Cornichons a Cru

So many different kinds of pickles, and they all taste different. If you've only had the grocery store kind, you're really missing out. You don't have to ferment them in a crock, though it's easier than you might think. You can add so many lovely spice combinations to basic vinegar pickles, and you don't have to can them, just marinate them in a clean jar in the back of the fridge and you'll always have wonderful pickles on hand. These are some of the most unusually crunchy, fresh and delicately-flavored pickles I've ever made. The clear, bright flavors are elegantly simple - just tarragon, bay leaf, black pepper and shallots.

The only tricky part of making your own pickles is finding the right cucumbers. Regular ones from the grocery store just won't do, but the next few weeks are prime time to find them at the farmers' markets. Growing your own is not too hard, and very satisfying. I've been buying the most perfect little gherkins from East Mountain Organics this year, but next year maybe I'll try growing cornichons.

1 1/4 pounds small pickling cucumbers (or cornichons, or gherkins)
3 T. pickling salt or kosher salt
4 shallots, peeled and trimmed
1 bay leaf
2 tarragon sprigs
10 black peppercorns
2 C. white wine vinegar

Wash the cucumbers gently, and cut a tiny slice off each end. In a bowl, mix the cucumbers with the salt and refrigerate 24 hours, then drain and rinse in cold water. (Or if you're in a rush like I was, the night before we were going out of town for a week, you can just pack them in the jar with everything, and only use about half the salt.) Put the shallots in a shallow dish and pour boiling water over them. Let them stand for a few minutes, then drain. This prevents them from developing a funky sulfur flavor when pickled. Pack the cucumbers into a jar, interspersing with the shallots, bay leaf, tarragon and peppercorns. Fill to the brim with vinegar. Cap and refrigerate for at least a week before eating.


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