff on. (Allspice berries, whole cloves, and cinnamon sticks can all provide similar spiced warmth in their own distinct ways.) Bay leaves also give some herbal notes but were chosen here mostly because we always have them in our pantry. Fresh rosemary, thyme, or even dried juniper berries would be nice additions, if you have them on hand.