Recently, there’s been a resurgence of the dirty martini, that salty-umami cocktail that’s endlessly refreshing, perfectly garnished with (hopefully) as many olives as will fit into the glass. But as more and more savory cocktail lovers are jumping on the dirty martini train, some bartenders are wondering: Could we make a drink that’s even more aggressively salty in the best possible way?
Enter the pickle martini, the less-sophisticated but more-delicious cousin of the dirty martini. The first time I ever tried a pickle martini, I was instantly transformed. Up until that point, I didn’t know why I was placed on this earth. Upon the first briny sip, I realized that I was destined to down as many pickle martinis as I could possibly get my hands on in this lifetime (or, you know, as many as I can before I get a pounding headache—so like max two in a night). I had always begrudgingly accepted picklebacks at parties and bars despite the fact that I generally hate whiskey because I knew that I couldn’t order the bright green acidic chaser on its own, so I was thrilled when I realized there was a pickle juice cocktail designed for those of us too weak to take shots.
But downing that pickle martini made me ponder this sublime ingredient, this turmeric and dill-spiked perfection, neon and glowing in all its glory. And I’ve come to the conclusion that pickle brine may just be the most glorious liquid the human race has ever engineered.
Apart from its obvious use as a cocktail mixer and chaser, pickle juice has seemingly endless applications. One of my favorite ways to use the stuff is to make quick pickles after I’ve emptied the jar of its original veggies. There’s no need to stick to cucumbers—adding onions to pickle juice allows them to soak up all that flavor, giving them a zing and bite that will make you realize that you’ve been eating subpar onions for your entire life. Cabbage, cauliflower, even carrots can also benefit from a bath in the brine, and within a matter of days, you have a whole new batch of pickles.
Pickle juice is also an excellent marinade. I’ve used it for years when I’ve had chicken in the fridge that I need to use up and don’t know what to do with. You wouldn’t believe the difference a couple of hours in pickle juice can make. The chicken takes on a salty, savory flavor that makes even the toughest, most boring chicken breast recipe come alive in all its juicy, briny glory. Not only does the pickle juice lend the meat plenty of flavor, but it also works as a tenderizer too. And you literally don’t have to do anything other than combine the meat and brine in a bowl and wait. Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to chicken, either. I personally love a pickle juice-marinated pork chop, and some swear by it for shredded beef recipes.
Have pickle juice left over after marinating your meat? You can also use it to enhance a salad. Pickle brine is a great substitute for plain vinegar—in fact, it’s even better. While plain distilled vinegar offers plenty of acidity, pickle juice offers that plus all the flavor of the seasonings. When you’re making your homemade salad dressing, drizzling a healthy dash of pickle brine into the mixture can put your salad on a completely different plane.
But to me, pickle brine is at its best when it’s alone, unadorned, sitting in a chilled jar just waiting for me to take a swig. One morning after I had imbibed in one too many martinis (not the of the pickle variety, unfortunately), I bravely hobbled across my studio apartment to open the fridge door and gaze inside, hoping to encounter something, anything to ease the nagging nausea and full-body dehydration that plagued me. There, I was greeted with the shock of electric yellow-green, only partially obscured by a royal blue label featuring a grinning stork grasping a pickle.
Hands shaking, I reached for the bottle, unscrewing the metal lid with one deft movement and took a tiny, tentative sip. The relief that washed over me was immediate. That one single sip of pickle brine had the effect of an entire glass of water; I felt instantly hydrated. The saltiness had immediately revamped my appetite, and the chill of the glass jar eased my nausea. It made sense once I realized that pickle juice contains the electrolytes you need after exercise (or, in my case, too many martinis).
But my love of pickle brine goes far beyond the health benefits. (After all, downing that much sodium on the regular probably at least somewhat counteracts the benefits of the electrolytes.) For those who love salty, savory, umami flavors, pickle juice is far, far more delicious than even the finest of Mott’s apple offerings.
Unfortunately, buying jars of pickles on the regular just for some of that sweet, sweet nectar can be expensive, so I’ve been forced to purchase full gallons on Amazon. Sometimes I use it for marinades, for salads, for pickling, but if I’m being honest, most of the time, I just chill it and drink it as is. Now, it’s finally time to give pickle juice its due, to celebrate this most sublime of beverages, perhaps tinged with vodka but ultimately perfect on its own.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.