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Author Notes: This recipe is inspired by two favorites of mine – the piccolo fritto in the Zuni Café cookbook and the pickled celery from Canal House Cooking Volume 2. It’s a very simple fry that makes a great addition to an antipasto platter. The bright, clean flavors of the quick-pickled celery stand up beautifully to frying. I like the technique of briefly cooking the celery before pickling it; the celery gets tender yet retains a nice crunch, and there's no need to peel it. As for the frying, I've dredged vegetables in various ways, but the Zuni Café method continues to be my favorite for its use of tangy buttermilk and semolina flour for an extra crunchy coating. I like adding cayenne to the flour for a little kick. The pickled celery is delicious served hot from the fryer with coarse salt and a scattering of finely chopped celery leaves, but for a real treat, serve with a dipping sauce of homemade mayo or aioli. Frying up some thinly sliced lemons at the same time is optional but recommended. —EmilyC
Serves 6 to 8
For Quick-Pickled Celery
- 1 bunch celery hearts (about 6 or 8 stalks), root-end trimmed, stalks separated and cut on the bias into 2” lengths (leaves reserved for garnish)
- 1 tsp peppercorns (divided)
- 3 bay leaves (divided)
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1 cup white vinegar or cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 3 T sugar
- ¼ tsp celery seeds
- ¼ tsp crushed red chili flakes
- Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
- Put celery into a medium-sized saucepan; cover with water. Add 1/2 tsp peppercorns and 2 bay leaves and season generously with kosher salt. Cover and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until celery is tender but not soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Using tongs, transfer celery to a heat-proof bowl.
- Meanwhile, make the brine by combining vinegar and water in a saucepan with remaining 1/2 tsp peppercorns, 1 bay leaf, sugar, celery seeds, chili flakes, and lemon juice and zest; bring to a boil and then remove from heat. (Brine can be made several days in advance and chilled until ready to use.)
- Pour the brine over the celery and let stand until cool, about 20 to 25 minutes. (If your brine is already chilled, you can skip this cooling step.) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to a couple of days.
For Breading, Frying, and Serving
- Peanut or vegetable oil, amount dependent upon the size of your pot or fryer
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 cups of all-purpose flour
- ½ cup of semolina flour
- 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
- 1 or 2 large lemons, very thinly sliced (as thin as possible!) and seeds removed (optional)
- kosher salt, to taste
- celery leaves, finely chopped
- In a large pot or fryer, heat oil to 365 to 370 degrees F. You want the oil to be at least a few inches deep, with at least two to three inches of clearance from the top of the pan. While you bread the celery and lemon (if using), closely monitor your oil, adjusting the heat as needed to reach this temperature.
- While the oil is coming to temperature, set up your breading station. Place the buttermilk in a wide, shallow bowl or pie plate. Right next to this bowl, mix the flour, semolina, and cayenne in a wide, shallow bowl or pie plate. Then place a large sheet pan right next to the flour mixture. Place a few pieces of celery in the buttermilk – then transfer them to the bed of flour. Coat all sides. Lift out, tapping or shaking off the excess flour, and transfer them to a sheet pan in a single layer. Repeat with the remaining celery and lemon slices, if using. You can hold the breaded celery and lemons at room temperature for up to ½ hour before frying.
- When the oil is at temperature, fry the celery in small batches. You don’t want an overcrowded pot as that leads to a soggy fry. Using tongs or a fork, very gently turn the celery a few times until it’s a deep golden brown on all sides, about 2 minutes. Once done, lift out the celery with tongs or a skimmer, then transfer to a paper-lined plate. Repeat the frying and draining of the remaining celery and lemons (if using) in the same manner, making sure to spread (not stack) the fried food in a single layer to cool.
- Serve hot with a sprinkling of coarse salt and finely chopped celery leaves.
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Celery Recipe