At 3 p.m. every Thursday for the whole summer of 2013, between my junior and senior years of high school, I would don my line cook cap and filthy, oil-coated kitchen shoes and head to the 6-foot-by-6-foot back area of Riverbend Restaurant & Bar. The first thing I’d do is whip up a meatloaf pan full of wet dredge and one full of dry dredge — both heavy-handedly spiked with Creole seasoning. I’d set up my stations: whole soft-shell crab, Gulf shrimp, long tentacles of meaty catfish, vomit-worthy (just my opinion!) buckets of fresh oysters and, the most anticipated of all, a six-pan of sliced pickles — all primed for frying. Armed with a walkie-talkie, a hanging camp lantern and a box of latex gloves, I threw out po’boys and fried seafood platters faster than I can even fathom at this point. It was just me, the mosquitoes, my nearly concerning amount of sweat and the deafening sizzle of the fryers — four industrial-sized deep fryers. The executive chef called me “princess” and the best fry cook the restaurant ever had. I’d eat fried catfish for dinner and always have dredge stuck in my fingernails. And every time I made an order of fried pickles, I’d throw an extra couple in for myself. That’s my version of self-care.
This recipe is cobbled together from my memories of a process I did probably 16 times over the course of that summer, a quick Google search and my approximation of the Creole seasoning from Riverbend. I hope it reminds you of my sweaty ass out in the oppressively humid, hot-as-goddamn-hell St. Louis summer evenings, on the fry grind.
Recipe: Crunchy Southern fried pickles
Yields: Enough to feed 5-6 as a snack | Time: 30 minutes
1 quart peanut oil
For the Creole seasoning:
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon onion or garlic salt
½ teaspoon New Mexico chili powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
For the dry dredge:
1 cup flour
1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
For the wet dredge:
1/2 cup milk or buttermilk
1 24-ounce jar dill pickles
For the sour cream and onion dip:
½ cup sour cream
Onion salt, salt, pepper to taste
Sliced tops of 1 green onion
Heat oil in a 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillet to 375-400 degrees Fahrenheit slowly so that it heats evenly. Make the Creole seasoning. Make the dry dredge. Make the wet dredge. Slice pickles into dimes or spears or even leave them whole. In the words of chef John, that’s just you cooking. Dredge the pickles in the dry dredge then wet dredge then back to dry, making sure you get the dredge all over the pickles with no bare spots. Fry the pickles for 3 to 4 minutes until they’re golden brown and super crispy. Salt as soon as you take them off the heat — seasoned salt would be fun here.
Make sour cream and onion dip by mixing all ingredients together.
The pickles are crunchy from the coarse ground cornmeal, which is just so key for the experience and so hot and steamy on the inside.
Contact Sasha Ashall at [email protected].