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What is Piccalilli?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2014
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Piccalilli is a pickled condiment which classically includes an assortment of chopped vegetables in a thick mustard sauce, which turns the piccalilli bright yellow. This condiment is especially popular in Great Britain, where it is often readily available at restaurants and grocers, and it also appears in places like India, where there is a long tradition of Anglo-Indian cuisine. It is also possible to make piccalilli at home, for those who have experience in pickling and canning.

The ingredients used in piccalilli can be quite varied, depending on regional tastes. Typically vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and cauliflower are common, and other vegetables may be added as well. Mustard and turmeric are common spices, and piccalilli can also include things like chilies for an extra spicy kick. This condiment can be used on sandwiches, mixed with other condiments to make dressings and sauces, and used to dress an assortment of foods.

Like other pickled foods, piccalilli is designed to keep for an extended period of time at room temperature in a sealed container, providing a source of vegetables even in the winter or in remote regions where farming opportunities are limited. Once opened, a container of piccalilli must typically be refrigerated, although heavily preserved versions made in the traditional style can be stored at room temperature after opening.

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This condiment is pickled in a mixture of vinegar, salt, and sugar which gives it a salty tang. As a general rule, low amounts of sugar are used; just enough to cut the acidity, without making the piccalilli sweet, although there are sweet versions of this popular condiment. People have been making piccalilli since at least the 18th century, as numerous cookbooks attest, and it is believed to be heavily influenced by Indian cuisine.

There is some dispute as to the best piccalilli recipe, with most people preferring the version they were introduced to first. Some cooks like to cook the vegetables in their piccalilli really well, producing a rather mushy condiment, while others prefer finely shredded but still crisp vegetables to give the condiment some crunch. Spicing is also highly variable; cooks who make their own would do well to remember that spicing intensifies with aging.

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