Spicy Pickled Garlic
Tender cloves of mellow sweet garlic take on a bit of spicy heat when pickled. Great on sandwiches and burgers, tossed in salads, served with antipasto, or used to spice up a Bloody Mary, these pickled cloves are a garlic lovers dream.
I was first introduced to pickled garlic during the winter of 1982, while working as the food and beverage manager at a small ski area in Summit County, Colorado. Arapahoe Basin, or simply “the Basin” as the locals call it, is one of the older ski areas in the state opening for business in 1946. Many of the pioneers of the ski industry in Colorado were American soldiers returning home after serving in World War II with the 10th Mountain Division, or immigrants from Europe. Over the years, Summit County had become home to many of these folks, and the Basin was their hang out with its high alpine environment reminding them of the Alps of the old country.
Now you may be wondering what any of this has to do with pickled garlic, well I will tell you. Every other Thursday during the ski season, there was a small group of about ten seniors that would gather to ski with one of our elderly gentleman instructors named Ron. Now these folks by no means needed lessons, they had grown up on skis, but rather it was a way for them to connect, share some stories, and be allowed the privilege of cutting lift lines while accompanied by a ski instructor. I would reserve a table for them in the A-frame lodge (even though they never purchased any food or drinks from me) in order to give them a place them for their pot luck lunch.
Among this group of colorful characters, was a 72 year-old Yiddish woman named Nora who stood about 4′ 10″ tall in her ski boots (including her “helmet” of white hair). Nora was an absolute riot. Speaking with a thick accent, she would begin every other sentence with “dammit shit kid I tell you”. Nora prided herself on a couple of things, her ability to find ridiculous bargains on outdated ski clothing at thrift stores, and the amazing food she would prepare to bring and share with the group. Dressed in clothing that very may have been worn at the 1960 winter Olympics, Nora would unpack incredible sausages, amazing cheeses, smoked salmon, interesting salads, and loaves of home-made bread from her knapsack, as well as her signature item, her pickled garlic. Nora was full of life which she attributed in part to her garlic and a snort of Jägermeister every now and then (possibly more now than then). By the end of the ski season we had become dear friends, and on the groups last day Nora presented me with a pair of beautiful wool socks that she had knit for me, and what she called her “secret to life”, her pickled garlic recipe. Nora told me that she wanted to leave this world riding in a chair lift to the top of the mountain, and damn it shit kid I tell you if she is no longer with us, I have no reason to believe she left this mortal plane in any other way.
Peeling the garlic has always been the most time consuming part of this project. This video from Saveur show a quick technique that makes it easy. I use this method and find it works very well. It does work best to use metal bowls. I also get better results by making sure the cloves are separated before I shake them in the bowls.
- 18 heads garlic peeled and ends trimmed
- 2 red peppers seeded and slivered
- 2 teaspoons dill seed
- 2 teaspoons pepper corns
- 6 bay leaf 1 per jar
- dried hot pepper I like Thai hots or pepper flake
- 2 cups white vinegar
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons pickling salt **
- 1 teaspoon sugar up to a tablespoon if you like them sweeter
Begin by peeling and trimming both ends of the garlic cloves (While trimming the ends is a bit tedious, I have found that it gives a far superior result). Discard any cloves that show signs of damage, or hold them aside to trim and use in other cooking.
Seed and sliver the red pepper (the pepper is used primarily to add some color in the jar, you could use green if you would prefer or simply omit).
Combine the ingredients for the brine in a large sauce pan and bring to a boil. Add garlic and cook for five minutes. Remove garlic with a kitchen spider or slotted spoon and hold aside.
Add the strips of red pepper and cook for one minute before removing to a small bowl. Reduce heat and hold brine at a simmer.
Prepare your jars, lids, and rings by washing with soapy water, and sterilizing them following safe canning procedures.
Place a half dozen pepper corns, a dried pepper, a third of a bay leaf, and ¼ teaspoon of dill seed in the bottom of each jar.
Pack the garlic into the jars, adding the pepper as you fill the jar. Shake the jar gently as you fill to settle the garlic. Fill the jars with the hot brine making sure to leave a ¼” head room. Place lids and rings on jars. Process the jars in a water bath following safe canning instructions. (be sure to adjust time for elevation).
Pickled garlic gets better with age. I like to hold the jars at least four weeks before using. You can also skip the canning process if you like, just hold the garlic in a tightly closed container in the fridge for up to one month.
** Do not substitute table salt, it contains iodine and anti-caking additives that will turn the liquid cloudy and the garlic dark. Kosher salt can be used however it is much coarser and does not measure the same. 1 cup + 2 tablespoons of Kosher salt = 1 cup pickling salt. Do not use low sodium salts for any type of pickling project.