You Should Quick-Pickle Your Vegetables

A bite of salt-cured celery taught me a trick I'll use on sandwiches and salads from now on.


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If there’s a lobster roll on the menu at a seafood-focused restaurant, I’m likely going to order it — it's absolutely one of my favorite things to eat. My years working as a cook in Maine taught me that the simpler the lobster roll, the better. But when I bit into the lobster roll at Seaworthy in New Orleans, it was the celery that caught my eye and palate.

Don’t get me wrong — the fresh, sweet lobster meat and buttery toasted split bun were glorious. But of all things, it was the chopped celery that took the meal over the top. It tasted like extra-strength celery, amped-up celery, celery times a thousand. Each perfectly diced square was crunchy and burst with fresh, green flavors, slightly herbal with just a hint of bitterness. I felt like I was eating celery for the first time. Or at least, this celery was nothing like the sad stalks I keep in the refrigerator to use while making soup or stock.

I found out later that Kristen York, the chef de cuisine at Seaworthy, had fermented the celery in a salt-cure. She mixes a 10% salt solution, meaning she uses one part kosher salt to 10 parts water. She lets the salt dissolve, then stores celery in the mixture, keeping it refrigerated. 

"I wouldn’t store it more than a week or two, but technically they could probably last longer,” York says. “I prefer the 'snap' though [of quick-pickled celery]."

That lobster roll reminded me of the big rewards that come from the short work to make quick-pickled vegetables, and when I began to research the technique further, I found even more justification to try quick-pickling with celery. I usually have a jar of Pickled Red Onions in my refrigerator, ready to add punches of flavor to tacos, sandwiches, roasted vegetable salads, and Avocado Toast. Food & Wine’s Kay Chun uses that technique on cucumber as well. And while I hadn’t seen this technique used on celery, a quick look at the Food & Wine recipe database revealed that our own Justin Chapple quick-pickles celery and uses it as a garnish for his ‘Nduja Toasts. The celery is ready in just 15 minutes, making it an easy addition to any recipe.

Now that I've learned more about this technique, I’ll be adding pickled celery to Chicken Salad, Tuna Salad, Deviled Eggs, and any other dish that could use a little punch of flavor. It’s the kind of small touch that makes a big impact — just what I love to add to my cooking.

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