I’ve been on this fermentation kick recently. I just made a batch of Kim Chee, but I also have a large batch of Sauerkraut fermenting away, which, hopefully, will be done in 3 or 4 more weeks, which should give me a chance to get, at least, one more batch fermenting before the end of the local cabbages for the year. So it’s no surprise that, when I found myself with a bunch of dill and a surplus of small, pickling cucumbers, I decided to make up a couple of jars of deli style kosher dill pickles.
Making your own kosher style dill pickles is a great way to experiment with fermenting your own foods. Not only is it easy, but they can be done in as little as 3 days. Now my brother, who is way more into fermenting than I am would disagree here. He likes his kosher pickles to ferment for weeks and weeks. While I do enjoy these highly sour, pickled delights, I am more partial to deli style pickles which are also known as half-sours sometimes. While the fully fermented full sours eventually attain a green, slightly translucent flesh throughout the cucumber after a long fermentation, half sours retain some of their off-white flesh and, in my opinion have a slightly better crunch and a hint of freshness to them, whereas full sours usually don’t have quite the same crunch. Neither is better, it’s all about your personal preference. The great thing about making a couple of jars of these beauties is that you can test them at different stages to see which style is more to your liking.
There are a couple of things that I should cover off on before getting to the recipe. Like I said before, with fermentation and preserving in general, sanitation is of the utmost importance. Make sure all your equipment is clean and sanitized to keep the nasty micro organisms, that want to spoil your food, out. Secondly, salt used for fermenting foods should either be kosher or canning salt. Stay away from expensive sea salts as their high content of other minerals can create strange flavors and definitely stay away from table salt which is loaded with iodine and anti caking agents, both of which can ruin a batch of pickles in a heartbeat. The other issue is cloudiness. It happens when fermenting foods occasionally. It really isn’t noticeable if you are fermenting in a crock, but when fermenting in canning jars, like I do in this recipe it can be noticeable. Chances are you needn’t worry, if you sanitized well and made sure that all your foods are under the brine. Cloudiness can be caused by a number of things, from hard water, to a quick fermentation in warmer weather, to small yeast blooms or overly ground spices. And yes, it could be caused by nasty micro organisms there to spoil your food, but again, if you followed safe sanitation practices this is probably the least likely scenario. As long as the pickles smell and taste fine, then this is not a problem. If it does bother you, you can always dump the brine, with some added vinegar, when you are ready to chill your pickles. More often than not, once you refrigerate your pickles this cloudiness will clear up as the created sediment settles to the bottom of the jars.
This recipe cheats slightly. I give my brine a slight boost by adding just a bit of vinegar. Technically, you shouldn’t need to do this, but I like the added protection when making pickles. If you really want to be a purist you can leave it out but that’s up to you.
Finally, some recipes tell you to coarsely grind your spices while others will tell you not to. Personally, I like to just barely crush them to allow them to more easily give up their flavors.
Deli Style Kosher Dill Pickles
makes approximately 4 quarts
8 cups Water
1/2 cup Salt, canning or kosher
1 cup White vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. Mustard seed
2 tsp. Black pepper
2 tsp. Coriander seed
1 tsp. Red pepper flakes
2 each Bay leaves
approximately 36 each Cucumbers, small pickling cucumbers no more than 3-4 inches long
8-12 cloves Garlic, depending on how garlicky you want your pickles
8 head Dill, fresh
If using canning salt just mix into the water and vinegar and stir until dissolved. Set aside. If using kosher salt you will need to boil your water to dissolve the salt. Remove from heat, add the vinegar and allow to cool 70°F before using.
Meanwhile rinse your cucumbers removing all dirt from the surface. Trim off about 1/8 off the blossom end of the cuke and pack into sterilized quart canning jars. Pack them in tightly. I usually get about 9 per jar. Combine the mustard, black pepper, coriander, and red pepper and lightly crush them. Crush the bay leaves by hand and mix with the other spices. Divide evenly among the jars. Peel and lightly crush the garlic cloves and add to the jars. Finally top with the heads of dill, 2 per jar. Fill the jars with the brine ensuring that all food is covered by at least 1/2 inch of the brine and making sure that the brine is within 1/4 inch of the top of jar. Cover with sterilized canning lids and screw on the rings, but do not tighten. I only give the rings half a turn so that they are secured to the jars, but are still very loose.
Place jars on a tray, to catch any liquid that might bubble out and place in a dry spot, out of direct sunlight. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 3 days. After that, taste a pickle every couple of days until you find just the right balance, between salt, sour and freshness, for your tastes. Once they are where you like them place in the fridge. Over the next week they will continue to mature a bit, but the fermentation will be slowed to almost a stop once they are chilled. Keep refrigerated and eat within a couple of months or so, although I doubt it will take you that long to go through them.