Pickled beets are delicious!
Hey, don’t give me that look… I’m not talking about the canned variety that live out their lives in grocery store purgatory, red and flat flavored, tasting as much of the can as the beets. I’m talking about homemade pickled beets here, jarred alongside red onion and rosemary in tasty tarragon wine vinegar. They’re bright flavored, tangy, multi-dimensional, and fairly straightforward to make.
We get a weekly CSA box from Johnson’s Backyard Garden, and beets have been in abundance this year. Being a fan of pickled beets in my youth (yes, the canned ones from the store, as that was all I knew as a kid), I thought it would be nice to take our bounty of beets and convert them into a tasty treat I could enjoy long after they were out of season.
I’m also an unabashed fan of Alton Brown, and many moons ago he had an episode around pickling beets. After a quick review of the episode and hunting down the recipe on the web, I decided to give it a go. I’m including the recipe below, slightly modified to reflect my own experience and notes. I’m also making a much larger volume than the recipe calls for, but it scales well.
The first step is to start with good beets. Get the freshest you can find, preferably with the stalks still intact (it’s difficult to disguise an old beet when the stalk is wilted), and even better you should source them locally… peruse your nearest Farmer’s Market for a really nice selection. They should be relatively smooth and firm and as uniform in size as you can manage for even preparation.
Next, cast an eye toward beet variety. Red beets are fairly common and will give you the sweet earthiness and deep ruby color you would associate with any beet dish. The chioggia with its red and white concentric rings are strikingly beautiful and tasty as well. I used a mix of these two, not the least reason being that they were what was available to me.
Preheat your oven to 400° F.
You’ll need to par cook the beets before pickling, and there are several ways to accomplish that. The most obvious way is to boil them, but you’ll end up leeching flavor and color from the beets unnecessarily. An excellent alternative is to roast them, as the dry method will preserve internal moisture and color, add a level of flavor as the beets cook, and we can infuse some other flavors as well by adding a few items to the roasting pan.
Remove all but an inch of the stalk — which will become a useful handle later for slicing — and cut the root tip from the bottom. Wash and dry the beets then place them in a large bowl. Peel your shallots and place them in the bowl, along with stalks of rosemary. Drizzle olive oil over all and toss to coat… to be honest, just use your hands as they are more efficient at getting the oil over every surface.
Transfer the beets to either a tightly sealed foil pouch, or more practically an appropriately sized oven-safe pot with lid. The pot is a reusable resource, is easier to manage, and can be used as your ‘bowl’ in the step above making for one less item to wash later. Roast for 40 minutes or until the tip of a knife can pierce to the center of the beet with slight resistance. A larger volume of beets will take longer to roast, so adjust your time accordingly.
While the beets roast prepare the rest of what you’ll need. Peel and french-cut the red onion — french-cut will yield uniform slivers of onion that will stack and fit into the jars nicely, as well as portion out well when serving. If you are canning for long term storage, prepare the water bath and boil your jars and lids to sanitize. Combine the tarragon vinegar (apple cider vinegar works well if tarragon is unavailable), salt and sugar — but not the water — in a pan and set aside.
When the beets are done roasting allow them to cool slightly so they can be safely handled. You’ll need to peel the beets. One method is to take a clean dish cloth and rub the beets vigorously to abrade the skin off. When this actually works, it’s like a magic trick, but when it doesn’t it ends up being a frustration (red beets are particularly stubborn). Another method is to use the dull back-edge of a paring knife to scrape the skin off without removing much, if any of the beet itself. A peeler is ineffective once the beets are cooked, and strips too much good beet from them when they’re raw. Cooked beets are generally easier to peel at any rate.
Set the shallots and rosemary aside to add to the jars later (a shame to just throw them away at this point!). Strain out any beet juice remaining in your foil pouch/pot, and use this toward the volume of water you’ll need for the pickling liquid. Top up to the full water volume then add to the pickling liquid and begin bringing it to a slow boil.
Cut the beets into thin, uniform slices. Add the shallots and rosemary to the jars, then add the beets and red onion in alternating layers. Once the pickling liquid comes to a boil, add it to the jars, topping up as necessary to within .5″ from the top.
If you are canning, add the lids and rings to the jars and return them to the water bath then bring to a boil for 35 minutes. Remove the jars from the water bath and allow to cool, checking to ensure the lids have sealed properly once cooled, then store appropriately. If you aren’t canning, lid tightly and allow to cool, then store in the refrigerator.
Allow 3 to 7 days for the flavor and color to develop. Serve chilled as a side dish or accompaniment to any entree, or add to a salad to punch up the flavor and color — the pickling liquid is all the ‘dressing’ you’ll need.
These beets and red onion are packed with great flavor and add bulk, taste and texture to a dish for relatively few calories (~ 50 calories per 4 OZ portion). They’re also a good source of folate, manganese, and betaines.
Well… for all that, they just taste good. Give ‘em a try!
Alton Brown’s Pickled Beets
6 medium beets (cleaned with 1-inch stem remaining)
2 large shallots (whole, peeled)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 TSP olive oil
1 large red onion (frenched)
12 OZ tarragon wine vinegar
2.25 TSP Kosher salt
.75 C sugar
12 OZ cup water
2 1-QT mason jars with new lids and rings
Temperature: 400° F
In a large bowl toss the beets, shallots and rosemary with the oil to coat well. Place into a foil pouch or lidded oven-safe pot of sufficient size and roast in the oven for 40 minutes, or until a knife tip can pierce the beets with slight resistance.
If canning, boil jars and lids to sterilize.
Remove the skin from the Roasted Beets and slice thinly. Arrange in 1-QT jars, alternating layers with the onion… don’t forget to add the shallots from the roasting pan as well. In a small pot boil the rest of the ingredients and pour over the beets. If canning, lid the jars and return to the canning pot and boil for 35 minutes to seal. Allow to cool and store appropriately. If not canning tightly lid the jars and place in the refrigerator.
Allow 3 to 7 days for flavor to develop before serving.
Yields 2 QT.