May it Please the Palate: The Greatest Condiment in the Subcontinent

Bon Appétit calls it “Hot, Sour, Salty, Sassy ... fiery, tangy, and crazy-flavorful.” Food Republic dubs it “the greatest condiment on the subcontinent.” That would be Indian pickle, made by salting and fermenting puckery fruits – like limes or green mangos – with salt, mustard seed, and hot spices. Two weeks basking in the sun finishes the process.

Those in the know put that stuff on everything. A go-to dish in India is to mix it with yogurt and rice. I love it with mashed avocado on grilled olive bread. Indeed, a random olio of ethnic cuisines – but what a way to start the morning!

You can buy it in specialty stores or even supermarkets, but if you’re feeling adventurous, make your own. I did, from this recipe: - and went through two quarts, by myself, in a matter of weeks.

For those who want to dip their toe in this tempting ocean of flavor, here’s an incredible recipe for baked chicken, first marinated in mayonnaise touched by the magic condiment. It has just enough lime pickle to make your taste buds stop hitting the snooze alarm, but not so much to scare anyone away. It has the added benefits of being easy (marinate overnight, then a few minutes to get it ready for the oven), as well as reasonably low fat, especially if you must remove the bird’s crackling and aromatic skin. (Boo, you.)

This is Bon Appetit’s recipe – very slightly modified by The secret is the modest amount of mayonnaise, which keeps it succulent and mellows the heat.

3 Garlic cloves, crushed
1 1" piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tbsp. Prepared Lime Pickle (such as Patak's)
1 tsp. Smoked Paprika
1/4 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
2 Large Sweet Onions, thickly sliced, divided
1/2 c Mayonnaise
6 Skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (1 1/2-2 lbs. total)
1 1/2 lb Fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and halved lengthwise
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Large bunch watercress, tough stems trimmed
2 tsp. Fresh Lemon Juice

1. In a food processor, pulse the garlic, ginger, lime pickle, paprika, cayenne, and 1/4 of the sliced onions until smooth. Add the mayonnaise, a sprinkling of freshly ground pepper and pulse to combine. Using a rubber spatula, transfer marinade to a zipper lock bag.

2. Pat chicken thighs dry with paper towel, then season lightly with salt. Add to the bag, seal and toss to coat. Let marinating chicken set at room temperature for 1 hour, or refrigerate up to 12 hours - longer is better. Wrap or cover remaining onion slices and chill until ready to use.

3. If chicken is marinating chilled, remove from refrigerator 1 hour before roasting to bring it to room temperature. Preheat oven to 450F.

4. Toss halved potatoes and remaining sliced onions with the olive oil in a large roasting pan. Add 1/4 cup water, season with salt and toss again. Place chicken pieces, skin side up, on top, making sure there is some space between pieces. Roast 45-55 minutes (or longer) until chicken is cooked through and lightly charred in spots. Remove from oven, allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

5. Toss the watercress with lemon juice, season with salt. Serve chicken, onions and potatoes on a bed of the watercress, for a complete meal.

I don’t understand why lime pickle isn’t more popular. It’s similar to Moroccan preserved lemon, a staple of many popular fusion restaurants. Its taste becomes addictive, and its versatility is limited only by the imagination. It deserves to be not only the greatest condiment on the Indian subcontinent, but among the best in the world.
Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience.