Photograph by Bartholomew Cooke
Pickling, once used to make fruits and vegetables last through barren winters, has officially gone from homespun necessity to high-brow obsession. Now, even as farmers' markets are exploding with spring produce, chefs are excitedly tossing the season's freshest offerings into tangy brine—made new with swanky vinegars like Banyuls and unexpected spices like black cumin—and turning out pickles that deserve to be treated as so much more than burger sidekicks. JJ Goode
THE BEST CHEF-MADE PICKLES
1. NAPA, CALIFORNIA: Ubuntu
Jeremy Fox soaks rhubarb in sugar, champagne vinegar, and spices like cumin and fennel seed, and scatters the final product over roasted beets, beet purée, and pistachios.
1140 Main Street, 707-251- 5656; ubuntunapa.com
2. NEW YORK CITY: Elettaria
Pickled cauliflower and bright-orange carrot vinaigrette—spiked with pickled ginger, no less—brighten up Akhtar Nawab's salad of squid marinated in ground fennel and cumin seed.
33 West 8th Street, 212-677-3833; elettarianyc.com
3. COLORADO SPRINGS: Summit
Blueberries doused with rice vinegar, white wine, and sugar bring a sweet-tart flavor to Bertrand Bouquin's dish of seared duck breast and braised duck leg.
19 Lake Circle, 719-577-5733; broadmoor.com
4. CHICAGO: L2O
Laurent Gras makes a quick pickle by vacuum-packing peaches with salt and honey vinegar and serves the result as the third layer of an all-raw riff on surf and turf composed of lamb tartare and minuscule shrimp.
2300 Lincoln Park West, 773-868-0002; l2orestaurant.com
5. LOS ANGELES: Bar Pintxo
The crunchy, tangy topping of Joseph Miller's plancha-grilled lemon-parsley shrimp is made of garlic cloves that the chef pickles for two weeks, slices, and deep-fries.
109 Santa Monica Boulevard, 310-458-2012; barpintxo.com
THE TOP JARRED OPTIONS
Small-batch pickles taste nothing like the grocery-store versions. Here are the recipes that deserve real estate in your fridge.
Green beans by Rick's Picks: Green beans take on a surprising complexity thanks to earthy soy sauce and bold wasabi. (rickspicksnyc.com)
Sugar snap peas by Tillen Farms: The subtle brine highlights snap peas' sweet, springy flavor and leaves plenty of crunch. (worldpantry.com)
Cucumbers by McClure's Pickles: With the optimal balance of vinegary zing and salty punch, this is the iconic pickle perfected. (mcclurespickles.com)
Carrots by Real Pickles: Ginger, carrots, and old-school lactic-acid fermentation are all it takes to make this wonderfully sour rendition. (realpickles.com)
Pears by Wheelhouse Pickles: Bosc pears are an unlikely hit steeped in soy, rice vinegar, and scallions. (wheelhousepickles.com)