The Secret Ingredient You Should Be Using In Your Fried Chicken

America has a long-standing love affair with fried chicken, as a celebration dish, a fast food, and a comfort food, but its beginnings are a bit murky. First We Feast says the earliest fried chicken recipe predates the American Revolution by a couple decades, and can be traced to a British cookery book by Hannah Glasse, which called for floured chicken to be fried in pork lard. It's also thought that Scottish immigrants might have brought the dish with them when they settled in the Carolinas, but it was the African slaves who turned fried chicken into the dish we know today, by adding spices and seasoning to the mixture (via Southern Fried Chicken Challenge). And until World War II, The Daily Meal says fried chicken was a special occasion dish, reserved for when there was a holiday or there was something to celebrate.

Buttermilk has been used as a fried chicken brine for as long as we've known. Southern Kitchen says when the ingredient is used in a marinade or as a brine, its acids deconstruct the chicken meats' protein networks, and when these reconnect, water between protein fibers gets trapped. The result: a well-seasoned buttermilk brine that makes chicken meat, whether it is dark meat or white meat, more tender, moist, and flavorful. My Recipes also says buttermilk enjoys the added benefit of being able to bind with raw chicken, giving the breading something to hang on to.

When did pickle juice come into the picture for great fried chicken?

If you enjoy pickles, it may come as a surprise that its juice can be saved instead of thrown down the drain after the pickles are gone. Athletes drink pickle juice as a way to deal with cramps associated with tired muscles, and because of its vinegar content, pickle juice can act as a great weight loss aid. Tasting Table says pickle juice can also be used as an ingredient for a number of dishes: as a dressing for coleslaw; as part of a hearty, home-made thousand island-style sauce; and with just-boiled water as a marinade for a pasta salad. Tasting Table also says pickle juice can be used as a secret ingredient for macaroni and cheese, and to fire up dishes like deviled eggs and mashed potatoes. 

Pickle juice can also be used in an unexpected way. Food writers for publications like Men's Journal say that pickle juice, with its vinegar, garlic, sugar, salt, pepper, and garlic mix makes it a good marinade for meats; and because of its acidity, pickle juice also goes hand-in-hand with Southern fried chicken's traditional buttermilk soak for extra succulent fried chicken. But what if you don't happen to have any buttermilk on hand to cook with? Taste of Home says you can always make your own by adding a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice plus enough milk to make a cup, and letting that stand for five minutes before use. Of course, the real thing is always preferred for best results.

Pickle juice and buttermilk can be used as a brine for amazing fried chicken

In order to use pickle juice as the secret ingredient in your buttermilk brine the next time you serve fried chicken, Parade suggests you first take a cup of the pickle juice, and whisk that with buttermilk, salt, cayenne pepper, and egg. Pour the mix into a bag, then add the chicken pieces you want to marinade, and leave the bag for at least four hours or overnight. When the chicken is ready, remove pieces from the brine, shake off any excess liquid, and then bread with a mixture of flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper, and then fry in hot oil until the pieces are golden (about 8 to 10 minutes). Parade also recommends you fry your chicken in batches, as overcrowding the pan is one of the easiest ways to screw up fried chicken. Doing that will cause the oil's heat to fall, keep the pieces from browning properly, and triggers the release of more steam, which prevents the meat from browning (via Culinary Lore).

In the words of chef Dale Talde who is famous for his double-fried chicken, "If it's fried, it's gotta be crunchy. If it's chicken, it's gotta be moist. Like all food, it has to be seasoned correctly. If it's meant to be hot, then it has to be hot. Those things never change" (via Men's Journal). And the addition of pickle juice boosts the quality of fried chicken so it ticks all of Talde's boxes, and maybe one more.