Diners will always have a soft spot for anything fried. But like all menu development today, what you drop in the fryer has to excite and engage. In our new food culture of one-upmanship, it’s not about bigger-is-better. It’s about different-is-better: new, twisted, reinvented—and always delicious. Those are the guidelines that helped create this list of 12 deep-fried opportunities, taking cues from global street foods, ethnic mainstays, and even creative, flavor-forward tweaks on the familiar fried foods closer to home. Indeed, although the french fry is practically perfect without any tinkering, trends in frying point to pickling the potato before immersing it in liquid gold. It’s that kind of eternal quest for new and different flavor experiences that drives exciting innovation in foodservice today.
1. Brined Fries
It’s hard to improve upon the french fry, but a few chefs are giving it a go with brining. Think of salt-and-vinegar potato chips, but applied to the fry. At Flight Wine Bar in Washington, D.C., Chef Brendan Mahon makes a standard salt brine with added aromatics. He boils then chills the brine, submerging the potatoes in it for two to three days at a controlled temperature before frying. The fries are served with the fish and chips entrée.
- IPA Fries: Fresh cut in house and brined in a spiced IPA, fried twice, finished with house hop salt
—Rattle N Hum, New York
- Brine-Fermented French Fries
—Al’s Place, San Francisco
Falafel is having a moment, moving out of Middle Eastern-themed restaurants and onto mainstream menus. Crisp, dense and satisfying, this deep-fried vegan snack carries a health halo, thanks to its main ingredients: the chickpea and fava bean. Opportunity comes from the flexibility of ingredient and the format in which it’s served. Whether in a pita with a pleasing tzatziki spread or as a one-bite bar snack with a signature dipping sauce, the falafel offers just the right amount of adventure.
- Grilled Falafel Vegetable Cake with baby spinach, tomato salata, lime and chickpeas
—Soma Creek Side, Bradenton, Fla.
- Falafel with romesco, Spanish chorizo, mint
—Shakewell, Oakland, Calif.
India’s take on the fritter, the pakora is a crisp-tender snack featuring anything from onion, potato, eggplant, spinach or cauliflower, dipped in chickpea flour and deep fried. Naturally gluten-free, these craveable morsels are often given even more oomph with accompanying chutneys for customizable dipping.
- Artichoke Pakoras topped with pickled chiles
- Chicken Pakora Po’ Boy: Hot chicken, red cabbage slaw, mint chutney
—Chauhan Ale & Masala House, Nashville, Tenn.
4. Scotch Anything
The Scotch egg is a marvel of English pub cuisine, perfectly upgrading the humble boiled egg to craveable snack status. With both gastropub and American tavern influences, chefs are taking the elements—sausage, egg, breading—and either adding their own spin to the build or featuring the Scotch egg in unexpected ways.
- Scotch Egg Burger: Soft-boiled egg wrapped in housemade breakfast sausage, coated in panko and fried, topped with cheddar cheese, lettuce, pickle, onions, mayonnaise and mustard (an off-menu item)
—Ledlow, Los Angeles
- Israeli Scotch Egg coated in falafel and served with tahini
—Eastwood, New York
These stuffed pastries hailing from Latin America are deep fried until golden brown. Whether they’re two-bite versions (the empanadilla) or the more filling ones (empanada), opportunities for signature expression are significant. La Masa Empanada Bar in Milwaukee offers 14 selections, including the Cheese Curd & Bacon with Wisconsin cheddar, and the Vietnamese Beef with marinated steak, pickled carrot, daikon radish, jalapeño and cilantro. At New York’s Empanada Loca, diners can choose from more than 30 types of wheat or corn flour empanadas ($2.95 each).
- Kale & Mushroom Empanada with oyster mushroom, pine nuts, queso fresco
- Empanadilla de Pernil: Marinated, slow-cooked pork in a deep-fried, flaky turnover, served with ajilimójili dipping sauce
—La Isla Cuisine, Seattle and Redmond, Wash.
6. Chicken Fried
Deeply rooted in Southern tradition, the genius of double dredging something in seasoned flour, then deep frying it, is finding renewed life on contemporary menus. Maybe its resurgence is tied to a love of all things homey, or maybe it’s part of a naughty backlash against health and wellness. Either way, it’s a chicken-fried opportunity to have some fun on menus.
- 1/2 Jalapeño Potato Chip Chicken-Fried Steak with creamed gravy, two local eggs, roast jalapeño, breakfast potatoes, bacon jam
—BRC Gastropub, Houston
- Country-Fried Cauliflower Sandwich with pickled vegetable mayo, red pea spread, cabbage, fried lemon
7. Fried Extras
No, deep-fried garnishes aren’t new, but chefs today are elevating them, adding texture and interest with unexpected elements to veg-centric dishes, pastas and charcuterie plates, for instance. Fried breadcrumbs, pickles, olives and citrus are a few examples of how the deep fryer is helping to bring craveability to the garnish side of the menu.
- Cabo Calamari: Crispy squid with deep-fried lemon slices and Fresno chiles
—Pacific Catch, San Francisco
- Olive All’Ascolana: Fried green olives with pork sausage
—Via Carota, New York
8. Fried Cheese
This isn’t a new or a wholly unexploited category, but there are a few new cheeses on the deep-fried block, including fresh cheese curds—the ultimate pop-in-the-mouth treat. Look beyond mozzarella for inspiration here, while still capitalizing on the bewitching combination of crispy crunch with melty stretch.
- Cheese Curds: Hand-dipped and batter-fried with house batter, served with cocktail sauce
—Rocky’s, Stoddard, Wis.
- Queso Frito: Mahón cheese, breaded and fried in olive oil, served on a bed of spicy tomato sauce
—El Tufo, Tacoma, Wash.
9. Fried Chicken
Our 2016 Top 10 Trends issue covered the wonders of innovation with this beloved, iconic dish, but it bears another mention in this category. Fried chicken is the new premium burger, with no end in sight to the creativity and craftsmanship behind recipe development here. Thank goodness.
- Southern Fry: Smoky fried Jidori chicken, spicy green pimento cheese, duck-breast ham, pickles
—Plan Check Kitchen + Bar, Los Angeles
- Fried Chicken Skins with Creole seasoning
—Leghorn Chicken, Chicago
Japan’s answer to the pork schnitzel, tonkatsu traditionally sees pork loin dredged in flour and egg, breaded in panko and deep fried, then served with cabbage slaw and katsu sauce, a thicker, sweeter version of Worcestershire sauce. Here, the opportunity seems to lie in the sandwich category, where the protein is often switched out for chicken, but the craveable elements are left intact.
- Katsu Bowl with panko-encrusted fried chicken or pork, served with umami tonkatsu sauce, thinly shredded cabbage and rice
—Go Go Curry, multiple locations in New York
- Pork Tonkatsu Sandwich with yuzu kosho sauerkraut, spicy mustard
—Vagabond Restaurant & Bar, Miami
Born in Japan’s izakaya world as a bar bite, Japanese-style fried chicken is primed for American adoption. Seasoned with garlic, ginger and soy, karaage is lightly coated in flour and deep fried.
- Thai Chicken Karaage: Crackly fried chicken marinated in fish sauce, served with Thai-style herbs and condiments
—East Side King, Austin, Texas
- Karaage: Adobe-marinated fried chicken or gindara
—Sushi Ronin, Denver
As one of the best expressions of the modern German trend, today’s schnitzel is open to interpretation, maybe featuring chicken or pork instead of veal. Although more often shallow fried than deep fried, the beauty really lies in its heft as well as its accompaniments, from earthy mustards and craveable spreads to crunchy slaws and pickled garnishes.
- Schnitzel Sandwich: Sesame-seed crusted chicken cutlet with chopped salad and mustard mayonnaise wrapped in a pita or lettuce wrap
—The Falafel Bar, Buffalo, N.Y.
- Eggplant Schnitzel with pesto mayo
—Schnitzel & Things, New York