Pickled Seeds

Pickled Seeds? Try This Chef Trick

Photo: Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott

Acid. Spice. Salt. Texture. Savvy chefs have tricks for bringing each of these elements to every dish, and Thomas McNaughton of San Francisco pasta temple Flour + Water is no exception. Potent pickled seeds are his game, which the chef deploys to lend a lightness and acidity that he thinks are key to “whatever the hell Northern California cuisine is.”

He uses a hot, spiced vinegar to brine all kinds of seeds, from floral coriander to pungent mustard and fragrant fennel. The process renders them plump, al dente–tender, and hugely flavourful, ready to be added to any dish in need of a little oomph. These little guys are welcome wherever you’d normally employ a squeeze of lemon or a splash of vinegar, adding extra pop and complexity that your average acid can’t match. Luckily, our master recipe will have you on track in time to shake up tonight’s dinner.

Looking for ideas on how to use your seeds? These three will get you started:

1. Match Your Meat
A sprinkling of zingy seeds on slow-roasted cuts of meat, such as pork shoulder, offsets and complements the fatty lushness.

2. Noodle Around
Rich pasta dishes love acid. Finish that Bolognese with a little of the brine, and top with some seeds for punch.

3. Use Your Vinegar
The coolest thing about making pickled seeds? Not only are those super-aromatic seeds infused with tangy vinegar flavour, that vinegar is also infused with super-aromatic seed flavour. Add depth to any vinaigrette by using the infused pickling liquid in place of your standard lemon juice or red wine vinegar.

Recipe: Pickled Seeds

Recipe by Thomas McNaughton

  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ cup mustard, coriander, nigella, cumin, fennel, or caraway seeds

Bring bay leaf, vinegar, salt, sugar, and 1 cup water to a simmer in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve salt and sugar.

Meanwhile, toast seeds in a dry medium skillet over medium heat until fragrant, 1–2 minutes. Add seeds to pickling liquid and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until tender (they should yield easily between your front teeth), 30–45 minutes. Let seeds cool in liquid; transfer to an airtight container, cover, and chill.

Do Ahead: Store pickled seeds in their liquid in the refrigerator up to 3 months.

Amiel Stanek