Condiments: Dill Pickles & Mayonnaise

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When I was fifteen and learning how to drive it really bothered me that I didn’t know how the car actually worked. If it broke, I want to know how to fix it. I want to know how to change the oil, make it run. How could I be the custodian and driver of this immense vehicle and not know anything about its engineering? I’ve taken that same line of thinking into the kitchen. We’ve exported way too many important kitchen skills. While there’s incredible value in specializing, I think there’s also so much to be gained for knowing how to make things “just in case, not for real,” as I used to say, while reasoning my little girl reasons with my parents.

I had no idea what mayonnaise was growing up. We had commercial, fat free jars of it in the fridge and often I still do. But it’s also something you can make in small batches at home, fairly easily and it’s so worth it.  It is a stable emulsion of oil, egg yolks and either vinegar or lemon juice, with many options for embellishment with other herbs and spices. The lecithin in the egg yolk is the emulsifier, which thickens the whole thing when activated by a little (okay a lot of) stirring. I’m actually surprised more people don’t poison themselves while eating mayonnaise, but I’m not that scared.

I added mustard to mine and since I also made pickles at the same time, I thought of making a rémoulade, which is very much like tartar sauce. I was a master tartar sauce maker when I worked as a fish monger during high school (right around the same time when I was learning to drive, actually). People get very finicky about their tartar sauce when buying fish and chips. Rémoulade is often more yellowish (or reddish in Louisiana), and sometimes contains chopped pickles, relish, horseradish, paprika, anchovies, capers and a host of other items. I didn’t want to combine these experiments so let’s just call this mayonnaise.

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Pickles, though. I know from pickles. They are my home. They stand for everything I knew growing up, an atavistic homage to my roots. Pickles were the kosher deli my family used to eat at in Brooklyn with Grandma and Grandpa. Pickles were the lower east side below Delancy Street where so many of the utensils I use in my kitchen first hit the shores of this country after their long journey from Russia (every device and utensil pictured in this post). Pickles were one of the things from the market my grandma describes to me all the time– fresh butter and cream cheese in big blocks, cut off in pieces and wrapped in wax paper. Milk with cream on the top. Chickens with feathers on them. Roasted sweet potatoes. Fresh fish. No refrigeration. Just the ice box. You bought what you needed, no more.  Pickles were me watching Mom and Dad watching their parents for hints on how to live, how to feed their own children, how to measure your love, dissipate heartache, temper your complaints and dole out immense satisfaction through food. And they go great with a dark brown brew.

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My grandparents’ building in Luna Park. Theirs is the one with the two tanks. The elevated F train is at the bottom. I took the picture from the top of the Wonder Wheel where my grandparents had one of their first dates. They were on a white car. I’m on a swinging red car. Way scarier. More fun. I used to see those tanks from the back of my parents’ car and wake up from my nap knowing Grandma and Grandpa would be waiting there to pick me up and feed me. I was always too thin. Everyone was.

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I actually didn’t know that pickles were cucumbers that had undergone a process until much later than I should have. I just thought pickles grew like apples. But that there were only two kinds. Dill and sour. Dill much better than the other. Now I know that there’s so much more to it than that. Varieties, fermentation times, vegetables. I added mustard seeds, coriander, hot pepper flakes and caraway seeds to a simple brine of a one-to-one ratio of apple cider vinegar and salt. But you can add garlic and any other flavors you want.

Make these condiments. They add value to your food. They take under 5 minutes each.

Btw, just in case, not for real, if you’re interested, I updated my About page. I feature a little interview with myself. Check it out here if you haven’t already had enough.

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Dill Pickles

Ingredients:

Makes 2 medium jars, or 1 large jar + 1 small jar

I’ve used variations of the combinations below, but you’ll get a darn good pickle if you use the first group of ingredients as directed.

  • cups water
  • cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup kosher or maldon salt
  • pickling cucumbers (I use kirby)
  • bunch dill
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • tablespoons whole black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

You could also add:

  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds

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Directions:

Start by measuring out and adding the water, vinegar, and kosher salt to a small saucepan. Set stove to medium high, and heat until salt is fully dissolved in the brine. Turn off stove, and allow to cool fully.

Roughly chop dill, setting aside a few long sprigs to place in the jar(s). If using two jars split the springs evenly among the jars. Split the peppercorns, chili pepper, mustard seeds and any of the other ingredients you choose to use between the two jars.

Wash the cucumbers and slice off the tips on both sides. They contain an enzyme that will cause them to go limp and be less crispy during the pickling process. They will last longer this way. Slice cucumbers lengthwise into quarters if desired. Feel free to leave them whole if they’re small.

Pour cooled brine into the jar(s), making sure that the cucumbers are fully covered. Bang the jar gently on the table a few times to get rid of any air bubbles. Tighten lids, and allow to sit in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours. The longer the better. Pickles will keep for up to 6 months. Enjoy!

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Mayonnaise 

Active time  on this recipe is about 5 minutes. If you refrigerate it, it should last more than a week, but this recipe makes about a cup at a time so you can use it up quickly.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cold water
  • ¾ cup neutral oil such as safflower or canola, but they also use olive oil in Spain or Portugal, so your choice

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 Directions:

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, lemon juice, mustard, salt and 1 teaspoon cold water until frothy. Whisking constantly, slowly and I mean SLOOOOOOOWLY dribble (like a few drops at a time) in the oil until mayonnaise is thick and oil is incorporated. When the mayonnaise emulsifies and starts to thicken, you can add the oil in a thin stream, instead of drop by drop. Instead of whisking, I actually pulled out my grandma’s old eggbeater. It made it much easier.

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