Originally designed to preserve vegetables for extended lengths of time, the pickling process has been around since ancient times. Julius Caesar fed pickles to his troops to increase their stamina. Pickles were purported to be a part of Cleopatra's beauty routine, and Shakespeare repeatedly mentioned them in his plays.
Today you'll find pickles in everything from fast food hamburgers and deli plates to Korean soups (yes, kimchi is technically a pickle!). You'll also find them at local farmers' markets, where photo studio VP Dean Lambros sells spicy homemade pickled eggs, green beans, asparagus and cucumbers. Lambros created his brand, Pickled Perfection, during an 8-month hiatus between photo jobs.
"I love to cook," he tells New Times. "I probably should've gone to culinary school."
Lambros did the next best thing. He perfected his pickling recipe, rented kitchen space at Lester's Catering in Phoenix and recruited sons Travis and Adam to help make and package pickles with a little kick.
So how do you get from crisp asparagus spear to spicy pickle?
We were able to catch the full process for green beans and asparagus during a visit to the Pickled Perfection kitchen last week. The pickles are easy to make. The difficulty is in creating the perfect brining solution and then getting all of the legal variance tests required to sell handmade food products.
Lambros starts with fresh vegetables that have been steamed for eight minutes and then cooled. Recyclable containers are laid out on the table and filled with garlic cloves, coriander seeds, serrano peppers (one step hotter than jalapenos on the Scoville scale) and fresh dill.
The veggies are then portioned out into the trays, sprinkled with red pepper flakes and covered with a pre-mixed brining solution of Lambros own design. The containers are closed and the veggies left to pickle for three days in a large walk-in cooler. Wait. Only three days?
Jarred pickles need much longer to cure, but Lambros developed a brining process that shortens the time needed for the veggies to be ready. "I messed around with the recipe and the brine style because I didn't want to wait for things to cure," he explains. "It's what's called a quick-pickling process." Technically, the pickles are ready in one day. But Lambros' personal variance tests found that the perfect brining time is 3-4 days -- and maximum heat is achieved in three months. Buy a few of these babies, put 'em in the fridge and ninety days later you can sear your tongue off with an asparagus spear. Sweet!
Once the pickles are ready, they can be eaten straight out of the package or incorporated into food or drink recipes like the pickled deviled eggs shown on the company's website. Some customers even use the leftover brine and spices as a marinade.
According to Lambros, the secret to quick-pickling lies in the brining solution, which is a combination of sugar, salt, water or vinegar and spices. Certain ratios make for quick pickling times, while other more traditional ratios. What's in Lambros' brine that makes his eggs and veggies into pickles in a flash?
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Not even his sons know. Every week or two, dad brings a new batch of Pickled Perfection brining base to the shop and leaves it in the storeroom for the boys to use. "Food can't be copyrighted," explains Lambros. But if you keep a part of the process secret, then no one can swipe your exact recipe.
"I'll get it out of him," quips Travis. "One day."
Pickled Perfection products are currently available at local farmers' markets including Glendale's Twilight Farmers' Market at the Citadelle and the Downtown Phoenix Public Market (see their website for the full schedule). Also keep an eye out for Pickled Perfection at local bars, where their green beans have popped up in Bloody Marys and martinis.