Tuesday, September 2, 2008
A ploughman's lunch is a simple affair of bread, cheese, pickle, and perhaps some other vegetables or pate dressing things up. When I say pickle, I don't mean a pickled cucumber, I mean some sort of preserved vegetable. Pickled onions, I think, are popularly served with a Ploughman's, and I think Branston pickle is also a reliable contributor. It's a little known fact about me that when I was growing up, I loved cheddar cheese and dill pickle on white bread, which must have bemused my mother to no end. While other kids were unwrapping their PB&J, I was happily working through my cheese and pickle sandwiches.
These days, cheese is pretty rare in our house, as it's quite expensive in Japan. Every once in a while, though, Sous-chef Peter crumbles and comes home with a wedge of extra-old cheddar from the Seijo Iishi, an imported-foods store. This week, the stars aligned, and while Peter was in Yokohama, buying a wedge of cheese, I was in Chigasaki, picking up a bag of red onions for the ridiculously low price of 198 yen. When I got home and realized what I had on hand, I went to work making a quick sweet pickle from the onions.
I cut up about 5 smallish red onions, and tossed them in 2 tablespoons or so of salt. I use sea salt, since it's what I have on hand, but pickling salt is probably best for this sort of thing. When you make proper canned pickles, it's important to get the ratio of salt correct for food safety reasons, but since I don't have the proper equipment or storage space for canning, I go about this as if I were making a quick pickle. A jar of pickled onions doesn't stand a chance of last longer than a couple of days in my house, anyway. Once the onions are salted, I use a Japanese tsukemono-ki (pickle press) to press out the water. You could leave your onions in a non-reactive bowl, with another bowl, full of water to act as a weight on top. After 10 or 15 minutes of this (long enough for me to die trying to attempt world 1-1 in Super Mario Brothers) I drain off the liquid, and give the onions a quick rinse in water. I try to squeeze out any extra liquid with my hand. Then I put them into a glass jar - one I got at Muji, for just this purpose.
Once I crammed all the onions into the glass jar, I boiled 2/3 cup each of rice vinegar and sugar. No particular reason for this measurement, other than it seems to fill the jar I have on hand. If you have a smaller or larger batch you'd like to do, just use a 1:1 ratio of vinegar and sugar. You may find this yields quite a sweet pickle, especially if your onions are quite mild. In this case, you may want to reduce the sugar down to 1/2 cup. I've also heard of people using Splenda instead of sugar, and why not?
I left the onions in their bath overnight, and today I ate the marvellous sandwich pictured above for breakfast. A bit of rye bread, toasted, and spread sparingly with butter. Then, a heaping pile of onions for tang and crunch, topped off with a few shavings of cheddar (at 700 yen for 200g, you'd better believe a thin shaving!). If you wanted to make a killer, decadent sandwich, you could smother the onions with cheese and broil the whole lot of it, so that the molten cheese conceals a layer of sweet, tangy pickle. Not that I thought about doing that, though. I am a model of restraint.