Pickles are proving to be a popular and fairly easy way for chefs to add personal flourishes and an aura of craftsmanship to their food.
Americans eat more than nine pounds of pickles per person annually, according to trade association Pickle Packers International, Inc., and many of those are being made in restaurants with a simple solution of vinegar, salt, often sugar and a variety of herbs and spices.
In fact, according to menu research firm Datassential, pickles appear on more than a third of the country’s menus today — which is 13.2 percent more menus than they appeared on in 2008. Take a look at how they're showing up on restaurant menus across the country.
Assorted pickles are becoming an increasingly widespread bar snack, such as these ones served at The Bedford in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Partner Sean Rawlinson said that, although on some days customers seem completely uninterested in the $5 appetizer, on other days everyone seems to order it.
Village Whiskey, which has locations in Atlantic City, N.J., and Philadelphia, as well as Old Town Whiskey in Scottsdale, Ariz., serves its seasonally changing house-cured pickles in individual mason jars.
Big Jones in Chicago offers an $8 pickle tasting, served with honey butter, local salt and house-baked Sally Lunn bread.
“It’s so easy. It’s amazing more restaurants don’t do it,” said Big JonesPaul Fehribach. “My grandmother used to pickle anything. Today we’re putting up watermelon rind.”
In the past he has done fiddlehead ferns; green tomatoes; ramps, which are best soaked in lime beforehand; and burgundy-colored okra, which maintains its bright purple color after pickling.
Pickling green tomatoes is fairly common, particularly in the south, but pickling red tomatoes is less common. However, Matt Riznyk, catering chef de cuisine of Great Performances in New York City, said that pickling red tomatoes "results in a pleasing sweet and sour combination." That's because "the sweetness of the red tomatoes offsets the acidity of the pickle brine," he explained.
Pickles are all over the menu at Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen in San Francisco, according to chef Adam Carpenter. He serves pickle spears on hamburgers to pickled pluots — cured with salt, sugar, coriander, bay, thyme and red wine vinegar — as an accompaniment to duck confit.
He also serves a pot of pickles, comprised of six or seven pickles that he changes seasonally. The 10-ounce pot sells for $6 to $10, depending on the pickles he’s making.
Currently that pot includes carrots that are slowly cooked with curry and jalapeño peppers in a pickled brine, as well as green strawberries that are chilled for two to three days in a pickling liquid steeped with anise, coriander and orange peel.
Poste in Washington, D.C., has a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar that includes house-pickled onions, green beans, celery, jalapeños, green tomato, and garlic, as well as cucumbers.
Additionally, Poste’s chef, Dennis Marron, pickles grapes from the restaurant’s garden and serves them on his foie gras torchon.
Fried pickles appear on 107.1 percent more menus now than they did in 2008, according to Datassential. That’s still only 2.9 percent of menus, however, and one of them is Firefly, in Washington, D.C., where chef Danny Bortnick puts a beer-battered pickle on top of his half-pound beef burger.
At The Grocery in Charleston, S.C., chef Kevin Johnson uses house-made bread and butter pickles on his $11 dish of fried oysters and deviled egg sauce. Johnson said he’s always looking for “diversity in bite between flavor and texture,” adding that the crispy batter on the oyster and the richness and spice of the deviled egg sauce benefit from the sweet-and-sour pickle.
Los Angeles-based Border Grill, owned by celebrity chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, uses house-made pickled onions on a variety of dishes, including a ceviche tostada. To make the pickles, red onions are blanched and then simmered with white wine vinegar, black pepper, cumin, oregano, garlic, sugar, salt and a beet for about ten minutes. They're then covered and refrigerated, and they keep for about a month.