I feel like I’m one step closer to grandmother-hood. No, there is no man involved, or God forbid, children, but there is canning. I made my first canned things and if they don’t get all mouldy in the next few weeks I’ll feel an even great sense of accomplishment. So after an entire summer of twiddling my thumbs preserve-wise, I jumped on the canning bandwagon with two simple recipes:
Pickled Red Chilies and Pickled Radish Threads
Why not start with jam, you ask? That seems like where everyone starts. You get lulled into stuffing excess seasonal fruit into jars. Maybe tomatoes or peppers, but radishes? Who has an excess of radish? Apparently, I do.
Actually, what really happened is that I bought a really nice organic radish from the farmers’ market and had some on a salad, only to remember that I hate daikon radish. I mean, a tiny bit is okay, but there was no way I wanted to force that whole radish into my body. So it was throw it out or find something fun to do with it. I also had a quarter pound of cayenne chilies sitting in my fridge from when I bought a huge bag of them a few weeks ago to make an amazing Vietnamese cooked hot sauce from VietWorldKitchen. The appeal of this recipe for pickled red chilies (not from the same website) was that I didn’t have to remove the seeds from the chilies and I didn’t need to chop them very much. They’re pretty fuss-free as far as chilies go. They’re also about 5 pages apart in one of my favourite books, “Beyond the Great Wall”, a cookbook/travel book about the food and cultures of the ethnic minorities of China. It’s a very interesting hybrid of recipes you may think of more as Korean, Thai, Afghani, etc. because of the outside influences and the vast terrain that is China.
Anyway, to pickle these things I combined all my just-learned canning knowledge. I had to adjust the process a little to be extra safe. Here was the method.
I brought a huge pot of water on the stove in my stock pot and put 3 empty (cleaned in hot, soapy water) jars and rings inside to make sure the water came a good 2 inches above the tops of the jars. You could double or triple these recipes to make lots, but I was just experimenting, and the recipes only made about 3 jars-worth of pickles. I brought the pot to a boil and boiled for 5 minutes. The bringing it to a boil stage took so long since there was so much water that I had time to prepare the rest of the recipe. I’d bought new lids for my recycled jars (skipping using the jar that had contained moose meat…) and washed those in hot soapy water too, being careful that my hands were very clean. I lay them on clean towels and didn’t touch them again with my hands. I had another clean towel ready for my jars too.
Okay, then the recipes.
1/4 pound of long red ones, washed, stems removed, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (measure out 1 packed cup)
1 cup rice vinegar
1 tbsp kosher salt (I had coarse sea salt. Apparently recipes call for kosher salt because it doesn’t have the iodine or anti-caking additives of table salt that make the pickle brine go cloudy and the pickled things dark, but any salt is fine. It’ll just look weird. My coarse sea salt may be fine since I doubt is has these additives)
1/4 tsp sichuan peppercorns
1 start anise, whole or in pieces
So you’ve got the chilies chopped and measured. Now bring the vinegar to a boil. While it’s coming to a boil add the salt and stir to dissolve. Then add the peppercorn and star anise. Bring it to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer 30 seconds. It’d not like it’ll go from a boil to just a simmer in 30 seconds, but just don’t let it boil out of control. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm. You only want to add hot brine to your pickles so it can’t get too chilly. Done.
Pickled Radish Threads
1/2 pound daikon radish, peeled and coarsely grated (or very thinly sliced, but it won’t be “threads” this way)
1 scallion, minced (I figured they meant green onion here, but I didn’t have any, so I skipped it and upped the onion below)
1/4 of a small onion (I used a small red onion that kind of had green onion ends. The ends weren’t fresh anymore but I figured the red onion was enough like a shallot to substitute for both the onion and scallion in the recipe, so I used a bit extra)
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp kosher salt (here’s that salt again. See above for what I did)
1/2 tsp dry-roasted sichuan peppercorns, ground (OOH I love these things. To roast, put them in a frying pan over medium heat for about 4 minutes, or until they’re fragrant. Then grind them in a mortar and pestle, coffee grinder, or in a closed bag with something heavy like a pot. You can also skip them)
1 1/2 cups rice vinegar
I have this cool slicer thing that looks like a relic of the industrial revolution. It has fun attachments for grating things to different sizes. I used the small grater and made angel hair pasta sized radish threads. I then chopped the red onion but realized I should have just sliced those up too using the same size attachment on my contraption. Could have done the same with the ginger, but minced is nicer since it spreads better in the pickle.
Anyway, combine the radish, onion (scallion), and ginger in a large bowl and stir to combine. Roast the peppercorns and have the vinegar handy, at least at room temperature, but it would be better to put it on low to medium heat in a small saucepan. Canning safety and all.
Now just wait for your jars to be boiled for the five minutes. Rolling boil. None of this wimpy steaming simmer business. So I don’t have a jar lifter. I have tongs and a slotted spoon. I figured women have been canning without jar lifters for ages, so so could I. They probably didn’t have tongs either, but the point is they adapted and worked with what they had. I took the pot off the heat and carefully got my tongs under the lip of the first jar and my slotted spoon under the bottom of the jar. I got it out of the water and carefully poured out the water from inside the jar. With a little re-adjusting of the jar I then got it onto a clean cloth next to the pot. 1 down, 2 to go.
When all three were out I pout the lids of the three jars in the hot water to have a tea party with the rings that I just left in there. Out came my chopsticks (of my drawer, not the water. I cleaned them in more hot soapy water – really my hands are like prunes now – and got to work on my chilies). I stuff as many chilies as I could into a jar, filling it up to the first lip and stuffing them down to make room for some more. I poured the heated vinegar/salt/star anise over it to just a little below the edge. There was a little leftover of both the chilies and brine so I put that in another can. Then back to my tongs and slotted spoon since enough time had elapsed to soften the wax on the lids in the hot water. I got two lids out, one by one, and put them on top of my jars of chilies. The second jar wasn’t full, so I wasn’t really going to let it ferment like it should, but I figured I’d do all the rest of the process for practice. Then I got two lids out and tightened hand-tight. Phew!
Now the radishes. I took half the vegetable mixture and stuffed it into a mason jar (bigger than a normal jam jar but with the same size lid) since I only wanted to make one jar. Then I added 1/2 tbsp of kosher salt and all of the roasted and ground peppercorn. Then I added the rest of the radish mixture and then the rest of the salt. Finally I poured on the vinegar to just below the top. The jar was stuffed pretty full, as it should be. Back to my tongs and slotted spoon. Out came a lid, carefully placed on top and then a ring to tighten. Now you shake the mixture to distribute the salt and vinegar. Oh I also “bubbled” it after adding the vinegar. That means pressing down with chopsticks or a spatula to get air bubbles out and condense the jar contents. My only concern was that the radishes were threads so they’d spilled a bit over the rim and were tough to get into the jar, and I probably should have wiped down the rim with a clean cloth, but I used my chopsticks well to move things into the jar and I hadn’t touched anything with my fingers except the body of the jar and the tightening ring. I never touched the lid. Done! Well, almost.
The recipes say now to leave the jars in sunny places, but after my canning workshop I wanted to be extra careful, so I put my jars (only the 2 full ones since the other was going to be opened right away anyway) back into my almost boiling water using my tong/spoon method, and brought the water back to a boil. When it got back to a boil (just a few minutes since it retained so much heat from before) I set a timer for 20 minutes. Ding! Tong/spoon and the jars were safely out onto a cloth to cool. Now it went to a sunny spot by the window for 2-4 days. Well, it went there for a few hours and then I figured it wasn’t warm enough and so I put it in the oven with the light on. During these 2-4 days you’re supposed to occasionally shake the jar. That’s all there is to it. Keeps indefinitely if refrigerated and well sealed. What a miracle.
The chilies also got some window time before going in the oven with the light on. They get two days of light and then get refrigerated for 2 weeks. That mellows the flavour, takes away the heat and increases the sweetness. Mmm…My extra half jar got opened right away (it popped! but that doesn’t mean it was properly sealed. With all that air in there it couldn’t have been good, so it’s good to know that a jar can pop and still not be okay).
A few notes: if you use a different kind of chili you can strip out the seeds to decrease the heat and emphasize the flavour.
I had extra vinegar brine for the chilies and that’s apparently normal (says the recipe). Just use a funnel or a yogurt container with the bottom cut off to pour the brine into the jar. Pouring from a saucepan is not a great idea. I now have vinegar-ed kitchen cloths.
Maybe eating a quick-pickled cayenne is not a great idea, even if it is delicious. I took my half jar and had it with some potatoes and mmm…it was good, but wow did my stomach and mouth burn after that one. A little goes a long way. Stop before the burn kicks in because by then it’s too late.