Half-Sour Pickles | Rauginti Agurkai [Recipe]
There are a few condiments that I always have in my refrigerator. The first is mayonnaise – I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t need it for something, especially in summer. The other is half-sour pickles. Those tangy, crunchy pickles are so versatile, from adorning a burger to adding zing to tartar sauce.
There are three keys to making perfect crunchy, half-sour pickles. Firstly, you need freshly picked, smallish cucumbers. Large cucumbers or those that have been sitting around for days can develop tough skins that are hard for the brine to penetrate and can result in less sour, less crunchy pickles. About 12 cm (4½ inches) long and 3 cm (1 inch) wide is ideal. Secondly, you need to measure your salt to water ratio carefully. Not enough salt and the cucumbers won’t ferment, too much salt and the final pickles will be too salty. The quantities of salt I’ve given are for classic half-sour pickles. Finally, you must allow the pickles time to ferment. Like fine wine, this does not happen overnight. (I’ve tried lots of recipes for overnight sour pickles and none have worked successfully. If you’re in a hurry for your pickles, try overnight marinated pickles instead.) Put the jar somewhere out of your sight for at least 5 days, but ideally leave them for a full week so they reach optimum sourness.
I have split the ingredients list into two groups – basic ingredients and optional extras. Most of the time I just use the basic ingredients because it is quick and easy. This results in a perfect crunchy, half-sour pickle. The optional ingredients are primarily flavour enhancers. Dill is probably the most common addition, particularly in Lithuania. I’m not a fan of dill so I never use it. Garlic can be overpowering so use it in very small quantities. The other ingredients are typical of those in shop-bought pickling spices. You can use none, some or all, as you prefer. The cherry leaf supposedly adds to the crunchiness of the pickle. I’m yet to be convinced. Based on my own experience, it is the freshness, size and even variety of the cucumbers themselves that makes the biggest difference to crunchiness.
Note that I never use sugar in my pickles. I know that sugar is common in many Lithuanian half-sour pickle recipes, but I have never found it necessary – my pickles are perfectly crisp and sour without it. I try to limit my intake of added sugars, so if it’s not necessary I just don’t use it. Note also that the salt content of the brine is 2.5%, which is quite a low concentration in itself. However, the salt content of the pickles is even lower as most of the salt remains in the brine.
Half-Sour Pickles | Rauginti Agurkai
1 kg | 2.2 lbs pickling cucumbers (about 16 cucumbers)
50g | 1¾ oz fine sea salt
2 litres | 2 quarts cold water
Note: I usually make my pickles in larger quantities, especially in summer when I have my own fresh cucumbers from my polytunnel. I use a large (10 litre | 10 quart) bucket and use a dinner plate to keep the cucumbers under the brine. As long as you keep the brine solution at 2.5% (that is 25 g of salt per litre of water) and ensure that the cucumbers are fully covered with the brine, then you can scale this recipe to your needs.
1 sour cherry leaf
½ tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp caraway seeds
½ tsp yellow mustard seeds
½ tsp black peppercorns
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 large sprig of dill
3 litre| 3 quart jar or food-grade bucket
Zip-lock bag or plate to hold the cucumbers under the brine
3 half-litre | half-quart jars for storing your final pickles
- Wash the cucumbers, remove any flowers or stems and gently scrape off any prickly spines with the back of a knife. Place the cucumbers into the jar or bucket.
- Place 25 g (0.9 oz) of the salt in a 1 litre (1 quart) measuring jug. Pour about 200 ml (3 fl oz) of water into the jug and stir until the salt is fully dissolved.
- Fill the jug up to the 1 litre (1 quart) mark with cold water and stir again. (If you add all the water at the start you have no space in the jug to stir vigorously to dissolve the salt.) Pour the brine over the cucumbers.
- Repeat with the remaining salt and another litre of water. Pour the brine over the cucumbers until they are fully covered, with an extra 2 cm (1 inch) of brine above the top of the cucumbers.
(Note: I have tried making pickles with boiling brine. It does not work as well as using cold brine.)
- Add some or all of the optional ingredients, if using.
- Use a zip-lock bag filled with water (see here for example) or a plate to hold the cucumbers under the brine. The cucumbers must be fully covered throughout the fermentation process or they may begin to rot.
- Cover the jar lightly with a lid or cloth to keep out insects and dust. Do not tighten the lid – the fermentation process releases gases that must be allowed to escape.
- Set the jar in a cool place for at least 5 days but ideally for 7 days to allow the sourness to develop.
(You can eat the pickles before this if you wish, but they will be salty rather than sour.)
- When the pickles have reached your desired level of sourness, pour off the brine into a saucepan, then rinse the cucumbers thoroughly to remove any scum. (The scum that develops on the surface of the brine is a completely normal part of the fermentation process and is not harmful. However, it doesn’t look very nice or have a nice texture, so it is best to wash it off before eating.)
- Sterilise 3 half-litre (half-quart) jars using your preferred method. (Options typically include placing the jars in a low oven or putting them through a hot dishwasher cycle.)
- Arrange your pickles into the sterilised jars. Packing them tightly will help hold them in position under the brine, prolonging their life.
- Bring the reserved brine to the boil, then carefully pour the brine over the pickles, leaving about 1 cm (½ inch) of headroom at the top of the jar.
- Put the lids onto the jars and tighten gently. The lids will seal as the brine cools.
- When the jars have cooled check that the lids are fully tightened and label the them with the date. The pickles will keep well in the fridge for 4-6 weeks. Once opened, keep in the fridge and consume within 4-5 days.