While cornichons resemble an average dill pickle, there is one thing that immediately sets them apart from the pickles you're used to -- they are no bigger than two inches long. Cornichons are a type of pickle that is made from miniature cucumbers known as "gherkins", which are harvested and pickled at a young age. Cornichons are preserved in airtight jars that have been filled with a pickle brine.
Cornichons have varying flavors depending on the brine used and the length of time they are pickled, although cornichons are traditionally seasoned with spices and ingredients such as mustard seed, salt, dill, onions, sugar and peppercorns. Their flavor is generally sourer and less salty than regular dill pickles. Dill cornichons are the most popular and consistently tart, although the different seasonings used may give them a sweet, spicy or savory secondary flavor.
Cornichons can be a great addition to many dishes, as a side or mixed with other foods. The pickles can be prepared similarly to dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, and its larger counterparts, such as being chopped up and put on sandwiches and burgers. Cornichons also go well with salads, steak tartare and fondue. Most often, though, these little pickles are served on appetizer plates with cheese and cured meats. The pickle juice can be used in sauces and salad dressings in lieu of vinegar as well.
The most popular brand that produces gherkin pickles in the U.S. is Maille. If you're unable to find a jar of cornichons at your local grocery store, they are easy to make at home -- simply find some tiny cucumbers and pickle them in a simple brine of vinegar and select spices. The only drawback to making them at home is the time it takes, as cornichons take one or two months to be properly pickled.