Pickle: Noun; pick·le | \ ˈpi-kəl \
1: a solution or bath for preserving or cleaning, such as a brine or vinegar solution in which foods are preserved.
2: a difficult situation: “I could see no way out of the pickle I was in.”
3: an article of food that has been preserved in brine or in vinegar, specifically, a cucumber that has been so preserved.
Now, I’ve been in a pickle or two. Mostly with my older brother, Trey, as we were thinking through how we were going to get out of trouble with our parents.
But the pickle I want to share with you today is the best kind, the kind that changes beloved foods into something completely different. These pickles have different flavors and textures that completely transform a dish and turn it upside down, leaving your guests saying to themselves, “What is that?”
Writing this second column on food brought me back to my roots, once again, to “The Sweet Sunny South” (thank you Jerry Garcia and David Grisman for putting the feeling in a song).
Why? Because I want you to pickle watermelon. Summer brings 50 different varieties and, given the chance, I’d probably like them all. The texture and flavor are unmatched in the fruit family. In addition, watermelon is as versatile as the imagination allows.
We are going to bring these two Southern staples together, pickling and watermelon, to create a plate perfect for summer.
I first learned about watermelon outside a grocery in my mom’s hometown of Lexington, Tenn. My great-uncle Beanie would take Trey and me out to a farm and let us pick out the watermelons we wanted. I always wanted the biggest one. My attempts to pick it up and haul it to the wheelbarrow would inevitably end up with it slipping out of my arms and hitting the hard ground.
No worries, Uncle Beanie would say, “Looks like we got our afternoon snack.” That juicy watermelon split on the ground on a hot Tennessee day was better than candy.
I will never forget those experiences. They also played a large role in my appreciation for all the fruits and veggies the summer has to offer in the South. Okra and butterbeans are hard to come by in the Pacific Northwest, but I get my fill every July on the Carolina coast during our Beach Week.
This recipe transforms watermelon into something unexpected for your guests. Introducing a slight pickling to it will transform its flavor and texture yet remain true to the bliss of its natural profile.
Please note that this method of pickling is not what you may expect in traditional pickling. In this recipe, I only pickle the watermelon for an hour as opposed to leaving produce like cucumbers or okra in a vinegar solution for an indefinite time. You can lose the watermelon flavor by leaving it in the liquid too long. If the liquid gets too hot, it changes the texture of the watermelon, so follow the recipe carefully.
This dish was on one of my seasonal menus a couple years ago in Seattle. I made a fresh summer salad with the pickled watermelon and paired it with fresh herbs, feta cheese, rainbow potatoes and pan-seared steelhead. Salmon will pair well, too.
Once the watermelon is pickled and ready, it is quite easy to put together the fish dish, and you’ll have that “wow” factor your guests or family will appreciate.
Happy creating and eating! Reach out to me with questions. Instagram @tableside_chef
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Brett Gardner Howell grew up in Knoxville and now lives in Seattle with his wife and two children. He has been an Executive Chef for the better part of his career and continues to work in culinary arts across the country.