Pickle-frying is no silly-dilly notion

Dipped, fried dills on a popularity roll

July 31, 2002|By Kathleen Purvis | Kathleen Purvis,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Any fried food that comes from Elvis' home state can't be bad.

How else to explain the phenomenon of fried dill pickles?

They're simple on the surface: Round pickle slices are battered or dredged in seasoned flour, fried and served with a dipping sauce.

But like religions, physics and potato chips, the end is more enticing than the parts. The vinegar and salt under the crispiness of the spicy coating has an addictive quality.

Where the pickles actually originated is debated, but most sources point to the Hollywood Cafe in Robinsonville, Miss. We first had them at the Ajax Diner in Oxford, Miss., where they are served with a mayonnaise-and-chili-sauce concoction called Come Back Sauce.

In Charlotte, N.C., they arrived at the old Jack Straws, but they branched out to plenty of other places, including Alexander Michael's.

The Penguin in Charlotte, however, is the first place on fried-pickle lovers' lips these days. Co-owner Greg Auten says he first tasted them at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago in 1985, then learned to make them when he worked at Alexander Michael's.

When he put together the menu for the renovated Penguin, the pickles, served with a ranch dressing, were a must.

They're so popular, "you almost can't afford not to do it as a restaurant owner," he says. He goes through 30 gallons of hamburger dills a week, soaking them in buttermilk before dredging them in a seasoned flour. The Penguin recently added a half-order option to the menu.

"Most people's biggest complaint was they couldn't stop eating them, so they couldn't eat their burger," he says. "But it's hard to do. It's hard to stop eating them."

Fried Dill Pickles

Serves 4

1 (32-ounce) jar hamburger dill slices

2 cups buttermilk, divided use

2 eggs

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided use

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Texas Pete

3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1 cup cornmeal (we used white in testing)

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 cup vegetable oil

ranch dressing

Drain hamburger dill slices and place in a bowl. Cover with about 1 cup buttermilk. Set aside. Combine eggs, 1/4 cup flour, remaining cup of buttermilk, Worcestershire, hot sauce, cayenne, seasoned salt and garlic powder in a bowl. Stir together. Whisk together cornmeal, remaining 2 cups of flour, salt and black pepper in a wide bowl or pan.

Heat oil in a deep skillet or pot until it reaches 365 degrees on a deep-fat thermometer. Drain pickles. Drop pickles into buttermilk mixture, then dredge in seasoned flour (see note). Drop into hot oil. Fry until pickles are browned and floating. Remove with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels and serve hot, with ranch dressing.

Note: We found that you can skip the batter and just dredge the buttermilk-soaked pickle slices in the seasoned flour before frying.

- Adapted from allrecipes.com.

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