I have spent the last five years working as an independent, creative person. One of the things I’ve learned about myself in that time is that my path towards getting things done is shaped like a snail shell, with the product at the center and the track towards it running in a spiral shape.
I orbit around the goal for days, weeks or even sometimes for months until I final land on the thing in the center. This is the process I take whether it’s a small project or a large one and people who know me understand that when they ask me how something is going, my response is often along the lines of, “I’m getting closer.”
The reason I’m sharing this with you today? This blog post is one I’ve been circling around for a very long time. I first started thinking about low temperature pasteurization for pickling six or seven years ago. A tool to accomplish it effectively (the Anova Precision Cooker) came into my life more than two years ago.
And the recipe I’m sharing at the bottom of this post was directly inspired by a press trip I took to New Orleans with the folks from Zatarain’s back in January (nine months).
Finally, it’s all come together and I’ve landed on center of the circle.
The story starts with low temperature pasteurization. For many people, this approach is the answer to the question, “How can I make crunchy, shelf stable pickles?” It is preservation technique in which you simmer your filled jars in water that’s between 180 and 185 degrees F.
You do this for a longer period of time (typically 30 minutes) than you would normally process them in a boiling water bath canner. The longer, lower temperature allows you to kill off bacteria while retaining a firmer finished texture.
Now, the trick to low temperature pasteurization is finding a way to maintain the proper temperature over an extended period of time. I have tried it on my ancient electric stove, but found that it was nearly impossible to consistently hit and sustain the target range.
Now, here’s where the Anova Precision Cooker comes in.
Several years ago, various companies started making immersion circulators for home use and the thought occurred to me that it would be the perfect tool for low temperature pasteurization. The reason being that immersion circulators are designed for sous vide cooking, a process in which you bring water to a certain temperature and then hold it at that temperature for an extended period of time to fully cook various kinds of food without overcooking them.
Two years back, the folks from Anova got in touch and asked if I’d be interested in trying one of their immersion circulators. Thinking about low temperature pasteurization, I said yes. They sent me the unit, and then life got the better of me. I moved it from corner of the apartment to another for nearly a year, and then finally tucked it into my closet, forever promising myself that I would eventually use it for processing pickles.
That brings us to 2016. Back in late January, I went on a press trip to New Orleans to learn more about Zatarain’s. Before that trip, all I knew about that iconic brand was the fact that they sold boxed rice mixes. While on the trip, I discovered that Zatarain’s is synonymous with New Orleans food. Never before had I encountered a brand that was so interwoven with the food culture of a place.
It was a magical trip and I came away feeling moved by the welcome of the city and motivated to devise a cucumber pickle recipe that employed the Zatarain’s Concentrated Shrimp and Crab Boil flavoring. The reason for the recipe idea was this. They told us that originally, people would flavor their crab boil with packets of pickling spices. Over time, they’d created the concentrated liquid flavor out of a blend of extracted oils from those classic pickling spices.
Always dreaming up preserving recipes, it seemed obvious that I should make a pickle using the liquid flavor, if for no other reason than it would create a classically flavored pickle without the mess of the whole spices.
So, that brings us up to mid-August. I was home between book events and was determined to finally make my crab boil pickles, and preserve them using the low temperature pasteurization process, facilitated by the Anova immersion circulator. I went to Reading Terminal Market, intending to buy 10 or 15 pounds of pickling cucumbers, and ended up coming home with a bushel (it weighed nearly 50 pounds).
I proceeded to make a lot of pickles. I made horseradish pickles. I make classic garlic dills. I cut them in spears, coins, and halves. All in all, I made nearly 30 quarts of pickles, thanks to an idea, a tool, a trip, and a little bottle of crab boil seasoning.
I realize that cucumber season is done for most of the country at this point, but since I finally managed to pull these things together experientially, I wanted to get this blog post written in this calendar year (and plant the seed that if you value crunchy pickles, perhaps an immersion circulator should be on your holiday list this year).