Why right now is the golden age for pickle lovers
It's a good time to love pickles, and you either get this pickle craze or it sounds crazy.
Pickle-lovers can buy pickle juice by the bottle, along with pickle-flavored chips, almonds, sunflower seeds, frozen pops and even sparkling water, new products that are taking American's love of pickles — and pickle juice — to new heights.
The makers of Pogue Mahone pickles recently opened a pickle-themed restaurant in Austin called the Pickle House, and a Houston-area suburb is hosting a pickle festival called In a Pickle on Sept. 7. Among other things, the festival will feature pickle-flavored cotton candy, cupcakes and Ingenious Brewing Company's pickle beer. Pickle-topped pizza went viral last year, as did a sandwich shop in New Jersey that uses big pickles instead of bread on one of its sandwiches.
Traditional cucumber pickles, or any kind of pickled vegetables, are preserved in salt and sometimes vinegar, so that salty tang is often what we crave when we reach for a pickle spear or a sip of pickle juice from the jar. Researchers have long known that both salt and vinegar can help prevent muscle cramps in athletes, and if you're enjoying pickles that have been lacto-fermented, which use only salt and not vinegar in the brine, the leftover liquid will have plenty of probiotics, those good-for-you bacteria that aid digestion and boost your immune system.
Although plenty of pickle lovers prefer the sweet bread and butter pickles, today's pickle Renaissance is all about dill, garlic and vinegar. Those were the flavors that Sarah Brightwell reached for when she decided to host a pickle-themed birthday party for her sister, Meghan, who has always been a pickle fanatic, in 2017.
“She loves everything sour. When she was little, she’d drink pickle juice from the jar, and my mom would have to tell her, ‘You can’t drink all the juice until we’ve eaten all the pickles,'” she says.
Everything at the party was pickled or pickle-flavored, from the mocktails to the chocolate-covered pickles on the raspberry cheesecake.
“I stopped just short of pickle cake,” Brightwell says.
She served a pickle-heavy potato salad, salad with pickle dressing and a relish tray with all pickled vegetables. She made grilled chicken that tasted like the pickle juice in which it was brined. (It also had a yellow/green hue, but Brightwell says everyone loved it, especially her dad.)
Meghan’s favorite dish, however, might have been the weirdest: pickle soup. “I went down the Pinterest rabbit hole of pickle dishes and made this pickle soup,” Sarah says. “I was worried because it made a lot and I had this vat of creamy pickle soup, but Meghan loved it so much that she made it on her own.
“It wasn’t my cup of tea."
But for plenty of people, there's no end to the pickle love. When I asked readers online to recommend all things pickle recently, they shared their love of Tomolives, which are pickled baby tomatillos perfect for cocktails, and the dill pickle popcorn from Austin-based Cornucopia.
A number of people shared their love of pickle sno cones, which you can find at many shaved ice trailers, including Snobowla on Burnet Road. The Dripping Springs-based Bob's Pickle Pops has been around since 2008, and the company now also offers a spicy hot flavor.
At a recent stop by the Whole Foods at the Domain, I chatted with an employee who dips a pickle spear into peanut butter after a long bike ride.
At the Pickle House, you'll find queso, pickle-fried chicken bites and creamy pickle spread on a number of sandwiches, and in addition to hot fare, you can buy a cold pack of pickles to go, including the company's Texas Sweet Heat pickles, serrano lime pickles, bread and butter deluxe and a dill pickle relish. Fried pickles are a popular appetizer at plenty of restaurants, and Ronco, the popular kitchen gadget company that is now based in Austin, recently released a video for how to make pickle-marinated french fries.
French's now sells fried onions with a hint of dill pickle, in case you want to plan a pickle-themed Thanksgiving that requires a pickle-dusted green bean casserole, and Pringles is selling a Screamin' Dill Pickle Potato Crisp.
Pickles are also reaching the craft beer market. New Braunfels Brewing makes a pickle-inspired sour beer that has a name we can't print in a family publication, but you can find it at Whole Foods. With the popularity of pickle back shots — taking a shot of pickle juice with a shot of whiskey — other craft beers and spirits will likely be following suit soon.
As much as I love this new wave of pickle products, nothing can beat my first pickle juice memories of when I was a kid in Missouri who spent her Saturday mornings at the local skating rink, where I could roll into the concession stand for a whole pickle. At some point, I went straight for the sauce, ordering pickle juice that the concessionaire, likely a high-schooler only a few years older than me, served in a Styrofoam cup and that I could sip while avoiding the slow skate.
It wasn't anything like the probiotic-filled liquid I reach for now, but it was salty and green, with a hint of garlic and what I thought was sophisticated taste. I never grew into bread and butter pickles, but at some point, that love of tart and sour came to include other flavors, like tamarind, lemon zest, pomegranate molasses or umeboshi plums, but there's something special about good ol' dill pickles.
Just don't forget: You can't drink all the pickle juice until you've eaten all the pickles.
Bacon Pickle Pizza
The famous dill pickle pizza from Rhino's Pizzeria in New York has a creamy garlic sauce instead of marinara, and it's topped with mozzarella cheese and dill-seasoned pickles. This version includes bacon and no sauce.
— Addie Broyles
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 premade pizza crust
1 1/2 cups mozzarella
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
3/4 cup dill pickle slices
4 slices bacon, cooked and chopped
1 tablespoon freshly chopped dill
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Ranch dressing, for serving (optional)
Heat oven to 375 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together oil, garlic powder and Italian seasoning. Place pizza crust on prepared baking sheet and brush all over with oil mixture. Top crust with mozzarella and Parmesan and bake until cheese is melty, 15 minutes. Top with pickles and bacon and bake 5 minutes more. Top with dill and red pepper flakes before serving with ranch, if using.
— From "Delish: Eat Like Every Day's the Weekend" by Joanna Saltz and the Editors of Delish (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30)
Dill Pickle Popcorn Seasoning
Pickle popcorn is just one thing you could make with this seasoning mix. Try adding it to salad dressings, sautes, marinades or rubs. Use more dill or ground dill seeds, if you have them. The citric acid adds much-needed sourness to the seasoning mix, so seek it out or order it online if you really want a strong pickle flavor. Some grocery stores sell it in the bulk spice section or with the canning supplies.
— Addie Broyles
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon citric acid (optional)
In a spice grinder, pulse all of the ingredients to a fine powder. Sprinkle on buttered popcorn.
— Adapted from a recipe on FoodandWine.com
Solving a chicken-pickle-brine mystery
It turns out that Chick-fil-A doesn’t use pickle juice as a chicken brine.
Despite internet rumors to the contrary, several Chick-fil-A-philes (and anonymous employees) have debunked the idea that the key to their chicken bites and chicken sandwiches is a pickle brine. The notable pickle taste comes from the pickles on top, while the chicken itself has a salt-sugar brine that, according to the ingredients list, also has MSG, a chemical that makes everything taste good.
"The Food Lab" author J. Kenji Lopez-Alt recently challenged his fans to make their own DIY Chick-fil-A sandwich using powdered sugar in the breading, which he says is more key to its signature flavor than any hint of pickle in the marinade.
You can, of course, use pickle juice as a marinade or brine for chicken. Salt, not dill or cucumber or the other spices, is what tenderizes and flavors the meat, but don't leave it for too long or the salt or pickle flavor might overwhelm the meat.