21 Things To Do With Pickle Brine
Don’t toss out that leftover brine at the bottom of the pickle jar! Here are ways to incorporate it into drinks, dishes and — magically — use it to make more pickles.
Dill, onion, olive, and pickled pepper brine line a shelf of my refrigerator. I religiously hoard these by-products of pickling because they're versatile condiments on their own. Pickle brine's sharp, vinegary constitution can perk up any savory meal. You can drink it straight up for post-workout electrolytes and to relieve muscle cramps. You can even bake with it! If you find yourself with a surplus of pickle juice, keep reading. We’ll teach you how to use leftover brine in no time.
But first ... What’s happening in that jar?
Put on your lab goggles! The science of pickling, wherein an object like a fresh cucumber is placed in brine, comes down to osmosis. The cucumber has a semi-permeable membrane or skin, meaning it will allow some molecules to pass through and some not. Spice molecules, yes. Entire peppercorns, no.
Both the brine and cucumbers have water in them, but since the brine is so salty (or is a "hypertonic" solution), the cucumber will want to reach equilibrium. The water and flavors of the cukes start to exchange places with the salt and spices in the brine, resulting in a new, milder brine after the pickles are done curing. Osmosis at its finest.
Before you start reusing pickle brine, there are few preliminary steps you should take. First, take a look at the jar. Is there any visible mold on the sides, lid, or floating on its surface? If so, discard it. If your brine passed the mold test, the next step is to remove any spices and aromatics by running the pickling brine through a fine-mesh strainer or coffee filter-lined colander. Then, taste it! You heard me. You have to know how briny it is so you can adjust it if needed. Taste good? Check out all the things you can do with it:
It came from inside the fridge
- Reuse homemade or store-bought pickle brine to make a new batch of homemade pickles (grab our recipe for quick pickles here). Bring the leftover pickle brine to a boil in a pot with a fresh clove of garlic and a few pickling spices before pouring it over a clean jar of cucumber slices, onions, peppers, or peeled boiled eggs. Then refrigerate and watch the magic happen! All sorts of veggies are prime for the pickling: radishes, green beans (aka dilly beans), and cauliflower are all good candidates. When you’re finished with the first batch, repeat ad infinitum.
- Speaking of eggs, add a splash of juice to the yolks of your deviled eggs. That’ll give them some extra zing.
- In general, use pickle brine where you would use strong acids like vinegar or citrus juice. An excellent example is to swap the lemon out in hummus!
Soups, salads, and sandwiches
- Comedian Hannibal Buress says he dips his hand into a jar of leftover pickle juice and flicks ham sandwiches 7 to 11 times for more flavor. An easier way to accomplish this (and to mimic the oil and vinegar of classic Italian hoagies): Transfer 1 part strained pickle juice and 1 part olive oil to a squeeze bottle. Shake and squirt at will.
- A uniquely tart condiment to learn is a gastrique. It starts as cooked down honey or sugar syrup, but instead of apple cider vinegar, add the complex bouquet of brine. Once cooled, it’s a stellar accompaniment for strong blue cheeses, fruit, or poached proteins.
- Pack a picnic by marinating soft cheeses like mozzarella or balls of goat cheese in a jar. Add a little pickle juice, olive oil, thyme, red pepper, sliced garlic, and a couple of olives.
Get your cook on
- One of my favorite recent discoveries is zupa ogórkowa, or Polish pickle soup. When heat is applied to pickle juice and chicken stock, it mellows out the sharp edges of the brine. Try different proportions of broth to brine in gazpacho, a batch of beans, congee, and boiled potatoes. (Read more about congee here). I’ve tried slowly simmering chicken adobo with a mix of pickle juice and soy sauce; it was plucky but satisfying over rice.
- Keep pickle brine around like you would a cooking wine. If you’ve just seared some meats, quickly deglaze the pan with brine to create a punchy sauce.
- Fill a pot with diluted pickle juice to steam your vegetables or poach fish.
- Round out your bbq with a brilliant mop sauce.
Down the hatch!
- You could drink it all if you could handle it.
- But if the bite is too hard for you, tone it down with nonalcoholic concoctions. A splash of olive juice with seltzer is very similar to Vichy Catalan, a Spanish sparkling water.
- For a sweeter summer sip, shrubs or drinking vinegars are tamed with the addition of fruit.
- A pickleback is the perfect chaser for stinging drinks like straight whiskey or tequila. The strong flavors of the pickle juice neutralize the burn you feel at a bar.
No matter how you sprinkle pickle brine, you’re preventing food waste and adding a new jolt of flavor to your dishes.
Now it’s your turn. We want to hear about what kinds of refrigerator pickles you make and how you use up the brine. Be sure to tag @yummly on Instagram for a chance to be featured!