Watermelon Pickle, And A Surprise Cocktail

June 18, 2012 § 4 Comments

Our favorite restaurant in Lester’s hometown of New Orleans is Boucherie. They do amazing new takes on Southern classics and everything is just really, really good. Case in point: smoked pork ribs with watermelon pickle. It was the first time I had ever had watermelon pickle, but since it was Boucherie one taste was enough. I had to try pickling my own, and I wanted to put my own spin on this Southern classic too. This recipe is based on the Gingery Watermelon Pickle from The Joy of Pickling, which has not one but three watermelon pickle recipes. I stuck close to her technique but made up my own spice mixes: one more Southern, and one more Asian-influenced. Unfortunately a number of my spices were ground, not whole, and weren’t super fresh (my mother would not approve), so keep that in mind as you make up your own syrups and consider changing the measurements accordingly.

Now you know why I had so much watermelon.

rind of one 12-15″ spherical watermelon: about 12 cups of rind (3 quarts)
8 cups of water (2 quarts)
6 oz kosher salt by weight – the original called for half a cup of pickling salt (8 tablespoons) so I used 1 tablespoon pickling salt by volumes = 3/4 oz by weight

Asian Syrup:
7 whole star anise
1.5 inch piece ginger thinly sliced
1 tsp whole cardamom
1 tsp whole coriander
1 cup white vinegar plus 1.5 T (because this one didn’t have lemon)
1 cup water
2 cups white sugar

Southern Syrup:
1T ground cinnamon
1/2 lemon thin sliced
1 tsp whole mustard
1 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
2 cups white sugar

1. Prepare the rind. The easiest way for me was to quarter the whole melon, peel the green part off with a vegetable peeler, and then slice the quarter into smaller slivers and cut out the pink flesh for another use. Cut the rind (the white part) into about one-inch squares.
2. Soak rind in salt water for eight hours with a plate on top to keep it submerged.
3. Rinse and drain twice.
4. Make syrup, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. I put the spices in tea filter bags, which completely fell apart. You should use cheesecloth.
5. Remove from heat, add rind, soak in syrup for 24 hours with a plate on top. I had only about 8 cups of rind at this point.
6. Bring to a boil then simmer until the rind is translucent – this took about two hours!
7. Fill jars with rind then add syrup to cover with 1/2″ headspace. Process for ten minutes.

In the end this only made 2 pint jars (4 cups) plus another cup or so for the fridge. Any other watermelon picklers out there who can comment on this low yield? Did I cook it too long? Do you fill your jars with rind and then add syrup or do you just pour it all in?

At this point I was pretty disappointed that I had gone to all that trouble of peeling and slicing and soaking and boiling and only had these two pints. I was also worried about how cloudy my brine was, because of having ground spices and having the spice bags explode. I doubted myself: I had only tasted watermelon pickle once, and here I was making it myself, and I didn’t know if it looked right, and what if it turned out mushy and awful? I fretted as the jars rested on the counter and I listened for that “ping ping” of the lids.

But then things started to look up. I actually tasted my second-ever and third-ever watermelon pickles. And they were delicious! Somehow they stayed just a bit crisp despite all that boiling. And I had worried they would be too bland and syrupy-sweet but the flavor of each of the two batches was actually very complex. I think the Asian one would be really interesting with a plainly grilled fish, rice, and bok choy. And the Southern one is going with some kind of smoky fatty pork, of course. Conclusion: do not doubt your pickling abilities until you open a jar and taste. But still use whole spices.

Then things started looking up even further. I realized that the sweet, spicy brine is basically a simple syrup, but with vinegar instead of water. It turns out this is actually a legit cocktail ingredient (more often made with fruit) called a shrub syrup, also known as a drinking vinegar, and that shrub cocktails with homemade or artisanal syrups are making a big comeback on the cocktail scene. Not that I would know, because I don’t know anything about cocktails. Anyway, I mixed the leftover Southern Syrup including the almost-candied lemon slices with cognac (because I had some on hand for Julia’s French onion soup) and a squeeze of lemon juice for a nice Southern cocktail with layers of sweet, sour, and spicy flavors. I’m going to try the Asian syrup with sake. Shrubs are also great for mixing with soda water as a soda or cocktail alternative. I think I just found my new go-to summer drink. And something else to put up!

Watermelon Pickle, And a Surprise Cocktail on Punk Domestics
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