Why should you pickle?

by Iain Pennington 7 November 2016

Iain Pennington, head chef of The Ethicurean in Bristol, tells us why pickling is such an important skill for any cook to master.

Iain Pennington is a head chef and owner of the award winning restaurant, The Ethicurean.

Iain Pennington is a head chef and owner of the award winning restaurant, The Ethicurean.

Initially formed on farmer’s markets in 2008, The Ethicurean found its permanent home in the Victorian Walled Garden 'Barley Wood' in 2010.

With a strong passion for sustainability, Iain, along with his brother and co-head chef Matthew, create dishes under an ethical remit, limiting themselves to cooking British produce that is in season, with as few food miles as possible. The majority of the produce that the brothers cook with comes from the garden at Barley Wood. Meat is often wild and comes from game keepers within two miles of the restaurant, and the brothers can often be found foraging the wild hills outside of the restaurant.

Their food has won many accolades, and picked up a national following. The two awards the brothers are most proud of are being named Marina O’Loughlin’s second best restaurant in her top 50 of 2015, and the OFM’s Best Ethical Restaurant in 2011. They were also awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2012.

Iain and Matthew are self taught chefs and rely heavily on experimentation, trial and error, and taste. They have become leading experts in ancient preservation techniques, which they have learned through necessity to ensure the availability of produce throughout the year.

Iain is currently Sarsons’ Pickling Ambassador.

Pickling is an ancient food preservation method but something that is still both useful and hugely beneficial to both chefs and home cooks today. At The Ethicurean, pickling was the very first method of preservation we learnt. We were amazed at both how easy it was to do and how it always resulted in a delicious end product that added so much vibrancy to the dishes we used it in. The more we understood the process, the more we began to experiment with different produce and flavours and discovered the many benefits of pickling.

The first benefit of pickling clear to us was the ability to preserve fresh produce in a sustainable way. We have all, more likely than not, been guilty of buying a few too many items for the fridge at home. But what I love about pickling is that if a busy week has taken you away from cooking, a quick and simple pickle can rescue the week’s ingredients you bought, thus saving you money and ensuring nothing goes to waste. What’s more, you’ve then got some awesome pickles to jazz up your next few weeks’ worth of meals!

Pickled products intensify flavours and do not require refrigeration, so a simple Kilner jar full of pickled vegetables can sit on a dark shelf for a year, just waiting to be re-discovered and adding some deliciousness to your dishes.

Vinegar and acidity, in my opinion, is still one of the most underrated and underused tools in a chef’s larder. Acidity plays such an important role in creating a dish. It can give the illusion of something being ‘juicy’ when in reality it’s not. This is down to the acidity in the food causing you to salivate.

A brilliant way of countering the effect of an overly-fatty dish is to use acidity. Too much fat in a dish with little or no acidity becomes too rich, and for me, can be quite sickly. Again, acidity creates saliva, which helps break down the fat, cleans your mouth and cuts through the richness of fatty food.

One of my favourite cuts of meats is a good pork chop, which is always paired with something acidic. This is why pork terrines and pickles work so well together; simple, fatty and acidic working in harmony to create something delicious.

The greatest thing about pickling is that it’s so easy to do and gives a sum greater than its parts. It adds deliciousness to meals and preserves food for scarcer times, not to mention that it’s good for us!