Knowing how to finish a dish is what separates the great home cooks from the merely good ones. That extra bit of attention to detail not only makes your food taste better, it makes it feel intentional and complete. If your meal is a sentence, the finishing touches are the period, or perhaps an exclamation mark. A squeeze of lemon (or lime) is a common finishing move, but pickle juice can be deployed to similar — if saltier — effects.
Lemon juice and pickle juice are obviously very different. Pickle “juice” is a brine, for starters, with lots of ingredients including (but not limited to) salt, sugar, and spices. But pickle juice also contains acid, either acetic acid by way of added vinegar, or lactic acid by way of fermentation.
Like the (citric) acid in lemon juice, either acid in pickle juice can add brightness to your dish, helping to cut through fatty, rich flavours and textures to bring balance. Unlike lemon juice, pickle brines also provide salt, herbs, and other seasonings, and a little bit of funkiness.
Mayo-heavy picnic and deli salads like potato, macaroni, chicken, and tuna all benefit from a splash of sour, herby brine, but those are all fairly obvious parings. You can use brine just like you would fresh lemon juice, and just splash it on your food. Grilled vegetables — like zucchini, asparagus, mushrooms, and cucumbers — all benefit from a bit of savoury brightness, as do a lot of meats (like a mayo-marinated chicken breast).
You can also branch out from cucumber pickles and explore the entire brine rainbow. Toss your grilled shrimp with pickled onion brine, finish sausages with pickled beet brine, or pour some pickled cauliflower brine into a creamy dip.
My favourite thing to splash pickle brine into, however, is a big bowl of rice. Pickle rice can be made with brine from classic dill pickles, lacto-fermented pickles, pickled onions, pickled beets, or any other kind of pickled vegetable you have rattling around in your pantry or fridge. The brine adds a ton of flavour and a little bit of acidity, laying the perfect foundation for a bowl of grilled meat and vegetables, or something even simpler, like a fried egg. (Add chopped pickled vegetables for extra credit — the fermented stuff is great for your gut.)