BY MARINA CHOTZINOFF
Years ago we dined at Lower 48 in Denver where we were served a delicious cocktail made with pickled strawberries. While the strawberry itself was not so pretty (reminded me of the vegetables from Bunnicula sucked dry by the vampire bunny), the concentrated flavor was wonderful and I set to making my own batch the next day.
I used a mixture of white balsamic for some delicate sweetness and some sherry vinegar to add a bit of depthy complexity which enriches the strawberriness of the strawberries. Tarragon and thyme are abundant in my garden and were a natural choice as they pair so well with strawberries. I added some coriander seed for some floral notes and some Szechuan peppercorns which gave the syrupy brine just a hint of that fun numbness which is really delightful when used in a cocktail. (And you should really use some of the syrup in a cocktail). I have made other batches with lemongrass, cilantro, basil and mint and throwing in some orange peel or even some chiles would also make a great combination.
My favorite use (other than the cocktail) was a tartine. I mixed the pungent berries with fresh, sweet cherries (though I think roasted beets would also be great), added some fresh basil and tarragon and some hefty black pepper. It topped some toasts spread with a creamy goat milk brie, but any creamy white cheese at your level of funky comfort would work well. From burrata to smoked blue cheese, I think you’d find success.
The strawberries can be added to salads, blended up with other fruits (peaches, apricots) for a spread or mixed with vegetables (beets!) for variations on the tartine. Add some sliced berries and some of the brine to soda water for a refreshing drink or mix into a cocktail.
1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled
1 cup white balsamic vinegar (rice vinegar could also work)
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt, scant
3/4 cup water
3/4 teaspoon szechuan peppercorns (optional)
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 thyme sprigs
2 tarragon sprigs
Bring vinegars, sugar, salt and water to a simmer and stir until dissolved. Turn off heat, add peppercorns and coriander and let cool enough to the touch.
Put strawberries, thyme and tarragon in a clean 1 liter container with a tight lid. Pour brine over strawberries, cover and refrigerate. Let pickle at least three days, agitating container occasionally. Should keep a couple weeks in the fridge while you nip off the berries and brine.
Gin Shrub – Muddle mint in a glass, add 1/2 ounces gin, 1 ounce of pickling liquid, a squeeze of lemon, ice and a couple strawberries. Mix and taste.
Pickled Strawberry Tartines – Spread a creamy cheese like burrata, brie, or Fromage d’Affinois on some toasted baguettes and top with pickled berries.