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Why you should be pickling

Two pickle stick drawings, one reading the LA Times, one sweating
(Micah Fluellen / For The Times)

Now that we’re all cooking, trying to stretch stuff, preserve stuff or figure out a way to use up that last CSA box, pickling is the thing to do. Here’s a look at why some chefs in L.A. are getting down with pickled food.

Minh Phan, Porridge + Puffs

“Pickle it.”

This is Phan’s answer to most things, especially during quarantine. An extra case of radishes? Pickle them. What to do with all that produce in your Community Supported Agriculture box? Pickle it.

Pickling is an integral part of Phan’s cooking at her Filipinotown restaurant, which celebrates porridge and the delicious, fresh and stinky things you eat with it.

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“We pickle to either coax flavors or extend shelf life, especially so we can enjoy watermelon rinds pickled in passion fruit well beyond peak season of both. One of the things we like to do is pickle starchy vegetables — legumes, kabocha, sweet potatoes, taro, jicama and corn. It brings out unexpected textures and flavors.”

Jeremy Fox, Birdie G’s

You’ll find a relish tray on almost every table at Fox’s Santa Monica restaurant— an abundance of fresh and pickled vegetables, presented in a beautiful cut-glass dish.

Depending on the time of year, there could be ice plant, halved cucamelons, dilly celtuce, kimchi sunchokes, shunkyo radishes fermented in chamomile kombucha, and badger flame beets.

For Fox, offering what’s available at the market is about staying seasonal — and greater sustainability.

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“We discuss with specific farms what they have an abundance of and what they need to sell. We can stop preparing food but they can’t stop growing food, which is very unfortunate. That’s how we decide.”

Jessica Wang, Picklé

Wang, who runs pickle workshops and offers pickling videos, says she started pickling because she loves them, but there are health reasons involved as well. Before starting her business, Wang was a pastry chef at Statebird Provisions in San Francisco and at Madcapra and LASA in Los Angeles. In her 20s, Wang was diagnosed as prediabetic.

“I’ve been eating a lot of pickles since I was a young age. I think generally kids are drawn to sour things like sour candy and pickles too. As an adult I was working in [the pastry business]. I wasn’t really living a healthy lifestyle in general. My balance was off. A friend referred me to a program that covered food preservation and focused heavily on fermentation and natural fermentation. If I wanted to focus on something more health-oriented in food, I thought this was it.

“A fermented pickle will continue to be active once in your system, and that’s one of the main benefits. In your digestive system it can continue to help you absorb nutrients.”


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