Sometimes when I'm reading a new cookbook and looking for recipes to test, I'll make my way over to the book's Amazon page. There I'll peruse the comments to see if there are any particular dishes that stand out for the reviewers. Usually, there is little consensus, and I'm left to my own devices. But when it came to Kelsey Nixon's new cookbook, Kitchen Confidence, it was a different story entirely. Almost every review mentioned two words: fried pickles. These words were likely followed by at least a few exclamation points and written squeals of glee.
Quality research accomplished, I vowed to make said fried pickles—despite the fact that I'm not a huge fan of the concept. Nixon's fried pickles start, appropriately, with cucumbers, which she quick-pickles in a sweet brine spiked with red wine vinegar. The pickles are drained from the warm brine as soon as they begin to soften (a key step to frying pickles with texture) and breaded with a crust laced with dill and garlic powder. For ease and speed, Nixon shallow-fries the pickle slices in a skillet instead of worrying about heating up a big pot of oil. Finally, the pickle chips are served with a punchy ranch dressing, which echoes the flavors in the pickle brine and breading.
Why I picked this recipe: Amazon spoke; I listened.
What worked: I actually ended up enjoying the dish, and was particularly impressed with how resonant the flavors of the pickle brine were throughout the remaining components.
What didn't: The cucumber skin was a distraction in the final fried pickles. Since the cucumbers only brine for a few minutes, the skin never has a chance to soften. Next time, I'll partially peel the cucumbers before slicing to help mitigate the problem. Also, the fried pickles soften relatively quickly, so be sure to eat them right after frying.
Suggested tweaks: If you don't want to buy garlic powder and garlic salt, as well as dried dill and the fresh herb, you can likely use just garlic powder and fresh dill. Just be sure to add some extra salt to the ranch dressing.
Reprinted with permission from Kitchen Confidence: Essential Recipes and Tips That Will Help You Cook Anything by Kelsey Nixon. Copyright 2014. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- For the Quick Pickles:
- 2 cups red wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 3/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 red Fresno chile, halved lengthwise
- 6 Kirby cucumbers (about 2 pounds)
- For the Ranch Dressing:
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- For the Fried Pickles:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 teaspoon dried dill
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
- Vegetable oil, for frying
For the Pickles: In a large saucepan set over medium-high heat, combine vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, celery seeds, peppercorns, garlic, chile, and 2 cups water. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt.
Meanwhile, using a mandoline (or sharp knife), cut cucumbers crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices and put them in a large heatproof bowl or container.
Once vinegar mixture is boiling, pour it over sliced cucumbers, making sure cucumbers are submerged. Let sit in liquid for about 20 minutes. (The longer the pickles sit in liquid, the softer they become; for me, 20 minutes is perfect.) Drain pickles. You can eat these right away or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
For the Dressing: In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, mayonnaise, lemon juice, chives, dill, garlic salt, onion powder, and pepper. Adjust seasoning to taste. The dressing can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
For the Fried Pickles: Set a wire rack over a baking sheet lined with paper towels.
In a large zip-top plastic bag, combine drained quick pickles and flour and shake until pickles are well-coated. In a bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. In a shallow dish, combine panko, dill, garlic powder, and salt. Working in batches, dip floured pickle chips into egg mixture, and then toss them in seasoned panko, fully coating them.
In a large heavy skillet or cast-iron pan set over medium-high heat, heat 1/2 inch of oil until it reaches 350°F (180°C).
Working in batches, shallow-fry pickles until they are golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer pickles to the rack to drain and immediately sprinkle them with kosher salt.
Serve fried pickles hot, with dressing on the side.