Mini ham toasts with pickle butter

The pickle picker-upper

Get out your wicker basket and gingham blanket : it’s picnic season ! Pâté, hard-boiled eggs, ham, and fruit salad or a full-fledged fruit tart – whatever you can dream up to put in your basket is perfect, but don’t forget the corkscrew and a bottle of rosé. And of course, the condiments. The most important one is a jar of small French pickles or cornichons.

Now well-known outside of France, cornichons are tiny pickled gherkin cucumbers, and they’re often packed in vinegar with pickled pearl onions. They’re tasty with almost any type of charcuterie, like rosette, a dried sausage from Lyon, or my personal holy trinity of picnicking : ham, high-quality butter, and either crusty baguette or dark, sliced bread. (Our local baker makes a delicious tordue, or twisted, baguette – but forget the saying “you are what you eat” !)

Pickle chaser

Apparently, cornichons also have a medicinal use : a friend of mine swears by them as the best hangover remedy for le lendemain de fête – the day after. Never mind that she eats them with salade de museau, or snout salad, which is just about the last thing I’d want to eat the day after a party !

Finally, cornichons are the perfect accompaniment to pâté, and especially for folks tasting pâté for the first time. Since some pâtés tend to be a bit strong for some people’s taste buds, I suggest having a cornichon at the ready as a “chaser” if the pâté turns out to have a little too much bang for their buck.

For me, the best part about pickles is the packaging : every jar comes equipped with a pickle picker-upper, or plastic lifter that helps you get those pickles and onions right out of the vinegar. That’s one of those things about French culture that I’d never really taken note of until a good friend visiting from the States recently commented on it. When we broke out the pork rillettes and cornichons, she remarked on how funny and practical the pickle picker-upper was, and of course how perfect those pickles were. Indeed !

Mini Ham Toasts with Pickle Butter

Picnic list ?

But did you know that Les cornichons is also a song ? Nino Ferrer, a Franco-Italian singer-composer, sang about pickles in a jazzy, scat style in 1966. The most popular music at that time in France was the yéyé style : think Claude François, Dalida, Françoise Hardy, and Johnny Hallyday. But Nino Ferrer criticized their commercial yéyé style, claiming that those singers were nothing but dabbling petits bourgeois, whereas Ferrer saw himself as a “real” artist.

I’ll make the case in a future post about the artistic merit of those yéyé artists, but for now, if you listen to Nino Ferrer’s lyrics (or read them here), you’ll find all the makings of a great picnic : bread, butter, hard-boiled eggs, beer, chicken, mayonnaise, cheese, macarons, chocolate, and of course, a radio. But if you listen to the lyrics, can you figure out the one thing they forgot to take on their picnic ?

Mini ham toasts with pickle butter

Did you know that the French are the world’s number one consumer of butter ? That might not be surprising, but at a whopping 8 kilos per year per person, that’s a helluva lot of butter. Miam !

These open-faced canapés are a slightly modified take on the conventional ham sandwich, and they’re perfect for accompanying before-dinner drinks. Or you may choose to forego the miniature format here and make them as whole sandwiches to take with you anyplace you care to dine outdoors with friends and a blanket.

ingredients :
- 10 cornichons
- ½ teaspoon strong mustard
- 7 tablespoons (105g) salted butter, softened but not melted
- 4 slices wheat or whole-grain bread
- 2 slices deli-quality ham (4 oz.), each cut into 8 small squares

how to make it :
1. In a food processor, combine the pickles and mustard, and pulse about 4 or 5 times to break down the pickles.
2. Add the butter and process again until the butter and other ingredients are fully incorporated, but not totally smooth – you’re looking for a rough texture, although one that can be spread onto bread slices. You’ll probably have to scrape down the sides the processor a few times.
3. Toast the bread slices, and spread them generously with the pickle butter. Cut each slice into four squares, and top each with a small ham square, pressing slightly so the ham sticks. Serve with apéritifs or on a picnic !

makes 16 toasts ; recipe can be doubled or tripled

Tags : Paris , French pickles , cornichons , picnic


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