Scores of San Antonians know this: When the heat goes up, a steady diet of pickles is sure to follow.
Gracing a butcher paper-lined tray of smoky brisket, stuffed into a foam cup and doused with chamoy or simply wolfed down by the fistful with the fridge door still open — nobody judges how you consume those crunchy cukes in this city.
But all that pickle intake leaves behind a lot of empty jars. Well, almost empty, that is.
Pickle juice more often than not gets poured down the drain. And that’s gallons of a culinary secret weapon that will never get used to its full potential. Whether sour, dill or sweet, that juice is gold and here’s what to do with it.
Perhaps above all else, leftover pickle juice is perfect for making more pickles. And if you do it right, you’re cutting down on your waste stream significantly.
Just pour the leftover pickle juice into a pan and bring it to a boil for a minute or so and then remove the pan from the heat. Meanwhile, give the jar and lid a thorough washing and stuff it with fresh vegetables. You can use cucumbers, green beans, okra, kale stems or just about any reasonably tender veggie you like.
Once the jar is stuffed, pour the hot pickle juice over the veg. If there isn’t enough juice to cover them all, just top the jar off with white vinegar. Place the lid on, hide the jar in the back of the fridge for a few days, then nosh away.
Brine your meat
Pickle juice, technically called brine, is also a powerhouse for tenderizing meat. The process of brining meat, or soaking it in a salt water solution before cooking, helps the protein absorb moisture and breaks down tough muscles resulting in a juicer, more tender pork chop, chicken breast or other cut. Acidic vinegar in pickle brine, which also contains a good bit of salt, adds to the effect.
A couple hours before you fire up the grill, stuff your chops or chicken into a large resealable plastic bag. Pour in enough pickle juice to keep everything fairly wet, seal the bag and place it in a dish big enough to contain the chaos should the bag spring a leak. Set that in the fridge for one to two hours, drain the meat and pat it dry, then get to cooking.
Do note that if you’re using pickle juice with a lot of turmeric in it, your meat will be stained yellow. Also, if they’re sweet pickles, mind the heat as that sugar could caramelize and burn more quickly than you’re used to.
Tart up your ice
Last up, and perhaps the most amusing, is to pour that juice into an ice cube tray and freeze. The tangy ice cubes will perk up many of your favorite summer libations, be it a brunchtime bloody mary, a crisp pickletini or Real Dill Cocktail with a grilled steak or an all-in-one pickleback of whiskey over ice.
In other news, our four-week Summer Kitchen Travel series has come to an end with a trip to New England following jaunts to New Orleans, Miami and California’s Napa Valley. If you’re feeling fishy or craving some classic Beantown fare, try any of the following recipes.
Paul Stephen is a food and drink reporter and restaurant critic in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. To read more from Paul, become a subscriber. [email protected] | Twitter: @pjbites | Instagram: @pjstephen