The Quickest Way to Make This Old-Time Favorite
Pickled Watermelon Rind is a traditional dish, and a tasty one. It’s a shame that so few people have sampled it — let alone tried to make it.
Traditional recipes for this dish are time consuming (in fact, the whole process can take several days). They also require canning procedures, which few people are equipped for these days.
But there’s a much quicker way to prepare Pickled Watermelon Rind, made popular by David Chang, of Momofuku restaurant fame. His method takes only a few minutes of cooking time, and the rind will be ready to eat within hours. This beats most of the traditional recipes by, well, days. As an added bonus, his approach allows you to leave a bit of the red watermelon flesh on the rind (traditional preparation requires scrapping all of it off).
In most of the US, July is peak watermelon season. The melons in the market now are the sweetest, the most luscious, and definitely the cheapest of the season.
So instead of throwing out the rind of your next watermelon, why not turn it into a delectable snack or side dish?
Recipe: Pickled Watermelon Rind
For this recipe, you need the rind from about half a watermelon (one that’s the size of a basketball or bowling ball). The rind needs to be peeled, which is the most difficult part of the recipe, but a vegetable peeler does the job pretty easily.
I first read about this preparation method in Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan, and my recipe is lightly adapted from Chang’s.
Preparation time is about 10 minutes for cutting up the watermelon and peeling the rind, plus a minute to cook, and an hour for cool-down before you can refrigerate the pickled rind.
This recipe yields about 1 quart of pickled rind; it’s easy to double (or triple). But the pickled rind will last only a week to 10 days when refrigerated, so don’t prepare more than you need.
- 1 quart watermelon rind (including ½-inch of red flesh left on the rind), cut into pieces about 1-inch square (~2 pounds; approximately half of the rind from a seedless-sized watermelon)
- 1 cup vinegar (Chang recommends rice wine vinegar; I’ve also used cider vinegar, which I like a lot, and plain white vinegar)
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 2½ teaspoons table salt or 3¾ teaspoons Kosher salt (Kosher salt has more volume by weight; see Notes)
- 1 star anise
- 1 two-inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped; or ½ teaspoon powdered cinnamon (optional; see Notes)
- Cut or scoop out flesh from half a watermelon, reserving for another use. Leave about ½ inch of red flesh on the rind (optional, but colorful and tasty). Cut rind into 1-inch strips, and using a vegetable peeler or knife, remove the bright green watermelon skin from the rind. Cut peeled strips into 1 inch pieces, and put into a quart-size measuring device. Continue peeling and cutting the rind until you’ve filled the quart-size measure (I usually fill to overflowing; the watermelon rind “settles” a bit as it cooks and cools).
- Combine vinegar, water, sugar, salt, star anise, and optional ginger or powdered cinnamon in a saucepan large enough to contain these ingredients, plus the watermelon rind. Bring to boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt.
- When this mixture reaches a boil, add the watermelon rind. Return to boil, then simmer for 1 minute.
- Remove pan from heat. Cool for one hour.
- Transfer watermelon rind to a 1-quart plastic container (or canning jar). Add as much of the vinegar mixture as will fit in the jar (it will be all or most of it). Refrigerate.
- You can eat the watermelon rind in another hour or two, but it tastes better after it’s thoroughly chilled (overnight works best for me).
- Chang’s recipe — which is excellent — calls for rice wine vinegar, star anise, and ginger. A favorite variation of mine is to substitute cider vinegar for the rice wine vinegar, and cinnamon for ginger (you can also include both spices).
- If you have it on hand, you can substitute oil of cinnamon for powdered cinnamon. Oil of cloves also works nicely.
- BTW, some traditional recipes (the kind that take a day or more to prepare) also include star anise. I’ve seen other versions that include minced garlic, minced small, hot green chilies, and candied ginger. These would probably work well (though I haven’t tried all of them in this recipe).
- Other potential flavoring possibilities include allspice, cayenne pepper, mustard seed, mint, and turmeric.
- The point is: This is a dish you can play with after you learn how to make it.
- Table salt and Kosher salt are equally salty by weight. However, because flakes of Kosher salt are larger than grains of table salt, an equal measure of both by volume will result in less salt flavor from the Kosher. A rough rule of thumb is: 1 part table salt equals 1½ parts Morton Kosher salt or 2 parts Diamond Crystal Kosher salt (Diamond Crystal is “flakier” than Morton’s).
- The variation in saltiness doesn’t matter most of the time, but you want to be accurate when you’re using salt for food preservation (in this dish, the salt both preserves and flavors). Accuracy is important even when we’re refrigerator-preserving (rather than canning).
- By the same token, don’t reduce or substitute for the sugar — it’s also a preservative. (I’m sure people who know how the chemistry of how all this works can substitute with confidence, but I’m not one of those people, so in this case I follow the recipe.)
- With all of that said, the watermelon rind in this recipe is only lightly preserved. As noted above, 10 days is about the limit of its shelf life when refrigerated.
- David Chang began his string of Momofuku restaurants in New York City, later expanding to Sydney and Toronto. (The name means “lucky peach” in Japanese.) His first eatery, Momofuku Noodle Bar, helped draw attention to ramen — and showed Americans that it was more than just a cheap, packaged soup popular among college students.
- The Momofuku cookbook is innovative and a terrific read for anyone who enjoys cooking. (Disclaimer: I sound like a commercial, don’t I? Actually, my blog is noncommercial and no one is sponsoring me to write this. I’m not an Amazon Affiliate member, so I don’t benefit when you click links. I merely own this book and am an enthusiastic user.)
- Pickled Watermelon Rind makes a great snack or side dish (try it with barbecue or fried chicken).
- BTW, when pickled, the rind and watermelon flesh lose some of their original color. But it’s still an attractive dish. And very tasty.
Perfect for Fourth of July
Watermelon used to be a traditional favorite dessert for July 4th celebrations. So of course Pickled Watermelon Rind also became traditional — as a scrumptious use for the rind that otherwise would be thrown out.
I’ll be serving Pickled Watermelon Rind this 4th, along with a main course of Grilled Hamburgers (unless I decide at the last minute to do Barbecued Pork Steaks).
How about the other side dishes? Who knows — probably potato salad of some kind. Need suggestions for that, by the way? Check out my posts on Mustard Potato Salad, French Potato Salad, American (Mayonnaise) Potato Salad, and German Potato Salad with Bacon. For cooking the potatoes, I have some nifty tips in my Potato Salad Basics post.
Other sides might include Creamy Cole Slaw or Baked Beans.
For snacking before the main meal, I might serve Cheese Straws or maybe tortilla chips with Salsa and Picante Sauce or maybe Peach Salsa.
Dessert will be a warm-weather favorite: Root Beer Floats, a/k/a Black Cows.
What will we be drinking? Well, it’s hard to beat a Mojito, Tom Collins, or Pimm’s Cup.
But this year, I may serve a patriotic tipple: the Betsy Ross Cocktail.
Never heard of it? Check out my next post, later this week.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Potato Salad Basics
Mustard Potato Salad
Mayonaise Potato Salad
German Potato Salad with Bacon
French Potato Salad
Creamy Cole Slaw
Barbecued Pork Steaks
Salsa and Picante Sauce