Flashback: The Great February Pickle-athon: Inspired by Cathy’s fantastic account about pickling Brussels sprouts with fennel fronds on Serious Eats, I decided it time that I go beyond the giardiniera and the lightly-soused red onions and into the great thereafter of vacuum seals and factory-like precision. Of course, I didn’t use her recipe–why would I do that? I knew it would work! What fun could that be?–but one I’d seen several pickle junkies swear by on Chowhound.
I steamed baby Brussels (7 minutes), cauliflower (5 minutes), haricot vert (3 minutes) and red peppers (2 minutes), arranged them in their individual jars, poured in the brine, boiled the jars for ten minutes and let them cool until the seals vacuumed with four consecutive resounding pops that sent us jumping from the sofa hours later when our minds were far from the day’s brine. I set them aside for two whole weeks, admonished Alex to “not touch!” and exactly thirteen days later, with the suspense too much to bear, we dug in and I proceeded to swear off pickling for good.
What went so horribly wrong? The first thing was the brine. Those lovely Chowhounders? They were discussing a cucumber brine, one that was significantly more salty than less sealed-off veggies like peppers and Brussels can bear. The result was like ocean water and I considered it inedible. The second was that despite my precise steaming and cooling, they were all very overcooked, and the ten minutes additional cooking time while boiling the jars was to blame.
They were all beginners’ mistakes, I know, but I’d lost heart to try again. Spring was creeping up on us and we started taking biweekly walks to the incomparably fun and delicious Pickle Guys on Essex Street, coming home with great big bags of peppers, spicy carrots, tiny grape tomatoes, peperoncini and half-sours. It was only when I found a receipt in one of the bags for nearly fifty dollars that I realized my home-pickling phobia was getting costly, and called myself out on my ridiculous. I had to either make my peace with vinegar, water, salt and sugar or give up my regular access to brackish delights.
Enter my mother-in-law’s garlicky red peppers, the only small dish of hers that we love more than seeniye.The technique is gloriously simple–roast and peel several peppers, then sit them for a day or so in a brine loaded with garlic–but the results are unparalleled. You’ll eat them right out of the jar. You’ll put them on bread, on sandwiches and drape them over your burgers. You’ll never pay anyone to make them again.
And here’s the craziest part: the jars sealed themselves! The brine was still warm, as were the peppers when I put them in the fridge two nights ago, and twisted open the next day with a POP! I can’t promise that this will work for you at home–it is in no way the accepted jar-sealing technique–but along my winding road to pickle proficiency, it’s these accidental discoveries that serve of a remind that trial and error can actually be fun. And fantastically tasty.
Pickled Garlicky Red Peppers
2 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
3 cups water
2/3 to 3/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons kosher salt or 1/4 cup table salt*
10 bell peppers, all red or a mix of red, orange and yellow (the sweet varieties)
4 large cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped**
Roast the peppers: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line peppers on a large baking sheet and roast them for 45 minutes, turning them once, or until they are soft. Better to extend the cooking time than shorten it, as the skins will only come off easily if they’re fully cooked.
Prepare pickling liquid: Bring vinegar, water, sugar and salt to a boil in a 3-quart nonreactive saucepan over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Cool about 30 minutes. (Want to speed this process up? Leave aside two cups of the water, only boiling one. Once the sugar is dissolved, pour that cold water back in. It should take no time at all for it to finish cooling.)
Once peppers are roasted: While they’re hot, throw the peppers in a large bowl and cover it with a lid or plate, trapping the steam inside. In 15 minutes, they should be cooled, and their skins should be easy to remove. If not, give it another 10 or 15 minutes to rest.
Once all of the pepper skins are removed, remove the core and seeds, and tear the peppers into strips, tossing them into a large bowl, jar or container. Pour the pickling liquid over the peppers (if you have extra brine, save it for next time) and add the chopped garlic. Chill them, covered with a lid or plastic wrap, for one day.
Do ahead: Pickled vegetables keep, covered and chilled, for 1 week.
* Technically the conversion for kosher to table salt is 1.5, so a more accurate equivalent would be 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons, if you want to be a fusspot about it.
** My in-laws, as well as every other Russian I’ve met, are mad for garlic, thus this amount will imbue the peppers with a serious garlic kick. If you’re nervous about the spiciness, you might want to use less. Personally, though, I wouldn’t dream of it.