Nshville style fried chicken served in a local restaurant. Nashville.TN.USA 04/2018

by Kevin Farrell for USA TODAY 10Best

Why pickle juice and fried chicken are such a magical combination

At once juicy, crunchy, spicy and steaming hot, fried chicken is as close as it gets to a perfect food. So why have so many chefs and restaurants added a new element to their recipes? Why are so many people pickling their chicken?

You see, pickling chicken in brine prior to breading and frying up the meat results in a chemically similar process to what raw fish undergoes when exposed to acidic citrus juice.

Sodium chloride-rich pickle brine unravels the alpha helix of the chicken protein in a process called denaturing. What was once a tight, box spring-like coil is relaxed into something better resembling a fistful of al dente pasta.

But vinegar isn’t content to let salt have all the fun. While the salt is busy uncurling the helix, the vinegar in brining liquid attacks the foundational hydrogen bonds of the chicken protein.

As those protein helix strands loosen and unfurl from their previously tight coil, salt is drawn into the meat via the process of osmosis. As salt is sucked into the expanding proteins, these molecules make themselves at home, neatly filling out all of the new spaces.

When chicken protein that has been invaded by salt water molecules in this way finally does hit the frying pan, perfectly flaky, fall-off-the-bone fried chicken is created. Voila.

Or to put it another way, think about how good those salty, vinegary slices of pickles taste on a fast food chicken sandwich. Pickling your chicken prior to frying it recreates this classic taste combo, dialed up to 100.

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