Once you finish a jar of pickles, what do you do with the abundance of tangy, salty brine left behind? If you’re like most people, the probable answer is: throw it down the sink and toss (maybe recycle) the empty jar. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Far more than just another method to reduce food waste, repurposing that liquid gold leads to lots more flavor in the kitchen.
Piquant pickle juice may also have probiotic benefits (as long as it’s from fermented pickles and not the “quick pickled” kind), and mini bottles of pickle juice are even sold as sports drinks, alleged to alleviate cramps. But the main benefit, of course, is the effortless way leftover pickle brine injects more flavor into so many different dishes.
Even if you shudder at the thought of guzzling the stuff straight-up (so no pickleback shots or pickle juice vodka for you), you can find ways to incorporate it, because while it can be a star ingredient, it can also be a secret supporting player that adds a little extra something-something that you’d be hard-pressed to identify unless you’re already in the habit of adding pickle brine to your food. Which you probably will be, once you try it.
One note: just as dill pickles are more savory than significantly sweeter bread and butter pickles, their respective brine will vary in sweet and sour levels too; taste first and adjust as needed. Here are some ideas on how and where to use your new favorite secret weapon in the kitchen:
You can swap in pickle juice basically anywhere vinegar is called for, and salad dressing is no exception. If you’re more of a creamy dressing fan, try pickle juice ranch, but for those who like a leaner salad lubricant, this vinaigrette is great, and works as an all-purpose sauce of sorts too. Get the recipe.
Yes, you can use your leftover pickle juice to make even more pickles! Simply drop sliced onions, carrots, cucumbers, peppers, garlic, zucchini, and other vegetables, or even hard-boiled eggs, into the brine and let sit for a couple days (at least), then start taste-testing to see if they’re strong enough for you. You can use the brine from pickled beets in this way too, which imparts a lovely color. Get the recipe.
Although the merits and specific methods are hotly debated, brining meat is widely considered a great way to add flavor and encourage a tender texture—and pickle juice is basically ready-made wet brine, so use it to marinate all sorts of protein, from steak to chicken; even tofu picks up the flavor. Pickle juice is rumored to be a secret ingredient in Chick-fil-A’s coveted chicken recipe, which this paleo version aims to replicate. Get the recipe.
You can stir a sneaky soupçon of pickle juice into almost anything that could benefit from a bit of zest, from egg salad and sandwich spreads to more unlikely edibles like hummus and barbecue sauce. If those sound a little suspect, deviled eggs are a good starting place. Lots of Southern deviled egg recipes include sweet pickle juice in the filling, but this version also has another stealth ingredient: butter, to amp up the richness. Oh, and bacon, if you’re so inclined. Get the recipe.
Pickle juice perks up all kinds of creamy dishes like pasta salad and coleslaw, but potatoes are a particularly good blank canvas for picking up the flavor. To that end, try pickle-brined french fries too, but if you need something for a potluck, picnic, or casual dinner party, potato salad is the way to go. A scant spoonful or two will do to lend a little zip, but this one isn’t so timid; it calls for a full 3/4 cup of dill pickle brine. Get the recipe.
This uncommonly delicious bread puts a new spin on the idea of sourdough by using warmed dill pickle juice in place of water to activate the yeast. The top is garnished with pickle pieces for good measure, but if you left them off, you could keep everyone guessing about the mystery ingredient. Get the recipe.
If you’re not shy about making pickles the main event, this soup is perfect, since it uses both the brine (nearly 2 full cups!) and the pickles that swam around in it. Perhaps an acquired taste, but worth trying at least once. Get the recipe.
If you just want a little zing without actually tasting pickles, try stirring a dash of brine into a Bloody Mary. Conversely, if you’d like to explore the full flavor effects of pickle juice in drinks, try a puckery pickle juice martini, or make a simple syrup with sugar and bread and butter pickle brine to use in a nontraditional whiskey sour—then experiment with it in other cocktails too. Get the recipe.
Like it or not, pickle desserts are taking over. If you’re into it, you can easily make your own pickle popsicles at home. And if you happen to have a jar of fruit punch pickles, the brine from them would make an especially interesting variation on this dubious summer treat. Get the recipe.
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