Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mexican-style hot pickled carrots

It's been a good while since I've done any pickling so I decided to pick up some likely looking vegetables last time I was at Whole Foods. I ended up with some petite carrots, actually thin carrots cut into short lengths. At least they weren't claimed to be baby carrots which I suspect are the same thing just whittled down to round off the ends.

There are a few different ways to pickle carrots--dilled, sweet and hot primarily. The particular variety I'm making is the sort of hot carrot you'll find bowls of in the better sort of Mexican restaurant which means they're probably unheard of in Miami. Ideally, they should have a strong vinegar bite, be eye-wateringly hot but still have carrot as the foremost flavor. I became fond of them when I lived in San Diego I've been meaning to try making them on my own for some time. I'm hoping this will prompt me to actually cook more Mexican food as somehow I never quite get around to doing so.

I found a promising recipe here. Pickling in general is pretty straightforward and this recipe is no exception. Put vinegar and water in a pot along with spices and usually plenty of salt and/or sugar. (There was no salt in this recipe which is quite unusual. I added a couple Tablespoons as the carrots I sampled for texture were tasting a bit blah.) Bring to a boil, with the vegetables in if they, like carrots and cauliflower, need a little cooking or not if they, like cucumbers and tomatoes, don't. Once the texture is at the point you're looking for, dump the vegetables into a jar, cool and let sit in your refrigerator for a month. I was surprised to discover that soaking in a vinegar brine doesn't change vegetables' textures very much. If you don't get them right at the start they aren't going to improve. On the other hand, the flavor slowly and continually changes. I've sometimes found notable differences even from the fourth to the fifth week.

Beyond the salt, my only modifications were to cut down the amounts to fit in one of my pickling jars (actually ceramic coffee containers) and, as I was one jalapeño short, using a chipotle which should add a nice smoky touch to the final result. Remind me in a month to tell you how they turned out.
Nobody reminded me, but I noticed in my stats that people are finding this page and, more surprisingly, actually reading it so I thought I'd better give you some closure. It's a bit over a month later and basic flavor and texture of the carrots are right on what I was hoping for, including the hint of smoke, but they're not nearly hot enough. It is the right sort of heat, though, so the solution is just to add more jalapeños next time. This batch, because the flavor isn't overwhelming, will make a nice condiment for fajitas or the like. I've got a good easy recipe from Jim Fobel's Big Flavors cookbook; I'll add a link once I've made it and posted about it. Here it is, although I forgot to use the carrots when the time came.
It's now three months later and I just found the carrots in their pickle jar in the back of my refrigerator. Surprisingly, not only were they still perfectly fresh, they're finally really hot just the way I wanted them and they taste great. So that's the key: three months aging. Plan ahead!

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