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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

perfect pickles

i think i've cracked the perfect fried pickle! there have been a lot of delicious and not so delicious experiments but i finally made a consistent and delicious batch of light, savory fried pickles with the right amount of crispy batter.

tempura beer battered pickles:
do not make ahead, they just don't keep!

1. hamburger dill chips. i prefer mt olive brand, but that's just what's easily available locally and sams club sells a giant freaking jar for under $4. i love pickles
2. tempura batter mix. i've been using Hime brand which is readily available in my local asian markets and grocery stores. 
3. inexpensive boring light/light colored beer. i've tried michelob light and rolling rock. so far i prefer the rolling rock. it needs to be ice cold. don't take it out of the fridge until you are mixing the batter. unless you are making an insane amount of pickles, you will have beer left. half a beer makes pickles for two people.
4. vegetable oil
5. vegetable shortening - plain, not the fancy butter flavored stuff


1. paper towels. both for squeezing the excess pickle juice out of your pickle chips and for draining the fried golden goodness after cooking
2. a cooking vessel deep enough for several inches of hot oil
3. metal tongs long enough to keep your fingers away from the oil
4. 1 or 2 shallow dishes/bowls for the batter and optional extra tempura mix (dry)
5. something to mix the tempura batter with. i like to use a fork. the one on the left. the one on the right is just not good for the job. the fork on the left also is my crab cracking fork, not that it's relevant. but it's no unitasker!

6. your choice of frying basket, frying skimmer or wide slotted spoon. 
7. a plate for draining your pickles
8. if you have it, a fryer/candy thermometer. needs to measure up to 350. without it, you're going to need some test batter and a good eye. (when buying a thermometer that needs to measure the temperature over time, spring for the one with a clip on it to clip to the edge of the pan. it's sooooooooooo worth the extra buck or two)

1. get out your pickles, press them firmly between a few layers of clean absorbent material of your choice. i'm a paper towel girl myself
2. put your oil and shortening in the pot, about 50/50. you can make it deeper but it needs to be at least 3 inches deep. your pickles need to be able to turn over.
3. turn on the heat, somewhere between medium and high on your stove. i don't know how hot your stove is. mine goes from "LO" to "1-8" to "HI" and "7" is the right temperature. turning it too high to get it hot enough is just going to waste time waiting for it to cool down a little. start heating the oil evenly and plan to spend a few minutes doing other steps while it gets hot.
4. make your line in some order either from left to right or right to left, whichever direction your kitchen flows:

  • spot for the beer when you take it out of the fridge. it doesn't go in the middle because you WILL knock it over as you pass the pickles down the line
  • drained pickles
  • container of tempura mix to be used in small amounts as needed - it's best if this is something you can shake small amounts from as you go. i like to take the plastic bag of mix out of the box and just snip off a corner
  • shallow batter dish
  • (optional) shallow dish of dry tempura mix
  • place to rest your tongs and/or skimmer
  • pan of hot oil
  • draining station -use something heat resistant that you can layer paper towels or other clean absorbent material on that's wide enough that you won't be making a greasy pickle mountain or your bottom layers will be soggy and nasty. a few layers of pickles is ok, but don't stack them too high
  • something to wipe your hands on
you may want to lay out the messy stuff on a tray, newspaper, flattened paper grocery sacks or a line of big cutting boards. tempura batter dries on counters like wallpaper paste. 

5. check the oil. you want 350 degrees. (without a thermometer start looking for the oil to swirl in the pan and test it with a drop of batter after you've mixed the batter. you want the batter to be light golden /honey colored in about 2 minutes, and fully puffed up, not doughy)

6. you only want to mix as much batter as you are going to use each few minutes. get your cold beer out, open it and put a little in your bowl. yep, it's going to foam.  not more than about 1/4 of a cup at a time. add some tempura mix and stir with your fork, adding and stirring until you get to the consistency of pancake batter. thicker than crepe batter, thinner than waffle. when you drag the fork through it you should leave marks that close up after a second. if you aren't sure, mix, do a test pickle, cook it and see if it's to your liking. thicken or thin as needed

OPTIONAL STEP: put some dry tempura mix in the optional second shallow dish

7. if you are using a fryer basket, this is the time to put it in the oil. optional step

8. with your tongs, pick up a pickle and drag it through the batter, getting both sides. you can alternately drop a clump of them in and stir thoroughly but you risk clumps of partially unbattered pickles. 

OPTIONAL STEP: a dredge. lay the pickle in the dry mix, and turn it to coat both sides with extra mix. with this step you get an extra crunchy irregular surface texture. without this step you get a smooth, puffy tempura dough exterior. i like them rough and crunchy

9. drop a pickle into the oil, in the basket if you are using one. do not drop a clump of them, as this risks a hot oil cannonball splash AND lowers the oil temperature, messing with your cooking. with practice you will get a rhythm where you can drop, batter, drop, batter and they will all still be done about at the same time 

10. light golden honey colored - no white thick uncooked batter is the goal. you may need to turn them with your tongs

11. remove and drain, either with tongs, skimmer or just lift the fryer basket if you are using one, tap against the pan to shake some oil off and dump it onto your draining area. 

eventually you may find you have made tempura fried tongs - this is why i like to mix the batter with a fork even when i own tiny cute whisks - the fork is perfect to break the fried dough off the tongs.

you will need to mix more batter as you go and if your kitchen is warm you may want to keep putting the beer back in the fridge in between or set the bottle/can in a bowl of ice, cold is key to a light tempura batter. nope, i don't know why but i've messed it up enough to know it's true. some people even keep the tempura batter bowl on ice but my house is always cold so i haven't done it that way yet. 

additional stuff
this is also excellent with shrimp, catfish and broccoli. fried pickles and catfish is fantastic

you can put some hot sauce or cayenne pepper in your batter if you want a little kick. i don't normally put texas pete on my food but it would be my hot sauce of choice for this batter. 

in the south, this is commonly served with ranch dressing/dip. this is delicious but optional. you can eat them plain, dip them in a cheese sauce, stack them right on a burger like some places put fries on a burger. hell you can get pregnant and eat them with ice cream. it's up to you.

you absolutely can strain, cool and store your oil. don't strain it while it's hot, but still warm is easier than cold because it will turn sludgy due to the shortening. i use a metal strainer but if you want a finer strain, use a coffee filter. if you used this for fish or shrimp too, i wouldn't want to use it for anything other than fish or shrimp in the future. the flavor will stay with it. 

if you want to be extra super duper silly, you can save a large NON PLASTIC LINED* #10 can with a lid, unpainted, no paper or plastic labels. fry right in the can, let it cool and put the lid on. i haven't done this but it's in a helpful hints from heloise book i own. if you have a camping pot handle, bonus points 

*this means no tomato sauce cans or anything else that was highly acidic as those cans have a plastic lining and cooking with plastic on the stove is a thing we all learned not to do in kindergarten, right?

things i tried previously that failed. failed big time

cornmeal batter. it always seems to come out like a coating of flaky rock
just vegetable oil - greeeeeeasy
just shortening - hard to control the temperature
thicker batter - doesn't stick
dipping pickles in buttermilk and then the dry mix. this isn't fried chicken, it just made globs of dough and fell off in the fryer
mixing the tempura batter with pickle juice or water 
not drying the pickles - batter doesn't stick
using hand cut vlasic kosher dills - i found them delicious but the slight sogginess to the hamburger dill chips actually improves the finished product. 

extra weird thing i tried that wasn't terrible - mix tempura batter up with pickle juice as your liquid, DON'T dip anything in it and just drizzle it in the oil like funnel cake. yeah, it's like pickle dough funnel cake. it's ... i might do it again sometime if i'm drinking. it's really good drunk food