Bite Club: How to Make Real Deal Taqueria Pickles

Escabeche is the key to achieving perfectly balanced tacos. You're welcome. 
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Escabeche is the key to achieving perfectly balanced tacos. You're welcome. 
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If you really hang onto every word that football commentators say, 90 percent of them mean absolutely nothing. “You know Manning’s best quality is his ability to withstand pressure, survey his options, and get the ball downfield.” Thanks, Chris. Thank you for wasting 15 seconds explaining the only thing — aside from not letting his DUIs go public — a QB is supposed to do.

The same can be said for food TV pundits. Most of the time they’re just providing enthusiastic closed caption descriptions of the food porn strobing on the screen. “And the cheese just melts over the burger with the crunchy lettuce on top and the vibrant red tomatoes…” Yeah. That thing is called a cheeseburger. We’re familiar. But, when Chef Whoever runs out of baseline descriptors and they really need to fill some airtime, they’ll start flapping their mouths about a more important topic: balance.

“The acidity of the pickles plays off the fattiness of the beef and the fresh crunch of the lettuce counters the soft squishy bread” — this is a real fucking important monologue. The more balance you can add to the dish, the more overall flavor you can add. If you need proof, just add a pinch of salt to your next bottle of Nesquik. It’ll be the sweetest chocolate milk you’ve ever had.

Nothing embodies the idea of balance for me more than fatty carnitas tacos with crunchy and acidic escabeche — the carrot and jalapeño pickles you’ll see at any self-respecting taqueria — and an ice cold beer. I could consume that combo in perpetuity. Here’s how to make that dream team of taco accoutrements happen (just the pickle part, you can buy the beer and tacos yourself).

You’re going to want to eyeball out equal parts — I’m doing 1 cup each — jalapeño, carrots, and onions. But don’t worry too much about ratios when you’re just going to be shoving fistfuls of the stuff directly in your mouth. (That’s a good general life lesson to go by, too.) Peel your carrots with a vegetable peeler then slice off ¼ inch coins starting from the fat end. Once the rounds start to get too small, start on the next carrot. You can reserve the small ends to make stock. Side note: start making your own stock, man.

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Cut the stems off of your ‘peños and then slice them down the middle lengthwise, and slice the halves lengthwise one more time to get 4 long spears per each pepper. You can either keep the seeds and spine for some more heat — that’s where all the capsaicin lives — or you can scrape them out with a spoon for a more mild pickle. I recently started living and sharing food with a girlfriend who can’t handle anything past pico de gallo at Chipotle, so I’ve had to start rethinking all the heat levels in my cooking. And you know what? Morning bowel movements have never been more comfortable. I’m discarding the seeds.

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Skin your onions, cut them in half, then slice off large petals to match the length of your jalapenos. Drop ¼ cup of olive oil into a large sauté pan on medium heat and let it get all nice and shimmery. Just before it smokes, throw in all your veggies and sauté for 5 minutes, just until they’re all aromatic and tender. Toss is in some salt, some dried oregano, a few Bay Leaves, then a 2 to 1 ratio of white vinegar to water. But again, really DGAF on the ratios here.

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Let the vinegar mixture come to a boil and then turn off the heat. Take the entire mixture and throw it into mason jars. For a quick, jury-rigged way to seal the jars: tighten the lid, then drop the whole jar into boiling water for 10 minutes. Allow it to cool before putting it in the fridge, and make sure you let the pickles do their thing for at least 12 hours before eating. That should give you some time to run out, grab some beer, and whip up some tacos.

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Still hungry? Check out the other installments of Bite Club here. 

Photos by All photos by Josh Scherer