Once a week He Who Will Not Be Ignored gets to choose the dinner menu. We usually have to steer him away from the hot dogs, pizza, buffalo wings, and sushi that are the staples of his ideal diet, but every now and then he varies his choice without our prompting. Last week he asked for fried chicken, which I was all to happy to make. I’ve had success with Jasper White’s recipe from the Summer Shack Cookbook, but I was swayed by reports of the delicious fried chicken at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc restaurant. So out came the cookbook, and my two-day chicken adventure began.
The key to Keller’s fried chicken is the lemon-based brine, which has to be prepared a day in advance. It’s a sub-recipe (of course) at the back of the book, enough for 10 pounds of poultry. I halved it to one gallon for the six pounds I’d be cooking.
Three halved lemons, one cup of kosher salt, two tablespoons of black peppercorns, twelve bay leaves, two ounces of flat-leaf parsley, half an ounce of thyme, a halved head of garlic, and a quarter cup of clover honey all went into a pot with three quarts of water. Why not a full gallon? Alton Brown had a tip for me (as well as his picture on the plunger cup). I brought the mixture to a boil, then boiled for an additional minute, stirring to dissolve the salt.
Off the heat, I added 2 pounds of ice to the pot to jump start its cooling down. That’s Alton’s tip: “a pint’s a pound the world around” — adding the ice by weight instead of volume guaranteed that I’d wind up with exactly a gallon of brine.
While the brine cooled, I cut up two three-pound chickens into ten pieces each.
I stored the pieces in bags overnight in the fridge, along with the pot of brine.
The next morning I got up early and dumped the pieces into the brine, where they would sit for the next ten hours. (Keller advises against brining for more than 12 hours.)
I should mention here that the entire house still had a wonderful lemon-herb smell from the brine cooking the night before. It had the side effect of cranking up our expectations for dinner. Now the pressure was on.
After ten hours in the brine, I removed the chicken pieces, rinsed them, and set them on a rack to dry at room temperature for an hour and a half. During that time I filled a seven-quart dutch oven with two inches of peanut oil and slowly brought it up to 320°F. While the oil heated I prepared the coating mix.
I combined six cups of flour with a quarter cup each of garlic powder and onion powder, and four teaspoons each of paprika, cayenne, and kosher salt, and one teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. I divided the mixture int two bowls, and added a quart of buttermilk to a third bowl. I set these up as a dipping station with a rack over a sheet pan to receive the coated pieces.
Here’s where Keller’s legendary precision/fussiness took over. Rather than dip and coat all of the pieces before frying — which would result in the later pieces being wetter than the earlier pieces — he recommends coating the next batch only after the first batch hits the oil. In addition, the pieces had to be fried at different temperatures and times. I started with the four thighs, frying them for 12 minutes.
Once the frying started I had to constantly adjust the heat to keep the temperature from dropping to precipitously. For a solid hour I played this game: thighs for twelve minutes while I coated the leg, legs for twelve minutes, then increase the temperature to 340°F, coat the breasts, fry the breasts for seven minutes, coat the wings, fry the wings for six minutes. All of the fried pieces were drained on another rack and sprinkled with salt. After an hour, I had the rack full of chicken seen at the top of this post.
While I was prepping for the frying step, She Who Must Be Obeyed decided to whip up a batch of the Ad Hoc buttermilk biscuits. She somehow managed to do this without getting in my way, baking while I fried, but before I would need the oven to keep the chicken hot. So we had this unexpected accompaniment to our diner:
ALL BOW DOWN TO THE AWESOMENESS THAT IS SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED! BOW, I TELL YOU!
Fried chicken with biscuits begged for gravy, so I retrieved some from the freezer (you have gravy in the freezer, don’t you?) and thawed while the biscuits baked. Finally, it was time to eat.
I have friends who tell me that the best fried chicken in the US is either at Dookie Chase’s in New Orleans, or at whatever restaurant Dookie’s former cook is working. I’ve not had the pleasure of sampling Leah Chase’s fried yardbird, so I’ll go out on a limb and say this is the best fired chicken I’ve ever eaten, let alone made. Not only does the brine infuse the chicken with succulent lemony herby goodness, it also prevents the meat from drying out. This is chicken you have to eat with a napkin; you can’t help but have juice dripping down your chin. The crust was perfectly crackling crisp but didn’t slide off after the first bite.
We had to force ourselves to stop eating. He Who Will Not Be Ignored ate a record three pieces, and demanded that this was the way I had to make fried chicken from now on. I’ll probably comply, but I’ll set up a second pot of oil for the frying – I don’t think we’ll want to wait too long now that we know how this chicken tastes.
She Who etc.’s biscuits were perfectly flaky and buttery, but I’m thinking a savory waffle would work well with that gravy.
I’m two recipes from Ad Hoc At Home down (the first is here), and I haven’t even made it past page 22. I suspect I’ll be coking a loot more recipes from this one.
Chicken, lemons, herbs: Trader Joe’s
Kate’s Real Buttermilk: Market Basket
Chicken gravy: Belm Research Kitchen Deep Storage Facility