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Pickle me pink: beginners guide to pickling and preserving like a pro

Getting in a pickle about possibly being the last person in Australia to jump aboard the preserving and fermenting bandwagon? Relax.

Lately we’ve heard much about the benefits of a happy gut – and the vital role that ancient methods like preserving and pickling play in keeping us and our gut biome healthy. But it can be hard sometimes to separate hype from reality.

At Homage, the award-winning onsite restaurant at Spicers Hidden Vale retreat in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley, pickling and preserving are all in a day’s work for executive chef Ash Martin and his team. 

“Because we want to use as much local produce as possible, we do absolutely heaps of preserving and pickling,” says Martin. “We rely on being able to preserve produce, so we can use it out of season.”

Take a peek inside Hidden Vale’s dedicated preserving room and you’ll see everything from summer sweetcorn – the team has just processed 150kg of local corn – to vibrant herb-infused vinegars, pickled and preserved tomatoes, sweet macerating plums and much more.  

Chef at Spicers Hidden Vale in the preserving room

“Pickling and preserving is something I’ve always been interested in and since I arrived at Homage it’s become a mission,” says Martin. “That’s why we turned the bike shed into a preserving room – and we’ve become pretty good at filling it.”

“It’s super simple. There are so many books you can read but it’s much easier than it sounds. Basically, if you’ve got clean glass jars and a clean environment, you just need salt, sugar, pectin, and you can do anything!”

Shayne Mansfield, head chef of Hunter Valley’s Restaurant Botanica at Spicers Vineyards Estate in Pokolbin, New South Wales, agrees it’s pretty much child’s play.

He made his first batch of pickles – radishes in a vinegar pickling mix – at age 8, with his grandmother supervising. “She used to pickle everything – she’d even do a corn beef pickle in jars,” says Mansfield. “Pickled radish, eggs, onions – and she’s got a cracking piccalilli recipe.”

Head Chef Shayne Mansfield of Restaurant BotanicaHead Chef Shayne Mansfield from Restaurant Botanica

Like Hidden Vale, Spicers Vineyard Estate in Pokolbin, New South Wales also has its own dedicated fermentation room and there’s always a cornucopia of Botanica’s pickles and preserves in there  – everything from rose petal and fennel pollen vinegars, through to pickled broad beans and pickled rhubarb, alcoholic mead and even a fermented garlic honey.

“That honey is the most delicious thing,” says Mansfield. “We’ve been using it at Botanica as a glaze on a prawn dish but going into autumn we’ll use it with duck. It’s a dish that’s all about byproducts – we’ll brush the duck with honey and then make a dry-roasted crumb from jamon offcuts with toasted carraway seeds to add a salty crunch.”

“The rose petals for the rose vinegar come from the bushes that grow at the end of the grapevines and they are organic – it’s just beautiful.”

Mansfield is a firm fan of the health benefits of using pickles and preserves, making, sauerkraut for staff meals and home use, but he says pickles are also an invaluable tool for chefs because they add an exciting point of difference to a dish.  

Preserve from Restaurant BotanicaPickled radishes at Restaurant Botanica

“Last year we got 45-50 kilos of carrots from our garden. We pickled some and then made a fermented carrot juice from others. We’re using this now as a sauce with a lamb dish. It’s tangy and we make a gastrique (a sweet and sour sauce) with brown sugar and then reduce it down. On the same dish, we’ll use fermented broad beans over the top, mixed in with some burnt almonds.  It just adds an element people don’t expect.”

At Homage, where more than ninety percent of the menu is prepared using wood-fire, Martin loves nothing more than using ancient methods in modern ways – like smoking preserved plums to add balance and texture to a rich suckling pig dish on the autumn menu.

“You just add a heap of sugar and a little bit of pectin and let the plums sit in this (macerating) for a few weeks,” says Martin. “Then, we take out the plums, sit them over our olive wood charcoal fire pit and let them semi-dry. They’re sweet and acidic and smoky and amazing with the pig meat.”

But what is the difference between pickling and preserving? The short answer is all pickles are a type of preserve because pickling extends or preserves the shelf-life of the object you’re pickling. But not all preserves are pickles – for example, a sweet mango preserve.

Preserves at Spicers Vineyards EstatePreserves at Spicers hidden vale

There are different types of pickle too. A pickle can be any food that’s been preserved either in brine, or preserved in an acid, like a vinegar.  Pickles that are preserved in an acid don’t ferment but it’s a faster method, and if they’re given a hot bath (like Mansfield’s radish recipe below) they have a long shelf-life. Pickles preserved in brine are allowed to ferment and have a more complex flavour.

Both relishes and chunky jams are examples of preserves.  

Dive in, experiment and relish some pack-a-punch flavours!

MANSFIELD’S PICKLING TIPS

  1. Ensure everything is spotlessly clean before you start
  2. Start with something easy – like turnips or radish
  3. Get a good pickling mix recipe (see below). You can customise it by adding the spices you like, to get the flavours you want.
  4. Always fill your pickling jar to the brim to ensure what you’re pickling is fully submerged
  5. Have a go and pickle anything – it’s all about catching something that’s in season at the height of its beauty and being able to enjoy that later when it’s no longer available.

Botanica’s Pickling Mix (Vinegar)

Ingredients

1/4 cup table salt

2 cups brown sugar

1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup white vinegar

1/2 cups red wine vinegar

3 x cloves

1 x cinnamon quills

1 x star anise

1 tbsp black pepper corns

500 ml water

Method

Bring to the boil, strain and place the cool liquid in large container.  You can use this vinegar pickling mix to pickle almost anything. Radish is an easy vegetable to get started with. 

PICKLED RADISH

  1. Make sure everything is clean (pickling jar, lid, any utensils etc)
  2. Remove radish leaves and wash radish. Place whole radishes in a glass pickling jar
  3. Heat the pickling mix to boiling and carefully pour over radish. Fill the jar so veg is fully submerged.
  4. In a saucepan large enough to cover the jar, boil enough water to completely submerge the pickling jar. Put the lids on the jar securely, carefully turn it upside down and place in the saucepan. Allow to boil in water fully submerged for 5-10 minutes.

Allow to cool and place in a shady spot for at least for two weeks before testing. These pickles will keep for at least 12 months.

Written by Fiona Donnelly.

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