Food obsessions. I have them. You might know this since I tend to write about them. The latest is all things pickled, particularly non-cucumber things like beets, cauliflower, and my current holy grail: Carrots. What is it about pickled carrots? It started when I wrote about Corner Table’s CSK box, which included a jar of pickled carrots that didn’t make it into the photograph, because I ate the entire jar, all at once.
The obsession grew on a recent visit to the 128 Cafe Mobile Cafe (food truck!) with my friend Joy Summers for some of the best lunch eats in town. Joy and I share an enthusiasm that probably borders on stalkerish for Chef Ian Pierce’s famous ribs and all-round fantastic food. The day we mobbed the truck Ian was serving tender beef skewers with a spicy cashew sauce, topped with…pickled carrots. Joy had ordered the skewers, which made the carrots hers, and while I stingily forgot to share my ribs with her, she graciously let me attack the carrots. We of course fell into a discussion about what makes a great pickled carrot.
In fact, Joy had just made a batch herself, deciding the recipe needed a bit of tweaking to achieve what we concluded should be the perfect balance of sweet to sour, crispness without being hard as rocks, with a refreshing but not overpowering bite of ginger.
Yeah, we spent our lunch talking about pickled carrots.
And when we were done eating, we raided the truck and peppered Ian with questions about how he makes The Carrots. The secret, we discovered, is brown sugar. Yes! I love discovering secrets. In fact, Ian shared his whole process, outlined below. The pickles are quick and easy to make, ready-to-eat upon cooling, or to keep in the refrigerator for a week or so. If they stick around for that long.
Pickled carrots are fantastic to eat as is, but are particularly delicious atop rich, savory dishes. My family inhaled them over the weekend as the perfect, crunchy foil for a Moroccan braised chicken with basmati rice. There is no better topping for a bratwurst. (Brat blasphemy? Perhaps.) Toss into salads and coleslaw. They basically make everything taste better.
I cut them into two shapes—coins for snacking, matchstick for garnish. Both are gone.
To check them out in person, do not miss the Food Truck Court in downtown St. Paul every Wednesday, at the intersection of Kellogg and Wabasha. Five trucks line up along the stunning riverfront, all of downtown St. Paul comes out to play in the sun, and the trucks crank out food as fast as they possibly can. Jill Wilson of 128 Cafe worked with the city to pull the court together and it is a hit!
Photo by Stephanie Meyer
Photo by Stephanie Meyer
Based on a conversation with Chef Ian Pierce, 128 Cafe and Joy Summers
2 1/2 c. rice wine vinegar
2 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. minced ginger
pinch red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
1/4 tsp. coriander seeds
3 white peppercorns
1 large bunch carrots, peeled, trimmed, sliced how you like (coins, matchstick, everything in between)
In a large saucepan, over medium heat, stir together vinegar, brown sugar, salt, ginger, red pepper flakes, and cinnamon stick. While the mixture heats, in a small skillet over medium heat, toast the fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and peppercorns until fragrant (do not burn). Add to the liquid.
When the liquid simmers, stir in the carrots. Turn heat to low and cook gently, testing often, until carrots are just a bit softened but are still quite crisp, anywhere from 5-10 minutes or more (depending on carrot freshness, size of cut, etc.). Transfer carrots to a jar or bowl, cover in liquid, and let cool. Cover and chill to store.