Cornichons (pronounced "KOR-nee-shons") are small pickled gherkins — in other words, tiny pickles. Their tart, mildly sweet flavor makes them the perfect condiment or garnish to serve with classical chartcuterie items like pâtés, terrines, and cured sausages and the like.
Referring to them as a garnish or condiment, however, does not effectively convey how absolutely essential they are to a standard charcuterie plate, like the one pictured here which features liver pâté, pork rillettes, garlic sausage, cured ham and country-style boar terrine.
All of these items are extremely rich and salty, and without a decent-sized piece of cornichon in each bite, your palate would swiftly be overwhelmed.
I was able to finish the platter pictured here, but only by carefully rationing my cornichon intake. If it were up to me, I'd want half a cornichon in every bite of charcuterie. They're pretty small, as you can see, and there weren't nearly enough on this plate.
Cornichons are made by starting with a particular variety of gherkins that are smaller than the kinds we usually buy at the supermarket, and then picking them when quite young so that they're only an inch or two long.
After curing them in salt overnight, which helps draw out some of the liquid, the gherkins are then immersed in vinegar overnight again. Then the vinegar is brought to a simmer, then cooled, and the gherkins and the vinegar are then sealed into jars along with herbs and aromatics such as tarragon, cloves, bay leaves, thyme, and pearl onions.
There's a similar curing method using the same ingredients that does not involve simmering the gherkins, and the result is a firmer, crisper cornichon.
Many recipes incorporate chopped cornichons, including beef stroganoff and steak tartare, as well as various cold salads like egg salad or potato salad.
Cornichons complement pork dishes, such as grilled pork chops, and are often included in sauces for pork.
The gribiche sauce is a cold sauce made with a base of mashed boiled egg yolk mixed with oil and vinegar, similar to the way mayonnaise is made, only using boiled egg yolk rather than raw. The egg whites are julienned and then mixed into the final sauce, which is served with with lobster and crayfish.