Executive Chef Mike Ramsey of Jacksonville (Fla.) Golf & Country Club (JGCC) is a self-proclaimed pickle geek. At JGCC, which does $1.9 million in annual F&B revenue (see “It’s All in the Details, C&RB’s Chef to Chef, April 2015), he pickles in a variety of ways, and for a variety of reasons.
C2C: You recently cryo-pickled some micro-radishes for a golf outing. How did it go?
MR: It definitely worked from a texture standpoint. I didn’t want to crush the greens, so I didn’t use a bag like I typically would.
C2C: What benefit is there in using the bag?
MR: The pickles remain under vacuum while in the bag, and they continue to absorb the liquid.
C2C: Walk us through vacuum pickling: You put the ingredients in a plastic bag with pickling liquid and vacuum seal it. Then what?
MR: When the vacuum pump removes the atmosphere from the chamber, it removes a lot of the air and some of the liquid from inside the vegetables (if that’s what you’re pickling). When the vacuum is released, the cells in the vegetables suck back in whatever is around them—in this case, the pickling liquid.
C2C: So it’s a faster way to pickle? Does it change the taste versus a fermented pickling method?
MR: It is faster, but it’s not quite the same. Flavors are fresher, but it’s a closer relative to quick-pickling than fermented pickling. That sounds obvious, but quick-pickling was around long before vacuum machines. Most traditional pickles use fermentation to achieve that sour taste. It takes time and beneficial bacteria, but it’s unmistakably distinct.
C2C: Can you advocate for fermentation as opposed to quick-pickling or vacuum pickling?
MR: You could never achieve a classic cucumber pickle without using fermentation—you need bacteria to help it change and age and become more nutrient-rich and acidic.
A few things are important for fermentation: temperature (warmer temperatures will speed up fermentation, while lower temperatures will slow it), submersion, and salt. You have to create the right selective environment for the good bacteria to eat the sugars that are naturally present and convert them into lactic acid, which does the work of preservation.
That said, time is still the number-one ingredient—and it will vary according to your acidity preference.
C2C: So the differences between the ways you pickle come down to what?
MR: Time, texture and taste. But they all have their place on the plate.