So here’s the thing, I never used to like pickles, gherkins, whatever you want to call them. They were the first thing I removed when my mom bought me Mcdonald’s cheeseburgers. The taste was far too acidic, the texture was strange and rubbery, it just wasn’t palatable to me as a kid. So I grew up not really appreciating pickles and acidity. Even in Chinese cooking, or to be more specific to the food that I eat, South east Asian food, I wouldn’t say that acidity is a predominant flavour profile, we use vinegar for certain dumplings, but it definitely doesn’t play as big a part when you compare it to Western cooking, where salads are often tossed with vinaigrettes, hollandaise sauces as well as many other sauces are finished with a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of vinegar. So you tend to not understand its importance and its uses.
It was a few weeks ago when I was shopping at Phoon Huat that I stumbled upon a gigantic jar of pickled Jalapenos, I bought it without hesitation, with no intention to use them, with no idea what I would use them for. I think I was just surprised that you could even get jalapenos in Singapore, so I bought them in case no one else did and they eventually got pulled from the shelves. Fast forward to last week, I had a chunk of beef short ribs sitting in the freezer, I thawed it, seared it hard on its sides to get some Maillard going, then I bagged them simply with salt and pepper, and cooked them at 72C for about 24 hours. I wanted to make a beef sandwich so I went for a higher temperature which would yield a traditional braised texture . I removed the beef, pulled the beef apart with my fingers, tossed in some dry rub that I had lying around(I was making smoked pork ribs), a little bit of the liquid that had cooked out during the sous vide process, and immediately started to build my sandwich.
Bread, caramelized onions, beef(possibly a bit too much beef), grated cheddar, bread. But something was missing… I went foraging into my fridge, and found, of course, my forgotten jar of jalapenos. I immediately grabbed a handful of them and pressed them into the melted cheese. It worked like a match made in heaven. More than balancing out the flavour of the beef, I think the acidity of the jalapeno contrasted the intense sweetness of the caramelized onions, the bottom line was, it was fucking delicious.
The question then would be, both the Mcdonalds pickle and the pickled jalapenos are there to serve the same purpose. Why is the effect so startlingly different? The answer lies in balance. The Mcdonalds patty isn’t very rich with fat to begin with, moreover, my memory of the Mcdonalds ketchup is that it isn’t very sweet, it still has a bit of acidic tang to it. Combine this with the pickle and you get a gigantic, far too intense burst of acid when you bite into the two pickles that lie hidden within the burger like mines in a minefield. The pickled jalapenos, on the other hand, were a lot more mellow in terms of acidity, it didn’t work against the beef, instead it worked to balance out the caramelized onions, and both the onions and the jalapenos supported the flavour of the beef and allowed it to shine, which is what you want in a beef sandwich anyway.
And so the conclusion is, don’t shy away from pickles, make your own pickling brine, experiment with the acidity by controlling the amount of vinegar you put into it, control the texture of the pickle by controlling the amount of time it spends in the brine, flash pickles can take as little as 5-10 minutes, and they go great with noodles, diced up and mixed into fried rice, or anything really, let your own taste buds guide you.