Ask Peter: Pickling beetroot
We’re starting to get an abundance of beetroot in the autumn garden. We love eating it grated raw or roasted to use in salads. But I’ve never actually pickled it — always used the canned stuff for hamburgers — so wondered if you had some tips and suggestions. Thanks, Theo
I recall a restaurant called Sydney Street that opened in Chelsea, London, about 18 years ago and every reviewer commented on the fact that there were three dishes on the menu containing beetroot. Scandalous. The chef had been living in Australia, and it was on ‘Sydney’ street, but the reviewers lambasted the over-use of this vegetable. Those same reviewers have, over recent years, sung the praises of beetroot as though they discovered it, seeing as it is now considered an essential vegetable to have on the menu –— whether it be the striped chioggia variety, the golden or white ones, or some other variation on the theme. Food is never fickle, beetroot hasn’t changed its DNA, but reviewers can drive you nuts!
You can pickle beetroot whole, but I’d advise you to only do this if they’re smallish — you’ll fit more into a jar a lot easier when ping-pong ball sized rather than orange-sized. You can also roast them, cut into quarters and then pickle them. You can julienne them, slice them (thick or thin) and pickle them as you like. I tend to make what I call fridge pickles, ie these last for quite a long time in my fridge, but if left out they do run the risk of bubbling and going off.
To pickle them for your pantry, to be enjoyed a year from now, you’d be best to buy a book on the subject and follow it closely so you do not write in in three months and tell me they tasted dreadful and fizzy. In my fridge-pickle-world, the rule of thumb for the pickle liquid is 2 parts water to 1 part vinegar. This is whether I’m pickling watermelon rind, bean sprouts, figs or plums. I pack the cleaned fruit or vegetables fairly tightly into a sterilised jar then pour on the boiling liquid and seal immediately.
However, to say everything is done the same way misses out some of the basics. Watery produce, such as very ripe plums or cucumber slices for example, have slightly less water and a little extra vinegar in the pickle liquid. Very firm produce, such as sliced butternut, will have more water. If the produce is sweet (ripe figs or apricots) then add less sugar than if pickling shredded red cabbage.
Beetroot can be treated differently too.
- I wouldn’t mix colours in the same jar, as red beets will make yellow beets tint pinkish, so that wouldn’t be ideal.
- Julienning chioggia beets would make no sense as you’d lose the point of the rings — so slice them into rings.
- Red beets could be quartered, grated or julienned, diced even. However, the thicker the “chunk” of a beet the more you should cook it beforehand.
Imagine a thinly sliced piece vs a whole baby beet or a quarter of a large beet. The pickle will preserve it, but unless you heat it sufficiently there is a risk of bacteria growing in the jar and causing it to ferment and go off, which in extreme cases could mean the jar would explode. Not nice.
- If your chunks are to be large, then either boil them in the pickle before bottling, or roast them wrapped in foil (without oil) before peeling and placing hot into the jars before you top with boiling liquid. As for spicing, it really does depend on what you’ll be serving them with.
- Toasted caraway seeds and thick slices of peeled ginger added to the boiling liquid will produce beets that will go well with cold meats, smoked kahawai or meaty stews.
- Using star anise, sliced chillies, sliced garlic and sliced lemongrass will produce something that goes well in a Thai-style rare beef salad, served on rice with a coconut curry or mixed into yoghurt for a type of raita to serve with naan bread and tandoor chicken.
- Beetroot also goes really well as a component with other chutneys — next time you’re making a plum and pear chutney, add a load of peeled and diced raw beetroot to the mixture at the beginning. Red beets will add a gorgeous colour and depth of flavour (they’re quite earthy).
- Grated raw beets and horseradish added to apples for a version of apple sauce with roast pork is to die for.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.