Pickled elements add acid, nuance and brightness to a dish.
Every spring, Jacksonville (Fla.) Golf & Country Club (JGCC) brings in around 15 pounds of ramps. The season for the wild onions is painfully short, and the best ones come in the beginning.
To extend their life, Executive Chef Mike Ramsey takes a portion of the haul and separates the tops from the bottoms. He makes a compound butter and pesto with the greens, fries the roots, and pickles the whites.
Pickling for Ramsey is a means of experimentation. And ramps are one of many things he pickles at JGCC. Like many chefs, he’s found that pickling is a simple and incredibly versatile process that allows him to use a variety of ingredients and spices in delicious combinations.
Similarly, Chad Myers, Executive Chef of Dubuque (Iowa) Golf and Country Club (DGCC), relies on pickled ingredients to add acid and flavor to composed dishes.
“We do a poached lobster tail on a celery root puree with a saffron citrus buerre blanc, charred sweet corn, herb oil, and pickled grapes,” Myers reports. “The grapes are like little flavor bombs.”
DGCC, which does a little over $1 million in annual F&B with menus that change frequently, also uses pickled elements on a pork-belly dish served with a sweet potato and butternut squash salad that has bacon, corn, herbs, and a chipotle citrus vinaigrette (see photo, above).
“The dish is topped with a vanilla toffee jus, pickled fennel, pickled kumquats, pickled mustard seeds and a cranberry gelée,” says Myers. “By pickling certain elements in a dish, you can balance flavors better, without overpowering any one component. The acid also cuts through the richness of the pork.”
In effect, the pickled ingredients in Myers’ pork-belly dish perform as functional and flavorful garnishes.
Kevin Ford, CEC, Executive Chef of The Country Club of Rochester (N.Y.), pickles for many of the same reasons.
“It’s a great way to preserve product from a back-of-the-house perspective,” says Ford. “And it’s a great way to add bursts of acid and flavor.”
Dishes should be functional the whole way through, Ford believes. “A lot of chefs will throw greens on a dish so it looks good, but it doesn’t eat well,” he says. “Dishes should be prepared from an eating perspective, and pickling is a great way to approach garnishing with that in mind.”
The craziest thing Ford pickles is shrimp, which he uses alongside pickled asparagus in Bloody Marys.
“We lightly blanch the shrimp in court bouillon, then chill them and do a vacuum pickle with tarragon and horseradish,” he says. “It’s unexpected and hugely flavorful. Plus, it’s a talking point for members—they love it.”
For Josef Jungwirth, Corporate Executive Chef of Sandals Resorts International in Jamaica, pickling provides all of the aforementioned benefits—and helps with menu descriptions, too.
“Pickling enhances the flavor, look and texture of a dish,” says Jungwirth. “It also helps to add interest to the way you can describe it on a menu.”