For as long as I can remember pickles have been my favorite food. From the minute my small body could digest solid food, I was eating pickles religiously. I remember dipping my little fingers into the jar and dripping a trail of pickle juice from the refrigerator out into the living room, where I would eat it on the couch. My mother would come out and see me crunching along with juice flying everywhere and streaming down my face – it’s safe to say I was a messy eater growing up, and pickles made the biggest mess of all.
I grew up on a specific brand: Vlasic whole dills, but my mother never failed to stray every once in a while, bringing home bread and butter flavored or Mt. Olive brand. Vlasic’s were so perfectly salted and tangy, without being too bitter. Other brands never quite got the delicate balance between fresh and vinegary that my taste buds craved so intensely. I started out refusing to eat anything other then Vlasic whole pickles, but eventually widened my pallet to accept Vlasic baby pickles and Vlasic spears. Although all from the same brand, they have their own unique taste. Baby pickles are more tart and sour, while the spears taste like the whole pickles on crack. The vinegary and saltiness is much stronger. After accepting all these different types of Vlasics I guess my dad got a bit careless and accidentally bought Tabasco pickles once; I took one bite and my mouth started burning like I just poured acid on it. I was left with no choice but to spit it out immediately. What a waste of a perfectly good pickle.
When I was 15 years old, I spent an evening at Musikfest, a local music festival. About 95 percent of the time the younger crowd would go to meet people and eat since the music was mainly for older generations. That’s where I first discovered fried pickles. Musikfest is notorious for its fried foods: fried Oreos, fried PB&J’s, even fried Kool-Aid, so it shouldn’t have shocked me to find fried pickles there, but it did. I tried my first bite and was disappointed. They were heavy and greasy, and I could only eat about a quarter of the pickle chips so I had to throw the rest away. Again, what a waste of a perfectly good pickle.
A few years later I was eating dinner at a Texas Roadhouse where I came across fried pickles again. I decided to give it another chance and was pleasantly in love. These were light and crispy, with breading that started to melt away (but not completely disappear) in my mouth to reveal a slightly softened but still crunchy pickle slice – just perfect. In fact I ate the whole plate by myself and ordered a second plate instead of eating my dinner. Since then I’ve bought fried pickles where ever I find them (which, sadly, isn’t very often as I found out they aren’t very common in the North). Finally I decided to take things into my own hands. How hard could it possibly be to make fried pickles? Hard. Very hard.
The actual process of making the pickles is easy. While some recipes I found instructed to use eggs or cornflour, I’ve discovered that neither of these things are worth while. The pickle juice works better then eggs to bind the flour mixture and the cornflour taste battles too much with the seasonings. All it takes is to simply dip the pickle slices in a flour mixture, then put them into the deep fryer. The hardest part of making delicious fried pickles is getting the ingredients just right. The basis of any good fried pickle recipe should be what type of pickle to use (though none of the recipes tell you what type would be best). Every type of pickle tastes at least slightly different so I did a lot of experimenting before deciding that Vlasic whole pickles were the best. Also, the thickness of the pickle slices make a difference too. If they are cut too thick the fried pickles tend to get very heavy and oily. The pickle is also more likely to get a mushy texture instead of retaining the crunchy quality that makes them so irresistible. However, on the other side, if they are cut too thin the breading is likely to overpower the taste of the pickle, and it becomes very easy to over cook them, causing the slices to get the consistency of a potato chip. It didn’t take long for my brain to start spinning through all the possibilities. So many ways to not make a fried pickle!
Lets not forget the importance of the flour mixture either. The spices and seasonings you chose to put in the breading makes the biggest difference. Not enough seasoning and the pickles will be bland but too much seasoning and it can over-power the pickle. I found recipes that supposedly were “copy-cats” of Hooters, Texas Roadhouse, and Joe’s Crab Shack fried pickles, but none of them taste the same. Rule number one on making fried pickles: never try to imitate perfection. The thing is, none of these recipes were bad, they just weren’t identical to the fried pickles I loved, and thus slightly disappointed me. The oil used also makes a difference. Every different type of frying oil imbeds a different flavor into the pickles. This is probably the biggest reason the “copy-cat” recipes never taste the same. The oil, pickle, and seasoning need to be the exact same for these recipes to work, but the Texas Roadhouse recipe wasn’t earthy enough, the Joe’s Crab Shack recipe didn’t have the right type of spiciness to it, and the Hooters recipe was just completely off.
I’ve also learned not to leave them in the fryer for more then two minutes at 375 degrees. At first glance they didn’t look quite done. The whole point of a deep fryer is to give a nice, crispy outside to the pickle, right? Well, all it take is one extra minute to turn fried pickles into little pickle potato chips. The pickles get crispy very easily and it doesn’t take much to fry up all the juice and leave behind a fried pickle you can crumble in between your fingers.
After many attempts to create the best fried pickle recipe, I decided to just wing it. After all I was raised in an Italian household where following recipes was just about as common as getting struck by lightning…twice. I grew up with the genius advice of “uh..you know, you put a little of this, shake some of that stuff in, and a pinch and a half…or maybe two or three pinches of this, and your done!” Surprisingly, everything my mother made this way was excellent, and after years of practice I learned the magical “a little of this and some of that” method of cooking.
So that’s what I did. I dumped some flour into a bowl, sprinkled in some Old Bay Seasoning, Cayenne pepper, season all salt, and mixed it together. Now it wasn’t as good as the fried pickles I had gotten at restaurants but it wasn’t bad. I actually thought it was better then many of the recipes I had followed to a tee. It didn’t take a lot of altering before I found that the best fried pickle recipe is going off taste instead of measurements, and I can safely say that my mothers crazy Italian methods were how I learned to make the perfect fried pickle. I ended up only having to add a little more Old Bay, tone back on the season all salt just a tad, and add some chili powder.
When I first went online to find a recipe for fried pickles I was initially overwhelmed with the possibilities in front of me. It seemed like there were an infinite amount of ways to make a fried pickle, but with every attempt I feel like I learned more of what not to do then what to do. I never thought that there would be so many ways not to make a fried pickle. It may very well be just me, after all, I am a bit of a pickle snob. I’ve learned a million ways to not make a fried pickle and only a few on how to make them. I strongly suggest everyone raid their spice cabinet, pick out their favorite spices, and experiment since the perfect fried pickle is different for everyone. However, for those who have no idea where to start, this is what I have found to be my perfect fried pickle (Note: these are only rough measurements on the seasonings):
Mix 1 cup of all purpose flour, 8 tablespoons of Old Bay Seasoning, 1 tablespoon of chili powder, 1 tablespoon of Cayenne pepper, and 2 teaspoons of season all salt in a shallow bowl. Cut up 2 medium sized whole pickles or 4 baby pickles (this may not sound like a lot but it’s usually how much I make; it’s enough for one person). Place the pickle slices in the flour and coat each slice completely. Put into a deep fryer heated at 375 degrees for 1-2 minutes (depending how thick the slices are) and enjoy!