The average American eats 8.5 pounds of pickles a year and favors dill over sweet, according to a report in a 2009 issue of Mental Floss magazine. Salty and sour pickles introduce a little balance to a meal dominated by fatty or sweet flavors.
For all its apparent simplicity, the typical fast food burger is an exhaustively researched marriage of textures and taste, and it’s the unobtrusive slivers of pickle that provide the all-important crunch and sharpness to balance the meat patty. By extension, introducing pickle into any meat sandwich, from pulled pork to steak, adds texture to each bite. By no means are dill pickles the only option. Pickled red onion goes well with leaner meats such as chicken and even fish fillets, while sauerkraut, pickled shredded carrot or Korean kimchi provide a welcome kick to any meat and bun combination, including sliders and hot dogs.
Cooks can take plenty of inspiration from the Far East cuisine, where pickles are included almost daily, given the region’s historic need to preserve foods in case of famine. Not only are bowls of pickles a prevalent snack in Japan, but a dish of rice and pickles, often cured in rice vinegar, is considered a treat rather than a frugal meal. While pickled cucumbers similar to dill pickles are a traditional accompaniment to sushi, alternatives include salted plums, daikon -- available in most Asian supermarkets -- ginger and carrots, with pickling agents including red miso and rice bran. A simple dish of steamed rice with soy sauce and pickles exploits the starch as an ideal background for the sweet and sharp flavors of the condiments.
The combination of dill pickles and herring is a traditional dish in Scandinavian and Northern European cuisine, where fish had to be preserved for long winters. In Holland, raw soused herring is a popular street snack, eaten with chopped onion and dill pickle, while in Germany the same combination might be rounded off with a yogurt dressing. Scandinavian cuisine calls for a potato salad and quartered boiled eggs, with cubed beets, walnuts and apple slices also finding their way into some versions. In all cases, the use of chopped dill as a garnish echoes the subtle dill flavors used in the pickle brine, and gives a salty, sour background to the oily fish.
Small dill pickles called cornichons are ubiquitous in French gastronomy, where they are traditionally served alongside pâté. With a coarse, fatty terrine or smooth rillette, pickles provide some much-needed texture and acidity, but they also work well with fine liver pates. Cornichons assert themselves in smoked fish pate, whether mackerel or trout, where they can be rough-chopped along with capers and onions to fully release their flavors.