For Christmas two years ago Alex–my cousin, neighbour at the cottage, and fellow amateur cook–and I were given a turkey deep fryer rig. We had it out once last summer for a rainbow of fried experiments–mozzarrella sticks, sweet potato tempura, shrimp, chicken wings, and probably a couple more that I am forgetting about. We decided this year that it is time to get closer to the original purpose of the fryer and fry some whole poultry. The chickens were great (and will be featured in an upcoming post) but if you’re going to the trouble of setting up the deep fryer and heating all of that oil you also want to fry an appetizer and a dessert. Happily, my absolute favourite fried starter, deep-fried pickles, are relatively difficult to find done well in bars or restaurants so make an ideal at-home experiment. These are not quite as over-the-top as deep-fried Mars bars (at heart pickles are vegetables after all) but still very decadent.
I didn’t have to go far to find a recipe. Alton Brown, my favourite and first Food Network influence, has what looks like a winner. On the Food Network website a commentor actually complained about Alton Brown’s recipe because, he felt, the pickles contribute too much of the finished product’s flavour! Seriously. This, to me, was the clincher for using this recipe. I’d much rather taste a garlicky, kosher dill pickle that is complemented by a slightly salty, hot coating than deep-fried cornflakes (or some other such nonsense) with only a bare hint of pickle.
This weekend I started another batch of wild pickles so I didn’t feel any qualms about slicing up the first batch’s second-to-last litre of homemade dill pickles for this recipe. I’m pleased to see that between sharing some with neighbours and their sudden popularity we have managed to run through about eight litres in less than a month.
This time was the first that I have used buttermilk and cornmeal for deep frying. The more common flour-egg-bread crumb formula yields a delicious breading but the proteins in the egg that do so well to hold onto the bread crumbs also keep the coating distinct from what’s inside. Often a fried food’s shape (onion rings) or size (shrimp) eliminates the scenario where the hot food falls back onto the plate and leaves the eater holding just an empty shell. Because fried dill pickles are much too casual for a knife and fork but also too big for one bite this disappointing separation of filling and crust happens much too often. That’s not the case with the buttermilk and cornmeal, though. I still give a slight edge for taste to the breadcrumbs but the better crunch and tendency to stay on the pickle makes the cornmeal my overall favourite.
I’m pleased to report that the Food Network’s commentor was right–the pickles take centre stage here. Almost immediately after hitting the hot oil the backyard filled with the pleasant aroma of dill (ironic because the deep fryer was setup in the shadow of the garden’s giant dill plants), garlic and a the familiar, faint sourness. To me so much of a dill pickle’s savour comes from its cool temperature. Nothing contrasts better with a hot burger than a bite of cold dill pickle. But here they are hot and different flavours are emphasised, but I still really like it. The homemade flavour is also more pronounced. I thought of describing it as slightly gamey but that isn’t appropriate. It’s the wildness, the unusual sour flavour–so different from the one note of commerical vinegar–that comes with naturally cured pickles. With a beer and some blue cheese dipping sauce this was the perfect opening scene for our Labour Day Fry Fest.