Pickling is having its moment. And we’re not just talking cucumbers. The trend inspires chefs to experiment in the kitchen as well as cut back on food waste by using things we’d typically discard (watermelon rind, green strawberries). The results are pure alchemy thanks to the sweet and sour flavors laced with salt and spice. Eat the crisp veggies as is or chop them up as a topping for a burger or a salad. — June Naylor
The Chop House, Midland Hotel, Hico
Chef Eric Hunter always surprises us with his innovative cooking, including the addition of pickled Honeycrisp apples in his ceviche. Leaving the peels on, he chops the apple and soaks the chunks in apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar and white balsamic vinegar — the last providing a hint of sweet within the sour. Bolstered with garlic, mustard seeds, coriander seeds and juniper berries, the effect is a tartness infused with an herbal-woodsy-floral symphony. The pickled apples also figure in a mix of crisp-pickled carrots, asparagus and red grapes on a charcuterie board, supplying a beautiful, acidic pop that plays well with the savory meats and cheeses. Meanwhile, his wife, Jennifer Pittman Hunter, tweaks her grandma’s recipe for quick refrigerator-pickled watermelon rind. She leaves some of the melon flesh intact for color and combines white balsamic vinegar and just a little lemon juice with a 50-50 balance of cane sugar and white sugar to tame the acidity.
103 N. Pecan St., Hico, 254-796-4426, historicmidlandhotel.com
A Tropical Twist
Chef Mark Guatelara’s Filipino-inspired food, served out of a Fort Worth food truck, has been one of this summer’s best finds. The pickled papaya salad is offered a la carte and is served with Guatelara’s rice bowls (see more on Page 56). In his take on the traditional Filipino green papaya salad, Guatelara bathes carrots, onions and peppers (sweet and hot) in a warm brine, then cools the mixture before adding chunks of papaya and letting the vinegar mix work its magic. The salad is the perfect foil to the richness of other dishes on his menu.
Find the truck parked behind Hotel Revel (1165 8th Ave., Fort Worth). Learn more and order by phone at 682-760-3904 or on the website, oberhere.com.
Elevated Fruit Salad
Piattello Italian Kitchen
Marcus Paslay’s watermelon salad stars sweet, fragrant cubed red and yellow melon — along with cherry tomatoes, radishes, pickled Fresno peppers and basil — in a tangy red wine vinaigrette he’s flavored with shallot (sneaking in a sharp hint of sweetness), Dijon, olive oil and salt.
Waterside, 5924 Convair Drive, Fort Worth, 817-349-0484, piattelloitaliankitchen.com
Yes to Escabeche
Escabeche is popular at Mexican restaurants, with the spicy pickled vegetables, including jalapenos, typically served as a cold side dish. At Maria’s Mexican Kitchen in Fort Worth, Felipe Armenta’s escabeche stars crunchy cauliflower, red onion, carrots, corn, Spanish olives, zucchini, cilantro and jalapeno in a vinaigrette made with garlic, shallot, lemon juice and a little sugar. Crisp and acidic, it’s perfect paired with a plate of rich, velvety mole over roasted chicken.
Maria’s Mexican Kitchen, 1712 S. University Drive, Fort Worth, 817-916-0550, mariasmexicankitchen.com
Store-Bought but Oh, So Good
The Magic Brine is a newish and cleverly named product made in Lockhart (near Austin). The natural pickle juice is used in Willigan’s pickled green beans and okra, which make excellent bloody mary and charcuterie garnishes. The crispy veggies get an extra boost from fresh dill, jalapeno and garlic. Combined with a little olive oil, it’s perfect drizzled over a spinach-arugula salad topped with strawberries, grapes, apples and carrots, or on a BLT with avocado. And because pickle juice supplies nutrient-rich hydration, relieving everything from leg cramps to hangovers, the Magic Brine pairs well with sparkling water for sipping, just one of the many ways to imbibe the stuff. “The brine’s popularity steered me in all kinds of new directions,” says Willigan’s Island creator Will Rhodes, who introduced the pickle juice last year, just in time for Wild Acre Brewing in Fort Worth to snap it up for making its Pickle Hard Seltzer. “Now friends are making vodka Willigantinis with it. But it’s also good brine for shrimp, pork and chicken going on the grill.” Willigan’s Island products are sold at Central Market stores;
Roy Pope Grocery, 2300 Merrick St., Fort Worth, 817-732-2863; and The Table Market & Culinary Studio,120 St. Louis Ave., Fort Worth, 682-703-1092, thetablemarket.com.