Spicy pickled eggs in cider vinegar

Pickled eggs are a British institution. You’ll find them behind the bar of every decent pub, but how many people do you know who actually buy them? I imagine those catering-size jars must sit around for decades, their rusty lids prised off once in a blue moon as the landlord’s gnarled yellow fingers fish out an ancient rubbery orb for the amusement of drunkards on a dare.

I used to be a little bit afraid of them. The name alone is a deeply unappetising, and in the gloom of their natural habitat they bring to mind the formaldehyde-floating horrors of the biology lab.

Such thoughts, however, are entirely unwarranted. Served in the traditional manner – shaken vigorously inside a bag of cheese and onion crisps – pickled eggs are the perfect accompaniment to a pint. British tapas. Here’s how you can make some that will surpass even the finest vintage specimens from your local hostelry.

Ingredients (two dozen)

24 small eggs
1 litre cider vinegar
150g brown sugar
2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
2 tsp brown mustard seeds
2 star anise
4 dried chillies
4 cloves
2 allspice berries
1 cinnamon stick, broken up
half a tsp celery seeds
2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
1 tsp turmeric

This recipe is by no means set in stone. I like spicy things, hence the chillies and Szechuan pepper, but leaving them out won’t spoil anything. Also, nobody will notice the difference if you only use one type of mustard seed – I used yellow and brown because I had both in the cupboard.

You could leave out the turmeric if you want a cleaner looking jar. I added it because I wanted the eggs to take on a nice golden colour, but it also makes the vinegar go cloudy, which doesn’t look quite as nice on the shelf. (A bit of cloudiness about the vinegar is ideal for the “landlord’s fingers” effect.)

The first step is to put the eggs in a large pan of cold water, bring to the boil, simmer for eight minutes, then leave to cool. Peel the eggs, rinse off any stray bits of shell and set aside.

Put the vinegar, sugar and all of the spices in a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes (keep the lid on and turn your extractor fan to max, otherwise your whole house will smell of vinegar). Check for seasoning and add more sugar if you think it’s required. Add the eggs to the pan, bring back to the boil, then turn off the heat.

You need enough clean sterilised jars to fit the eggs in. To sterilise the jars, put them upside-down in a cold oven and turn the heat up to 120C. When the oven reaches the desired temperature, turn it off. Your jars are sterilised (and deadly hot, so use oven gloves when removing them). To sterilise the lids or rubber seals, put them in a bowl and pour boiling water over them.

Pack the eggs tightly into the jars. Top up with the hot vinegar, ensuring the eggs are completely covered, and leave a small gap at the top. If there are any whole spices left in the bottom of the pan, distribute them among the jars.

Seal the jars and leave for at least a couple of weeks (months, if you can wait that long) before opening. Serve with crisps and a pint or three of scrumpy.

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