If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it at least four times: We are living in a golden age of pickled products. Some of them are good, and some of them are bad, but few will come close to the perfect of the Golden Flake Dill Pickle Potato Chip (pre-acquisition by Utz, that is).
I don’t know what Utz changed about these once flawless chips, or why they changed it, but whatever it was resulted in a tamer, less acidic chip. Growing up, the combination of acid and razor thin fried potatoes the Golden Flake Dills provided me would tear my mouth up, and the cowards at Utz took that from me.
Thus, when making these pickle fries, my goal was to create something as savory and mouth puckering as those impossible potato chips of memory, and to be honest, I think I nailed it. (I also have a few mods, if you like your pickled products on the less aggressive side.)
For a gently pickled fry, soak them in brine
If you want a french fry with a mere whisper of pickle flavor, you can soak frozen fries in pickle brine and leave it at that—the process is much like when Allie made her salt & vinegar freezer fries: Let the frozen fries soak in the sour solution for 15 minutes, then bake or air fry until crisp.
A lot hinges on the brine you choose. I made my first batch with 5 ounces of fries and 1/4-cup of brine from Trader Joe’s Kosher Dill Pickle Spears, and the flavor was so subtle, I might not have noticed if I hadn’t put the fries in the brine myself. Then I tried a homemade brine, courtesy of Amanda’s pickled green cherry tomatoes, and immediately clocked a more pronounced pickle flavor.
Finally, I took the weaker TJ’s brine and boiled it down to make a concentrate. I added a whole cup of brine to a small sauce pan and boiled until it reduced to 1/4 cup. I marinated another 5 ounces of frozen fries in the super pickle-y concentrate for 15 minutes, then air fried those puppies. The result was a pickle fry with a sour and salty backbone and notes of pickled seasonings like dill, mustard, and garlic.
Finish with some form of powdered vinegar
Soaking the fries in brine permeates the potato with pickle-y flavors, but cooking robs them of that vinegar tang. To compensate for this loss of acid, finish your fries with powdered vinegar.
You can order pure powdered vinegar online, but you can also find it in pickle-flavored seasoning blends like this one from Trader Joe’s or this one available on Amazon, which is meant for popcorn but is equally at home on fried potatoes. You can even make your own vinegar powder by following the instructions in the first article I ever wrote for Lifehacker, nearly eight years ago. (Ignore the part about me being married; that’s out of date info.)
Any of these powders will work fine, and all can be added to taste immediately after cooking your fries. (If using pure vinegar powder, you may want to add a few pinches of dried dill, onion powder, and/or onion powder too, but you don’t have to.)
Combine a concentrated brine soaking with the powdered finish, and you’ve got a french fry that’s been pickled all to hell.
Very Pickled Freezer Fries
- 10 ounces frozen fries
- 2 cups of your favorite pickle brine
- 1 pinch MSG
- Powdered vinegar or pickle seasoning blend to taste
- Optional: A few pinches of garlic powder, onion powder, or dried dill, if using pure vinegar powder.
Add brine to a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Let boil until it reduces in volume to 1/2 cup. Stir in MSG and let cool for five minutes.
Place the fries in a shallow bowl that just fits them all in a single layer. Toss to coat, and let soak for 15 minutes, tossing every five minutes or so. Remove the fries from the brine, letting the excess drip away, and cook in an oven or air fryer that has been heated to 400℉ until they are crispy and golden, with deeply browned spots on the edges. (About 10 minutes for the air fryer; 20 for the oven.)
Finish with vinegar powder or pickle seasoning to taste, adjusting with optional seasonings as needed. Serve hot.