During the Pickles and Marinades: The Korean Way  seminar at the New York City Wine & Food Festival , chef Roy Choi of A-Frame restaurant  and famed food truck Kogi BBQ  presented the crowd with four different Korean-style pickles. The selection included Persian cucumber, heirloom carrot, jalapeño, and Asian pear (pictured from left to right).
Unlike American pickles, which tend to be really vinegary, these Korean pickles are mild, tender, and slightly sweet. While the chef says his pickling method is less about hard-set measurements and more about the flavor combinations, he did offer the basic ratios and ingredients used in his pickles so you can start pickling the Korean way at home.
Homemade Korean Pickles
Choi's philosophy is "you can pickle anything!" Choi recommends making a "big barrel of brine" so you can pickle many different things at once. He's not a fan of measurements, so he urged the crowd, "Don't think about the tedious aspect of it."
Choi's basic brine starts with a simple syrup made from about one part water to one part sugar, boiled over the stovetop until the sugar dissolves. Then, stir in one part rice vinegar, and salt the liquid to taste.
Once the brine has cooled to room temperature, pour it over the vegetables or fruit. Then, weigh it down with a plate or bowl and refrigerate for two to three days.
Pickled Persian Cucumber
Soak Persian cucumbers in a brine made of vinegar, sugar, water, star anise, garlic, cinnamon, and fresh thyme. When serving, season the pickle with a little regular salt.
These are a far cry from dill pickles found in grocery stores. The Persian cucumber is much sweeter and more tender than pickling cucumbers. The star anise adds a licorice-like Far East flavor, and the salt intensifies the whole package.
Pickled Heirloom Carrot
Make a brine with salt, sugar, coriander, and white pepper for these heirloom carrots. Adventurous cooks can venture out to Asian supermarkets for kaffir lime leaves and fermented dried shrimp, which Chef Choi used to make a salt garnish for these carrots. Try it at home by blending salt, kaffir lime leaves, and fermented dried shrimp in a food processor. According to Choi, the salt will only last you a few days, so make small batches and sprinkle it on everything!
The carrots are naturally sweet, but the kaffir lime leaves add a zingy peppiness, and the dried shrimp confers a subtle umami flavor.
Make the basic brine, and pour it over sliced jalapeño. Be sure to remove the jalapeño seeds and white ribbing to offset some of the spicy heat. Garnish the pickled jalapeño with a mixture of raw sugar and salt.
This variation tastes milder and sweeter than our pickled jalapeño recipe , which is much more spicy and vinegary. Using rice vinegar and sugar brings down the jalapeño's heat.
Pickled Asian Pear
Similar to the jalapeño, pickle these Asian pears in the basic brine. Then sprinkle crushed Maldon sea salt crystals on the pickled pear pieces. Although the chef did not mention it, the pears had a spicy flavor, which makes me think he might have thrown a piece of jalapeño in the brine.
Take advantage of underripe Asian pears (or other pears) by pickling them. They retain their crunchiness while soaking up the brine's sweet vinegary flavor. Even though it sounds unusual, the sweetness of the fruit works remarkably well with the vinegar, sort of like how kombucha and fruit juice complement one other.