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Saltie's Currant Pickle

Saltie's currant pickle

Sometimes you just want a chicken salad sandwich.

So you buy a plump little chicken and you boil it up with the usual trio of carrots and celery and onion. You add some peppercorns (which you end up skimming off with the muddy scum a few minutes later) and an old bay leaf from your grandfather's garden for flavor. (It is so old, in fact, it was picked before he died. Seven years ago, may he rest in peace. The bay leaves still work, though, even though they're brown and brittle.) When the chicken is good and cooked and the broth is flocked with golden gobs of molten chicken fat, you pull out the chicken and let it cool a little; how long depending on just how little feeling you have left in your fingertips.

You shred the chicken, mix it with mayonnaise (I use Maille's because I think it tastes the most like homemade and because it keeps in the fridge for ages, but no one is stopping you from making your own), and then pile it on bread. Ideally, you have good bread. Something holey and crusty, with a crumb that's cool to the touch. Homemade foccacia would be good too, if you have that kind of time. But toast isn't bad either. In fact, some think toast is precisely what you need with chicken salad. That nice crunch against the rich filling. Whatever, the point is, sometimes what's ideal isn't what's in the fridge and I hate how food has become so fetishized now that you can't even crave a stupid chicken salad sandwich without someone somewhere telling you that you're doing it wrong. So forget about the "ideally". Just put it on some bread, whatever you've got is fine.

But I also need a little something sharp in the sandwich, something to help all that rich and soothing meat and cream stand at attention a little. For me, that something is Saltie's red currant pickle, which I have mentioned a half dozen times and yet never blogged about and which I will remedy today. It is my favorite condiment in the fridge besides Heinz's ketchup and my Seville orange marmalade. It is, as the authors of Saltie: A Cookbook describe, "more of a chutney" than a traditional pickle. It's piercingly sour and sharp. It's delicious with cold meats, makes them taste richer and fuller, if you know what I mean. The book says it keeps for 2 months, but I am here to say that I made it 8 months ago and am still eating it with gusto. It is still delicious. The sugar and vinegar are pretty good preservatives.

I'm sorry that you can't make this pickle right now since red currants aren't in season at the moment. I hope you bookmark it for when you can get them. In my feeble defense, I wasn't really planning on writing about red currants today, I just wanted to write about craving a chicken salad sandwich and then somehow that pickle snuck in. You know how it is, right? Sort of like when you wake up thinking "today is going to be great!" and by 10:30 am, it's the worst day ever. Or the other way around, you drag yourself through the motions in the morning, dreading everything and hating everyone, and then you go outside and have some kind of human experience that makes you feel so grateful to be alive that your feet practically tingle.

(At the last minute, I added two slices of avocado to the sandwich, squishing them into the bread before layering on the shredded chicken. Not really sure what possessed me. The color, maybe? I'm pretty sure the sandwich would have been just as good without it.)

Anyway, I was craving a chicken salad sandwich today and so I made myself one and it was just as good as I hoped. Sometimes that's all there is and it is enough.

UPDATE: Caroline Fidanza, the author of Saltie: A Cookbook, has written in to say that the recipe was meant to be made with dried currants, not red currants, so hooray! Currant pickle for everyone!

Saltie's Currant Pickle
From Saltie: A Cookbook
Makes 2 cups

2 cups dried currants (or fresh red currants)
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar

In a large saucepan, combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat and simmer gently, stirring, for 30 minutes, until the pickle is thickened and reduced. Let cool completely before storing in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a year.