Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pickled Cinnamon Cider Apples // On Smoking (Week 9)


About two weeks ago, the chef walked through our apartment door sometime just short of midnight carrying an oversized box of uncooked meat. In many households, I imagine this might cause alarm. However, around here, where it isn't all that unusual for someone to pull an all-nighter in our home kitchen in order to test out a new recipe, it seems to happen with increasing regularity. 



This time last year, on one seemingly normal weekday afternoon, I was surprised to check our home mail and find a five foot rectangular box waiting for me. It turned out that the chef had gone ahead and purchased a smoker to test out some new recipes for the shop. Which, simply put, meant that everything we ate for the next several months would be laced with the subtle flavor of smokey hickory. Not the worst problem in the world, but still...

Did you ever see the Portlandia episode where Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein's characters continue to proclaim, "We can pickle that!" with every object (edible or not) that they see? Nearly all of last winter felt just a little bit like that, minus the salty brines and instead with tiny mesquite briquettes. For the Super Bowl, we smoked and then braised our first homemade pastrami. When we boiled up some soft pretzels, we experimented making smoked mustards for dipping. We brined and then smoked whole chickens, often peeling off and eating the flavorful skin before they even made it to a platter. When the chicken meat was gone, we smoked the bones once more, and then used them to make one of the most intense and indulgent stocks our home freezer has even seen. 



And so last week, just as the temperature around here finally dropped (I wore a scarf and boots almost every day!), the chef pulled out the smoker for another round of experimentation. Late one night, just before bed, the two of us created an assembly line of sorts, rubbing thick slabs of pork belly with various salts and spices and dousing them with apple cider and whatever other inspiring items we pulled from our fridge. 



For days, stacks of ziplock bags filled with curing pork took up residence on the bottom shelf of our refrigerator until finally, after a full seven days, they were ready to be smoked.

Over the years, I've become more and more enamored with the process of cooking food. There is something sort of magical about it, no? We begin with a (somewhat unappetizing) box of meat, add a few special ingredients, seal it behind the smoker door and voila! When we unseal the door, hidden there behind a fog of hickory smoke are crispy, fragrant golden blocks of bacon. Just like magic.  


Like smoking, I like to think pickling has some of the same transformative powers. Take a basket of cucumbers. Pretty average. However, pour of quick brine over top of them and they become something else entirely. And so this week, as the scent of hickory still lingered in our home, my goal was to whip up something that would play well with the thick slices of bacon I knew we'd be eating for days to come. These quick pickled apples have the transformative power to make nearly every dish taste just a little bit more like autumn. Experiment spooning these cool, crisp, slightly sour apple slices across a hot cut of meat, or adding them to your favorite autumn salad. By the time this weekend rolls around, and most of the carnivorous remnants of our smoking experiments are gone, I have big plans for these pickled apples (along with slices of cheddar and caramelized onions) to serve as the star of a savory fall galette. I hope you'll enjoy them! Feel free to leave a comment below to let me know what you think.



Pickled Cinnamon Cider Apples

- 2 pounds apples
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1 cup apple cider
- 1 cup water
- 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt
- 1 tablespoon whole white peppercorns
- 2 cinnamon sticks

Thoroughly rinse and dry apples. Core the apples, and slice them into 1/8-1/4 inch wedges. Add the apple wedges to an airtight glass jar. Rest a fine mesh sieve on the lip of the jar. Set aside.

Add all other ingredients to a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat and pour the liquid through the sieve and onto the apples. Fill the jar to the top so that all apple slices are covered with brine. Tuck the cinnamon sticks into the jar along with the apples. Allow the brine to cool to room temperature, then seal the jar and transfer to the refrigerator. When stored in an air tight container and kept refrigerated, the pickled apples will keep for about two weeks.

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