Cold Chicken and Pickles

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As part of the week leading up to Hobbit Day, here is the first in a series of recipes coming from my forthcoming book Medium Rare and Back Again: Food from the World of Middle-earth. Here, I’ll explore one method of pickling cucumbers – quick-pickling – in homage to Gandalf’s request at the Unexpected Party:

“Put on a few eggs, there’s a good fellow!” Gandalf called after him, as the hobbit stumped off to the pantries. “And bring out the cold chicken and pickles!”
“Seems to know as much about the inside of my larders as I do myself!” thought Mr Baggins, who was feeling positively flummoxed…

Cold Chicken and Pickles
There are a number of basic approaches pickling vegetables and other foods (eggs, in particular). I discuss them at somewhat greater length in my book, but in general, the process involves marinading the food-to-be-pickled in a brine of vinegar, salt, sugar, sometimes water, and varied flavor elements. This process, in addition to flavoring the food, preserves it, primarily through increasing its acidity to a level at which bacteria cannot multiply or, in some cases, survive at all. Some pickles, particularly the immature gherkin cucumber, must also be cooked as part of the process, or they will remain too tough to eat.

Perhaps the most convenient technique for pickling is quick-pickling. This can be done in a matter of minutes, and to taste; the intensity of the flavor is proportionate to the amount of time that the cucumber stays in the brine. As with so many recipes that involve brining and/or curing, the flavor mix can be varied widely, so you should feel free to experiment with your own herb and spice combinations!

While “Cold chicken and pickles” is not itself the name a dish per se, let’s playfully keep the two together. I will assume you can roast a chicken breast on your own. Here’s how to do the pickles!

Cold Chicken and Pickles
Author: 
Recipe type: Side Dish
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 

Serves: 8
 

Ingredients
  • 2 chicken breasts, roasted with skin on and then refrigerated
  • 3-4 small pickling cucumbers or one long English cucumber, washed
  • 1½ c. (360 mL) water
  • ½ c. (120 mL) white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, or cider vinegar
  • ⅓ c. (70 g) granulated white sugar
  • 1 tbsp. (16 g) salt
  • 1 tsp. (2 g) red pepper flakes
  • 6-10 juniper berries
  • 15-20 black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • 1 scallion (optional, for garnish)
  • Black sesame seeds (optional, for garnish)

Instructions
  1. Slice the cucumber(s) into medium slices, roughly ¼” (0.7 cm) thick. Discard the ends.
  2. Toss with the salt, and set aside for 20-30 minutes.
  3. Gently crush the juniper berries in order to crack them slightly open.
  4. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, red pepper flakes, juniper berries, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
  5. Set the cucumbers in a small, narrow bowl and pour the cooled brine over them. Add a small amount of water if needed to cover the cucumbers completely.
  6. Let stand for 3-20 minutes, depending on the desired intensity of the flavor. You may test one after a few minutes to judge how much longer to leave them in.
  7. Garnish with finely-chopped scallions and sesame seeds, and serve as a side dish with cold chicken!

Notes
If making a modestly large number of pickle slices ahead of time, you may pickle them in batches, using the same brine. Cutting the pickles into spears instead of slices is, of course, also easy to do!

Enjoy!

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