Pickled jalapeños are a family favorite. No Mexican inspired meal goes without them. Because 3 of the 4 members of the family protest when something is too spicy, I would buy mild jalapeño pickles from the grocer.
Yes, you read that right. I WOULD BUY A PICKLE. I bought La Preferida Mild Pickled jalapeños for years. It galled me, especially when fall arrived, and jalapeños spilled over every farmer’s stall at the market selling for a cheap $2 a quart.
I tried to recreate them at home, an annual exercise in futility. I tired the obvious at first—removing the seeds and white pith. This helped but certainly didn’t eliminate the heat. I tried to substitute peppers like poblanos, but they didn’t have the right meaty texture. I wanted mild pickled jalapeños, not pickled poblanos. I tried blanching and salting them, knowing from a food science stand point this probably wouldn’t do anything…and it didn’t. Renewed in my quest, each fall I scoured university extension sites from California to Maine for answers on how to de-heat jalapeños. Nada.
How do the people at La Preferida make such a tasty mild jalapeño pickle? I was on the verge of writing the company a letter, when serendipitously, I stumbled on a seed catalogue revealing the answer. You cannot make a hot jalapeño mild. You can, however, grow a mild variety. Duh! The answer is so obvious. Why did it take me 5 years to figure it out?
Question answered. Problem not solved. Where can I get one of these mild varieties? I have yet to meet a farmer that grows and sells them in Southeast Wisconsin. Let me know if you know one. I could grow them, but with curious children and cats and a cave of a house, I don’t have a safe environment, let alone the sunlight to start my own jalapeño seedlings indoors in February. Nor have I discovered any nursery around here that grows mild varieties like Texas A&M, Senoritas and Fooled You. Again, let me know if you do.
Then, in another serendipitous moment, I went to lunch at a Mexican restaurant with a friend who asked the waiter to bring extra pickles—not the jalapeños, just the carrots. She confessed that she was addicted to those delicious little pickled carrots. I tried one and agreed—a perfect combination of mild heat and sweetness and a satisfying toothy texture. Light bulb! If I modify the heat with carrots, not only will I get milder pickled jalapeños but also the added bonus of pickled carrots. This classic pickled is officially called Mexican escabeche and includes jalapeños, carrots and white onions. Most recipes call for a bay leaf too, but I prefer a lighter, brighter flavor and so leave it out.
- 3 pounds jalapeños, sliced into ⅛th inch rings, seeds and veins removed
- 3 pounds carrots, sliced into ⅛th inch coins
- 3 cups finely chopped white onions
- 6 cups water
- 6 cups white distilled vinegar
- 4 T canning salt
- ⅛ t turmeric per pint jar
- ¼ t sesame oil per pint jar
- Prepare the carrots, onions, and jalapenos. De-seeding/de-veining is best done with hands--slice the peppers, put on some disposable gloves and deseed/devein the rings one at a time with your hands. Slow but effective.
- Rinse and drain the prepared jalapeno rings in several changes of water to eliminate all seeds.
- Meanwhile, bring vinegar, salt and water to a boil.
- Add turmeric and sesame oil to clean hot pint jars, then pack tightly with carrots, jalapenos and onions.
- Pour hot brine over ingredients leaving ½ inch head space.
- Cap and hot water bath process for 10 minutes.
After reading this, you might ask, why not just buy the mild pickled jalapeños slices bottled by La Preferida. Is a $2 quart of fresh jalapeños so compelling? Well, to me it is, but if it isn’t to you, I have additional reasons. I like to know the source of my food whenever possible for all sorts of environmental and food safety reasons. Remember the E. colitainted jalapeños discovered a few years ago? Do I have to say more? Also commercial bottled versions come with preservatives and additives like sodium benzoate and sulfides. While the FDA may generally recognize them as safe in the amount typically eaten, I would just as well avoid them if I can. Cancer is cancer no matter how tenuous the link.
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