Pickled Asparagus

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It’s getting towards the end of May and that means around here asparagus season is almost over. The stalks that are leftover are a little tougher and a little woodier although still much better than the sad stalks that show up in the major supermarkets in December. Still, I’m kind of glad the season is almost over – I am pretty sick of asparagus.

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I should let you know that I am not really a creature of habit when it comes to eating. I don’t often remake dishes within the same month and even when I do it’s likely that I’ll shake up the recipe and end up with something that tastes unlike the original iteration. If I really really love something it might make an appearance twice in a month. Maybe. But when my CSA box arrives with yet another stalk of asparagus, I am just not interested in cooking that asparagus in a way that highlights the fact that is still asparagus. At this point, when I’m stuck wit h a vegetable (or fruit) that needs to be eaten but that I don’t really want to eat, I have a quick trick for dealing with it – I immerse it in vinegar.

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I am a big fan of pickles and I don’t really discriminate in that love. If a restaurant offers a pickled vegetable platter, chances are good that I’ll suggest ordering it (although I don’t always win that; Jeff is medium about pickles). I’ve even come to terms with sweet pickles recently and if you open my fridge on any given day, there’s a good chance there will be a jar of something marinating in vinegar hiding on one of the shelves.

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I pictured my vinegar collection earlier and while it may seem a bit excessive, having a large variety allows me to have a lot of control over how much acidity I add to a recipe. Some of the vinegars are sweet with a fairly low acid so the final dish has only a hint of vinegar flavor. But some of them are very sharp, with an acidity of about 5% (which is what you need for pickling) and the final product will taste like the kind of pickle you get from a good Jewish deli. In this case, I wasn’t going for subtle so I used white distilled vinegar which packs a huge punch and with the addition of garlic, the resulting asparagus pickles taste not unlike a kosher dill, although a more interesting kosher dill since asparagus has a stronger flavor than cucumber.

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These pickles were delicious straight out of the jar but I also sliced them up for sandwiches, just like a cucumber pickle, and I liked it so much I made myself another sandwich as a snack so I could enjoy it again. That jar is now gone and hopefully it was the last of this season’s asparagus but these pickles almost made me wish the season was a few weeks longer. Almost.

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Pickled Asparagus
Adapted from Well-Preserved by Eugenia Bone

Makes 1 pint

1 bunch asparagus, about a half-pound, trimmed to fit into a pint jar.
1.5 cups white distilled vinegar (5% acidity)
1 tbs white sugar
2 tbs kosher salt
1 tsp chile flakes
10-15 black peppercorns
1 clove garlic smashed

Wash the asparagus and trim the ends so the stalks fit into a pint jar* standing up with about ½ inch of headspace at the top. Add the smashed garlic clove to the jar. If you plan to water bath can the jars, blanch the asparagus in salted boiling water for about 20 seconds before putting it in the jars.

In a small pot, combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, chile flakes, and peppercorns. Simmer over medium-low heat** until the salt and sugar are fully dissolved.***

Pour the hot brine over the asparagus spears and cover the jars with a lid. (At this point you could continue on with water bath canning but make sure to follow the instructions for safe canning here or here.) Let the jar cool to room temperature, then store in the fridge for1-2 days before serving. The longer the spears sit, the stronger the brine flavor. In the fridge they’ll stay good for at least a month. If they last that long.

*Yes, this means a lot of the asparagus goes unused. You can always cut up the remaining stalk pieces for a stir-fry or shave them into a salad.

** Do yourself a favor when you heat vinegar and make sure your stove fan is on when you do it, preferably with a window open. I love vinegar and even I don’t love the smell of it all over my house.

*** Don’t boil the vinegar for too long; the acid in vinegar is volatile and some of it will escape into the air as it’s heated. Prolonged boiling will decrease the final acidity and may change the flavor of your jars (and their safety if you water bath can them).

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