You’d have to admire a food culture that can inspire something like the Tequila Mockingbird Cake (and if you’re wondering just which culture that might be, the tequila is a rather large clue).
This very Mexican dessert – as interpreted by the exceptionally talented Kate Packwood of Wild Flour Bakery – featured at an equally Mexican party hosted by Lily Ramirez-Foran to mark the re-launch, this week, of her Mexican Cook blog. There was molé, there were margaritas and, given the current heat wave, there was even a bit of Mexican weather too. More to the point, though, there were pickled potatoes.
Now, potatoes aren’t exactly a common choice for pickling, for reasons which, I guess, may be both historical and practical: given sufficiently cool conditions, raw potatoes can be stored for a considerable length of time without having to apply special preservation techniques – so in many cases, the need to pickle, salt or otherwise preserve may not have arisen – and potatoes, particularly those high in dry matter, once cooked, will tend to disintegrate and would simply go to mush in a pickling solution. The one notable traditional technique for long-term preservation of potatoes is that of freeze-drying raw tubers to make chuño, as practised in the high Andes, with nary a drop of vinegar involved.
My researches on the pickling matter had lead me to conclude that Mexico was, in fact, one of the few places where pickled potatoes were “a thing” and, in discussing same with Lily last month at her Mexican food stall in the Honest To Goodness market, I discovered that her soon-to-be-visiting Mexican mama was, in fact, a maker of such pickles. Not long afterward, I watched as Lily sat down with her mother, querying the ways of her pickled potatoes, translating and scribbling instructions for me as the details were recalled, not in an orderly series of steps, but in a series of asides and by-the-ways, by one for whom the practice of pickling potatoes was entirely second nature. I, for my part, went forth and pickled, and while the results don’t have the dazzle of a tequila-crowned cake, they do carry their own little bit of Mexican spirit.
This is my interpretation of the instructions from Lily’s mother, though her directions were much looser than what you see below (and constitute only one of a number of ways in which she pickles potatoes). I’ve included the proportions I used but, really, the relative amounts (and varieties) of vegetables to include are up to you – basically use whatever vegetables you like and prepare enough vinegar to just cover them.
It’s a basic, straight-up vinegar pickle and, depending on how long you leave it, the vegetables can become quite sharply pickled (think classic pickled onions). As such, a small amount can provide a piquant accent to a strong cheddar or a good piece of ham or you could, say, dice a few pickled potatoes and use them to spruce up a potato, egg or other salad.
The style of preparation is to partially cook the vegetables first, cool and then cover with garlic-infused cider vinegar – and certainly for the potatoes, you do need to cook them – but I imagine that other vegetables could be simply salted to remove excess liquid, and then pickled. In either case, do use a good quality cider vinegar that you like.
What is important is that the potatoes are not fall apart floury types (and baby potatoes, which is what the recipe calls for, will, almost by definition, be firmer of texture anyway). Use the babiest potatoes you can get and leave them whole and unpeeled. I did cut some of my potatoes in half to get evenly-sized pieces for cooking, but preferred the results using whole potatoes, which did not become as strongly pickled. If your potatoes are quite variable in size, then I would suggest, for initial cooking, that instead of halving bigger potatoes, that you add them to the cooking water in stages, giving larger potatoes a couple of minutes more.
- Makes enough for approx. 3 x 500ml jars of pickle & takes approx. 2 hours to prep + 2 or more weeks to mature
- 700ml cider vinegar
- 5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and whole, but lightly crushed
- 500g baby potatoes
- 300g carrots
- 1 medium onion (approx. 150g)
- 3+ tblsp fresh oregano leaves
You’ll also need:
- Jars to accommodate a combined capacity of around 1.5l of pickle, plus non-corrosive lids
- To prepare the jars and lids, turn your oven on to 140C, wash the jars in hot soapy water, rinse thoroughly, and sterilise, either by boiling in water for 10 minutes and then drying in the oven or just by keeping the jars in the oven for at least 30 minutes before using. Once sterlised, allow the jars to cool. To sterilise the lids, dip in boiling water and allow to dry.
- Add the cider vinegar to a nonreactive saucepan along with the cloves of garlic. Place over a medium heat until the vinegar just starts to bubble, then remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Scrub the baby potatoes and leave them whole and unpeeled. Peel the carrots and cut into chunks around the same thickness as your potatoes. Slice the onion thickly.
- Bring about 1l of salted water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the potatoes and carrots, bring back to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until just barely cooked through, but still firm. Drain completely, reserving the boiling liquid, and allow to cool.
- Pour the reserved boiling liquid over the sliced onion and leave for 3-4 minutes to soften, then drain.
- When the vinegar has cooled, add salt to taste.
- Distribute the potatoes, carrots and onions amongst your prepared jars, along with some fresh oregano leaves, pour over the vinegar so that it covers the vegetables and comes to within about 3mm of the top of each jar (you can discard the garlic or add to the jars as you prefer). Seal and store in a cool, dark place for 2 or more weeks to allow the flavours to develop.
- As noted previously, the amounts and types of vegetables used here can be varied according to what you have and what you like. You could also try different vinegars – I hear that Lily’s mother also pickles potatoes using rice wine vinegar, which is something I intend to try.