June 22, 2009 10:53 AM
Pickling Jalapeños

Pickled Jalapeños are a very popular garnish, topping or side for plenty of Mexican foods like tortas, tacos, quesadillas, grilled meats, rice, beans, tostadas... just to name some. So much so, that in many Restaurants, they are placed in the center of the table along the side of salt, pepper and a breadbasket. Many people nibble on them right out of the bowl... They are popular in Mexican Pizzerias too!

You can make your own or buy them already bottled or canned at the stores. They are so intensely used, that there are plenty of brands that carry them as a regular product. Taste does vary considerably from one brand to another, so try a couple, and see which ones you like more.

There are many variations to homemade Pickled Jalapeños. Many cooks macerate them first in coarse or kosher salt, which I also do. This pumps down the heat from the chiles and liberates some of their liquid to start the pickling process.

The ones I tend to make at home the most are the more traditional type, in which the chiles, carrots, onion and garlic are first fried in oil. Minutes later they are accompanied by a combination of spices, and a mild home-style vinegar (or a combination of rice vinegar with the stronger white distilled vinegar), salt and sugar.

Other versions add more vegetables to the mix, such as precooked small potatoes, cactus paddles, green beans and cauliflower. You should feel free to add any other ingredient that sounds interesting to you. There are some versions that even add pieces of corn (absolutely scrumptious!)

One of the wonderful things about pickling, is that aside from not being complicated, it brings out certain characteristics of the ingredients you are working with in an unusual way and it also prolongs their life in that stage.

This recipe makes a big batch, because they are likely to go fast, and also because it takes a bit of time to make them, so I like to make a larger amount. They will last ages in the refrigerator if they don't go as fast as I predict.

NOTE: I don't typically recommend the use of gloves for cooking, but since this recipe involves cleaning quite a few chiles, you may want to use gloves. If you don't and your hands burn a little, wash them with warm water and soap, or rub them with a spoonful of oil, or soak them in a bit of milk, sour or heavy cream or ice cream. Any of those methods should take care of it, as they help dilute capsaicin the somewhat oily substance which contains the heat in chiles. 

Pickled Jalapeños (with Carrots and Onions too!)
Makes about 15 cups

3 pounds Chiles Jalapeños, rinsed, sliced and seeded
3 pounds carrots, peeled and diagonally sliced
1 pound white pearl onions or large scallions, white and light green parts only
4 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
15 to 20 garlic cloves
1 cup safflower or corn oil
2 cups white distilled vinegar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
15 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried oregano
6 whole cloves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoons brown sugar
2 cups unseasoned rice vinegar

To Prepare
Rinse the Jalapeños, remove the stems, slice in half and scoop out the seeds. (Since there are quite a few chiles to clean you may want to use gloves). Place them in a large mixing bowl. Rinse the carrots, remove their tops, peel and diagonally slice into about 1/4" thick pieces. Place in the large mixing bowl along with the Jalapeños. Peel the pearl onions of the outer dry skin and add into same bowl. Sprinkle all these vegetables with the salt, toss around and let them sit for about an hour.

Place the white distilled vinegar in the blender along with the water, peppercorns, cumin seed, whole cloves, bay leaves, thyme, oregano and brown sugar. Puree until smooth.

In a large, deep and thick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot, but not smoking, for about 2 minutes. Carefully add the salted vegetables, reserving their juices, and fry for about 6 to 8 minutes, stirring here and there, until they begin to soften.  Add the garlic cloves, and cook for 2 more minutes.

Carefully add the vegetable reserved juices, along with the white distilled vinegar mix and the rice vinegar. Let it all cook for about 5 more minutes. Turn off the heat and let it cool.

Place in a container with a lid and store in the refrigerator. I like to use glass jars. For some reason they seem to taste even better. Let the vegetables pickle for at least a day before eating. They will keep for months, if you don't finish them before...