No one ever—I checked; it literally has never happened—has gone, “Dang, if only I had not pickled some foodstuffs.” Does this mean pickling some foodstuffs is a good idea for you, right now, wherever you are, even if where you are right now is an important meeting in a grey conference room surrounded by your work superiors? Yes, actually, it does mean that. Pickle some stuff!
But pickling, you are qualming, wringing your hands, jerklike—is that not for the bar-foods? I do not want to be a sad barfly eating pickled eggs from a jar. But here all you are doing is mapping your own ignorance! Pickling is not only for the barflies and their sad bar-foods. Pickling is for anybody—scratch that, for everybody—who likes things that are good. Honestly, I don’t even know how you can claim to be a good-things-liker if you are not pickling some vegetal foodstuffs literally right this second. I think ... I think you can’t.
Now you are saying Bah, I do not need to pickle vegetal foodstuffs, for I am not a resident of the frosty north who must “put by” some vegetables in jars over the winter or die of malnutrition. Here in civilization I can just go to the supermarket, even in January, and get some fresh fruits and vegetables whenever I damn please. Look, I am not telling you to pickle things for preservation. I am telling you to pickle things for enjoyment. For bright flavors that enliven your palate and turn your otherwise less pleasurable foods into, uh, more pleasurable foods. For zesty delight. If you think you could not use more zesty delight in your life, where you can go is: to hell.
Listen. It is Friday and I do not have time for your shit. Let’s just skip past the rest of your feeble resistance, ahead to the part where you, cowed, broken, defeated by the might of truth, yield to the imperative to pickle some foodstuffs. This is my prerogative, as the victor!
It’s very simple. You do not need thermometers and sterile jars and all of that stupid crapola. Do you have a gallon freezer bag? Fine. You can use that to pickle some stuff. Or you can wrap it around your damn head if you are still determined not to pickle some stuff!
Cucumbers are good for pickling. Maybe you noticed, there’s a whole aisle of them at the supermarket. I like to pickle, quickly, some sliced cucumbers, in an extremely half-assed yet nonetheless good imitation of the cucumber kimchi you get in a little dish when you go out for Korean barbecue. Are my quickly pickled cucumbers as good as the cucumber kimchi? Hell no they are not. But they are good, and I can get them at home, because I make them myself. That’s the friggin’ idea, here.
I pickle the cucumbers like so: First I take one of those gigantic seedless cucumbers they sell individually wrapped at the grocery store, and I unwrap it and slice it into thin discs. A mandoline slicer is fine for this, but what else is fine for this is: a knife. Slicing the cucumber is like 75 percent of the work. Then I dump the cucumber slices into a gallon freezer bag and pour in there maybe a quarter-cup worth of an improvised mixture of rice vinegar, salt, fish sauce, sugar or brown sugar or honey, and lots and lots of diced hot chili peppers. Then I seal the bag and kinda toss it around for a few minutes to disperse the liquid and the little chili-pepper bits around in there. Then I sock it in the fridge and forget about it for a while. And then later, at some point within the ensuing fortnight, I eat a lotta frickin’ spicy pickled cucumbers! They’re good!
Here is a thought I bet you have had: “I would like some tacos.” You know what is good on tacos? A pickled damn slaw, is what! I make a pickled slaw from very, very thinly shredded red cabbage, julienned jicama, cilantro, and chopped-up jalapeno peppers, tossed in a gallon freezer bag with a very small amount of a mixture of lime juice, whatever non-balsamic vinegar I’ve got handy, salt, maybe a little ground cumin, and a little bit of whatever kind of sugar is in the pantry. You hardly need any of this liquid. Just a couple tablespoons for however much slaw you get out of half a cabbage and a jicama the size of a baseball. I toss all the stuff around in there and then sock the bag in the fridge. Then, the next time I have the thought, “I would like some tacos” (this happens just about every 48 hours), I can have tacos ... with a delicious and delightfully pink-colored slaw on them.
You are getting the idea here. A small quantity of some kind of moderately salted, moderately sweetened vinegar mixture, some chopped or sliced or otherwise ensmalled vegetation—including, at my highest recommendation, some peppers to make it hot—and some time in an airtight bag in a cold place. That’s pickling. You can make it more complicated than that, if you want, with anaerobic fermentation and math or science or whatever, but for now, just stick some (figurative) shit in a bag with some vinegary liquid and then eat it a little while later, when it has had some time to become zesty and spicy and tart and good. You can do that. Even you can do that!
Pickling things is fun. Once you start pickling things, you will start pickling the hell out of things. If you are making a Vietnamese-themed rice-noodle salad, you will pickle some carrots and cucumber and maybe some bean sprouts. If you are having burgers, you will pickle some red onions to top the burgers. If there are cats wandering your neighborhood, you will eye them curiously, thinking of jar sizes. Eventually your fridge will be filled with bags of pickling things! You will not even remember what all of them are. You will be a pickling maniac. This is meant to be a recommendation.
Pickle some stuff. Or don’t! I don’t give a damn.