There are two kinds of people: those who understand the pleasures of taking a couple swigs of cold pickle juice right out of the jar, and those who think drinking pickle juice is absolutely vile. To the second group of people I say: How can you love the pickle, but disdain the brine that created it?
Even if you think sipping pickle juice is disgusting, there are many, many uses for the brine — in recipes, in cocktails, and even as a health tonic. In this season where pickles grace many burgers, dogs and sandwiches, and during a time when frugality is a virtue, here’s a little salty inspiration to get you thinking outside the jar.
Use pickle juice to make more pickles. Cut up cucumber slices, carrots, radishes, mushrooms, green beans, asparagus, cauliflower or peppers (or a combination of all those things) and shove them into the pickle jar. Add some whole peeled garlic cloves, onion slices, jalapeno slices, peppercorns or whatever spices you like — lemon pepper, garlic salt, paprika, yellow curry or a squirt of hot sauce. If the brine doesn’t fully cover your vegetables, top it off with more vinegar. Leave it in the fridge for a couple of days and voila, homemade pickles!
The salt, vinegar and spices in pickle juice make it an excellent marinade. After you’ve eaten the last pickle, dump the whole jar over uncooked chicken, beef or pork and refrigerate it for a few hours while the juices mingle, then grill, fry, broil or bake.
Replace the vinegar in salad dressing with pickle juice. The extra spices in the brine add instant flavor to your dressing. This is also a wonderful trick to use with coleslaw, pasta salad, potato salad and even tuna salad. Drizzle a little dill pickle brine into a dill potato salad with dill pickle chunks, or use sweet pickle brine with sweet pickle chunks. Prepare potatoes for potato salad by boiling them in a combination of water and pickle brine. Splash some sweet pickle juice into tuna salads with sweet pickle relish. The brine provides a bright, tangy note to mayonnaise-based dressings.
Make deviled eggs more devilish by adding a little sweet pickle juice to hard-boiled egg yolks, along with mayonnaise and a bit of butter, yellow or Dijon mustard, a dash of hot sauce, paprika and bacon bits. Or use dill pickle brine with chopped fresh dill and top with a dill pickle slice. You can also pickle whole hard-boiled eggs in leftover pickle brine.
If you’ve been perfecting your bread-baking skills, add no-knead dill pickle bread (www.mymoderncookery.com) to your repertoire. In a large bowl, mix 3 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast and 1 tablespoon dried dill weed. Incorporate 1 cup lukewarm dill pickle brine and 1/2 cup lukewarm water until flour mixture is barely moistened. Fold in 1 large chopped dill pickle, being careful not to overmix the dough. Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise at a warmish room temperature for at least 8 hours and as long as 24. Heat your oven to 450 degrees and heat up a Dutch oven or other large oven-proof vessel for half an hour. While it’s warming, turn out the dough onto a floured counter and quickly shape into a ball, then lightly cover until the Dutch oven is hot. Turn the dough into the Dutch oven, sprinkle with additional salt, and bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 10 or 15 minutes to get a nice, crusty crust. Serve with picklebutter — that is, softened butter blended with a pickle brine and fresh dill, then rechilled.
If you need instant pickle gratification and can’t wait a day for bread dough to rise, try this quick cheddar-pickle bread from www.delish.com. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 2 eggs, 1 tablespoon sugar, 13/4 cups all purpose flour, 11/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon dill pickle juice, 1/2 cup chopped dill pickles, 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill. Pour into a heavily greased or parchment-lined loaf pan and bake for 40 minutes. Cool completely before slicing.
Add a little pickle juice to mac and cheese. You can add a splash to homemade cheese sauce while you’re cooking it, or revive leftover mac and cheese with the addition of a little brine before reheating. Use either dill or sweet pickle brine.
Even cocktails benefit from the salt-and-vinegar punch of pickle juice. Make two pickletinis with 1/4 cup dill pickle juice, 1/2 cup vodka, and 2 cups ice. Shake it all together in a cocktail shaker and pour into chilled martini glasses. Garnish with a dill pickle slice or spear.
Add dill pickle juice to your brunch-time bloody Mary or try a classic pickleback: a shot of whiskey followed immediately by a shot of pickle juice. Make a pickleback whiskey sour using 3 ounces of bourbon, 1 ounce of dill pickle brine and the juice of half a lemon shaken with ice. Garnish with a lemon slice and a dill cornichon.
The uses of pickle juice aren’t confined to the kitchen. Old wives the world over tell tales about the restorative effects of humble pickle brine. Drinking a small glass of pickle juice is said to ease a hangover (perhaps from drinking too many pickletinis?) or revive energy after vigorous exercise.
It can relieve heartburn more flavorfully than swallowing vinegar, although it works in the same way — the acidic vinegar stops acid production in your stomach. You can even use pickle juice to clean copper.