The Daley Question

In a pickle about salt

Will using less salt make a big difference in pickling?

 Pickles

Want to make pickles, but worried about the salt? It's possible, one expert says, but you run the risk of the wrong kind of bacteria as the salt in pickles serves as a preservative, not as flavoring. (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune / July 13, 2010)

Q: I have a recipe for pickles that calls for 1 cup coarse salt for 6-8 quart jars of pickles. If I reduce the salt to 1/2 cup, will it affect how the pickles turn out? What if I reduce it to 1/4 cup of salt? There are enough other flavors in the recipe (hot peppers, dill and garlic) to make up for the lack of salt flavoring, I believe. I guess my question is, if I reduce the salt significantly will the cucumbers still turn into pickles?

—Mrs. J. Kenny, Northbrook

A: Will cucumbers turn into pickles if less salt is used? Depends on the type of pickle you are trying to make and your expectations.

Fresh-pack pickles can be made "with reduced or no salt, but their quality may be noticeably lower," according to the website for the University of Georgia's National Center for Home Food Preservation. "Both texture and flavor may be slightly, but noticeably, different than expected. You may wish to make small quantities first to determine if you like them."

With brined pickles, the Center warns not to cut back on the salt required because the salt "favors the growth of desirable bacteria while inhibiting the growth of others."

There's a recipe for low-sodium pickles on the website (http://nchfp.uga.edu), but it requires processing in a boiling water canner.

I shared your question with Edward Lee, author of "Smoke & Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen" (Artisan, $29.95). He is chef/owner of 610 Magnolia restaurant in Louisville, Ky., and was a contestant in the 2012 season of Bravo's "Top Chef."

"The salt is used not for flavor but its preservative qualities,'' he told me. To use the small amount of salt you are considering in making a fermented or brined pickle would "create an unsafe environment," he said. You could do a fresh refrigerator pickle with lower salt but it will turn out to be more of a marinated cucumber.

What to do? Lee suggests considering a pickle to be an occasional treat.

"Pickles are salty, that's part of the joy of them,'' he adds. Use them as a condiment or garnish, Lee suggests, don't eat the whole jar.

Perhaps a new recipe with a different flavor accent might help you. Try making Lee's quick caraway pickles, the recipe is below. They're salty. He calls for 1/2 cup kosher salt but says you could reduce that amount to 1/3 cup. Or consider shifting your pickling focus to another fruit or vegetable. Lee has an easy recipe for pickled jasmine peaches that calls for only 1 teaspoon of kosher salt — and refrigeration.

Quick caraway pickles

Makes: 2 1/2 quarts

"If you only have one day to make pickles, make this recipe," writes Edward Lee in "Smoke & Pickles," his new cookbook. "While they'll have more flavor the next day, they can be eaten the same day." Lee doesn't strain out the caraway seeds. "They'll get soft enough to eat and are delicious,'' he notes.

2-1/2 pounds pickling cucumbers, such as Kirby, scrubbed and sliced about 1/2 inch thick

1/2 cup kosher salt

2 cups each: rice vinegar; apple cider vinegar

1 cup each: water, sugar

2 tablespoons caraway seed

2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

1 cinnamon stick

1Put the cucumbers in a large glass jar or plastic container.

2Combine the salt, both vinegars water, sugar, caraway seeds, red pepper flakes and cinnamon and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Turn off the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

3Pour the pickling liquid over the cucumbers. Cover with a tight-fitting lid or several layers of plastic wrap and refrigerate. The pickles will be ready in about 4 hours, although they are better the next day; they will keep for up to 3 days.

Do you have a question about food or drink? E-mail Bill Daley at: wdaley@tribune.com. Snail mail inquiries should be sent to: Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611. Twitter @billdaley.

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