In a Pickle

Not your average cooking group.

Our Own Private Pickledom

Nancy, armed and fabulous!

Nancy, armed and fabulous!

Like we said, the idea was to get together to cook and eat and talk about cooking and eating without actually having a dinner party.  Maybe that’s why we thought of pickles for this first gathering.  Nobody could turn eight different plates of pickles into a proper dinner party.

But then there we were, gobbling a damn-near perfectly harmonious array of starters:  JJ’s lemon-spiked shrimp, Teresa’s sardine escabetx, Naomi’s gingery endive (alongside some mighty fine salami) and Livia’s marvelously magenta-colored beets.  Magical with a lightly funky organic hard cider from Normandy (Etienne Dupont).  Then Naomi made us taste it all again to prove that it was all equally divine with a rye beer we got on draught at Bierkraft in Park Slope.

We had to sit down when Guillermo served up his swanky sauerkraut soup.  And bring on the dry Riesling Livia brought (Schmitges trocken Grauschiefer).  Then Nancy brought out a platter of absolutely kick-ass crispy home made fish sticks: “Merrill said, ‘pickles’ and naturally the first thing that popped into my head was tartar sauce.”

A great fermented belch blasted us every time Merrill opened her fridge.  Thanks to some Times event, she just happened to have kimchi for 700 in there .  Salty-hot and sexy against our slabs of rare hangar steak, paired with a black Bavarian lager from Milwaukee called Sprecher– that’s when the helmets came out.

The Plum Torte was not pickled, but we might have been, just a little.  It was a perfectly improper dinner party after all.


Homemade Fish Sticks with Tartar Sauce


(the best tartar sauce EVER)

(the best tartar sauce EVER)

Nancy was responsible for these little nuggets of joy, which left most of us speechless. (We were too busy chewing, you see.) Of course, after an initial period of rapturous silence, we simply couldn’t resist talking with our mouths full so that we might rhapsodize about this delightful dish. Nancy also gets super-duper extra credit for being the only person to actually make up her own recipe for our gathering.

Homemade Fish Sticks with Tartar Sauce

Serves 10 as a starter, 6 as a main

3/4 cup Veganese (grape seed oil variety) or mayo
7 oz. Total yogurt (2%)
1 small shallot, minced
8 cornichons, chopped
3 T chopped capers
1 T chopped thyme
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Heaping tsp of Dijon mustard
Dash or two of cayenne
Salt and pepper to taste

To make the tartar sauce, combine the above ingredients in an airtight container and refrigerate – ideally overnight so that the flavors can blend.

2 lbs, of cod, scrod, halibut, or another white fish with large flakes
Flour for dredging
2 eggs, beaten
Plain panko bread crumbs, combined with 1 tsp lemon zest, 2 tsp chopped parsley, salt and pepper

To make the fish sticks, cut the fish into 1-inch thick strips or chunks, making sure to remove any bones. Coat the strips in flour, beaten egg and the seasoned bread crumbs and refrigerate on a baking sheet until ready to cook.

Heat about 1/2 an inch of vegetable oil in a wide, heavy pan over medium-high heat,  until a bread crumb dropped into the oil sizzles. Working in batches and being careful not to crowd them, add the fish sticks to the pan and cook, turning once, until golden brown, 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer finished fish sticks to a baking sheet lined with paper towels and keep in a 200 degree oven while you fry the rest. When all the fish sticks are cooked, serve them immediately with the tartar sauce and some lemon wedges for squeezing.


(isn't it gorgeous?)

(isn't it gorgeous?!)

This kimchi recipe comes from the talented folks at Momofuku Noodle and Momofuku Ssam Bars, David Chang’s wildly popular (nouveau) Korean joints in lower Manhattan. I have literally watched people battle it out over the last forkful of this stuff. And rightly so. It’s not a typical kimchi in that it’s almost blindingly spicy if you use the full amount of chili the recipe calls for, but it is addictive. It’s also a rather loose interpretation of “pickling,” as kimchi is technically fermented rather than pickled, but the resulting effect (tangy, salty vegetables) is very similar, as are its uses. At Momofuku, they fling a heap of it onto anything that will stand still, but my favorite combo of theirs is kimchi with seared hangar steak – medium rare and edging towards bloody. That’s what we made for our cooking club meeting, and I don’t think anyone went away disappointed. The great thing about this is that it’ll keep for weeks in an airtight container in the fridge, and the flavors only get better as the stuff “ripens.”

Baechu (Cabbage) Kimchi (Adapted from Momofuku)

Makes about 4 cups

1 cup kosher salt

1 cup sugar

1 large Napa cabbage, cut into 1-inch pieces

7 cloves garlic, peeled

1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled

1/2 cup simple syrup

3 T small brined shrmp (se-u-jet)

1/4 cup fish sauce

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup red pepper flakes (cut this in half if you’re really sensitive to heat)

1/2 cup julienned daikon radish

1/2 cup julienned carrots

1/2 cup julienned scallions, white and light green parts only


Five to seven days before serving, stir together the salt and sugar in a small bowl. Toss this with the cabbage in a large bowl. Set a plate, small enough to submerge into the bowl, over the cabbage and weight down. Set aside for 2 to 24 hours (the longer the better). 

The next day, make the marinade: Combine the garlic, ginger and simple syrup in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until puréed. Transfer to a large bowl. In the same food-processor bowl, purée the shrimp, fish sauce, soy sauce and chili flakes, gradually adding enough water (about 1/2 cup) to create a fluid mixture. Add the shrimp mixture to the bowl and combine with the garlic-ginger mixture.

Stir the daikon, carrots and scallions into the marinade. Rinse the cabbage well with cold water, drain thoroughly and toss with the marinade. Cover tightly and refrigerate for five to seven days before serving. 

Escabetx de Sardines


(heads and all)

These pickled sardines are such an old-fashioned bar snack in Barcelona that they’re hard to find there anymore (though maybe they’ll ride back in on the recent wave of retro tapas places like Comerç 24 and Inopia). They’re easy to make: you pan fry the sardines, then let them wallow in a hot vinegar and oil, garlic and herb marinade (quail, partridge, and eggplant are other classics for preserving in excabetx). My ex-mother-in-law used to make them all the time, but just in case she was hiding some secret ingredient from me, I turned to Colman Andrews’s Catalan Cuisine (1988, updated Harvard Common Press, 2006) for a recipe.

I love the food lore he dishes out:  escabetx, he notes, is not only simpler than salting and drying, it is a positively  heroic food, having “saved millions of lives throughout history” by keeping so many sardines from rotting. Andrews says recipes for escabetxos go back to the earliest Catalan coobook, the 14th century Llibre de Sent Soví and probably got there via the arabs (escabetx, he says, is derived from sikbaj, the Perso-Arabic word for vinegar stew). Comforted as I was by Andews’s depth on this subject, his recipe sounded a little too mild: it calls for a quart of olive oil to one cup of vinegar.  I cut the oil down for the batch I made for our gathering, and think it still wanted for a jot more tartness and pimentón (as well as the thyme I had lazily left out).  Here’s what I’ll do next time:

Excabetx de Sardines (Pickled Sardines) Serves 6 as a starter, 12 as a tapa

12 fresh sardines
1 cup flour
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
3 cups olive oil (about half for frying, half for the marinade)
12 cloves garlic
3 bay leaves
1 big sprig fresh thyme (several little branches)
1 tsp. pimentón agridulce (Spanish smoked paprika)

Clean the sardines and lay them open flat (leave the head on if you like that sort of drama).  Sprinkle the fish generously with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, then dredge it lightly in flour and pan fry in about a cup of the olive oil (until dark golden on both sides).  Remove sardines to a ceramic casserole dish.

In a saucepan, combine remaining oil, vinegars, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and pimentón, and bring to a boil.  Pour the hot mixture over the sardines, arranging them so they’re completely covered in the marinade.  Cover and refrigerate for at least two days and up to one month.  (In the old days they kept just fine unrefrigerated, but anyway, bring them to room temperature) and lift the sardines out of the marinade to serve. Nice with garlic toasts and also alongside a plain little green salad, with maybe a few sliced radishes.