Before all the fried chicken connoisseurs go up in arms against me, let me explain. KFC, as commonly known to us, does have good fried chicken … in the Philippines where it is served with rice and gravy. It had always been a treat for me as a child when I visited my Aunt in the big city of Manila – we’d always order a big bucket. Unfortunately, my perceived flavor of Kentucky fried chicken in the U.S. is different; this is apart from the fact that it is not served with rice and gravy, and I’ll never forget the first time I have ordered it and asked for gravy, I was disconcerted when the person behind the counter said: “That’ll be $1.00.”
The KFC I’m referring to in this post is actually Thomas Keller’s Fried Chicken. Heh-he, do I hear a collective sigh of relief? The September issue of Bon Appetit features the very laid-back Thomas Keller donning a denim apron cooking his famous fried chicken that’s been served up in his distinguished restaurant, Ad hoc. I have seen this recipe before in another food magazine last year but the thought of brining in 24 cups of water discouraged me a bit (now if it was duck fat I’ll be all over that.) But after seeing a picture of Keller himself sprinkling the chicken with salt and bits of fried rosemary and thyme – that image simply threw my craving into overdrive.
So on a Thursday night, I announced to the hubby that the weekend would be devoted to the Fried Chicken project. I went through my pantry for the needed spices and I knew I did not have garlic powder or onion powder which I quit using because I always wanted to use fresh versions always but I could see how you would need this in making the coating for the chicken. Besides if the most revered chef in the nation uses them, then so be it. Also for the brine, I decided to use Diamond Crystal instead of my treasured Maldon salt.
The hunt for the 3-lb chicken
A roadblock I ran into was Ellwood Thompson running out of Bell &Evans whole chicken. It’s only Friday for crissakes! How can they be out of whole chickens! I take that back, they had a different brand of whole chicken on display and it was freaking $14.00. I mean, I know that organic chicken was more expensive but does it warrant that price tag? What do they feed the chicken – gold dust?! Adding to my annoyance, the guy behind the meat and seafood counter said in a very unhelpful tone “If it’s not on the display case then we don’t have it.” I was seething, at least be more sympathetic. Didn’t he know how important Fried Chicken weekend was? I returned my bottles of buttermilk and marched out of the store and doubt I’ll ever be coming back – ever.
There were other places I have considered. Joe’s market carried Bell & Evans a long time ago as did its sister company Ukrops. But Ukrops have stopped carrying them and replaced it with its own brand (I hate it when supermarkets do that) and I wondered if Joe’s Market did the same. Of course, I could have called but my brain was in a fog that time.
So on Saturday, after a quick run to the seafood store to get some items for dinner, we decided to do our entire grocery shopping at the Fresh Market. I’m not sure if their chicken was organic, it probably had their TFM label, but it was $7.00 a piece and was between 3 and 3.5 lbs which was really what I was after. The “Hungry” Hubby and I “closed our eyes” at the cash register. I guess you pay a price for minimum frustration. All the produce – fruits and vegetables- were beautiful at the Fresh Market!
That afternoon, I prepped the brine. I was making 2 chickens so I adjusted the recipe accordingly. I wish Keller was more specific with the “bunches” of thyme and Italian parsley. That seemed very subjective. Anyway cooking is not like baking anyway, so you can just wing this part.
Sunday was Fried Chicken day. I made cheddar green onion cornbread (recipe coming next post) to go with the fried bird. HH and I were both apprehensive because we had a dismal dinner night before and were wondering if the bad juju would carry through to Sunday. The previous night’s seafood dinner ended up with rubbery grilled squid and a less than stellar Kona Kampachi that was not very fresh. It tasted nothing like the first ones we had tried when it was shipped to us direct from Hawaii. That time we had two fillets. We immediately pan-fried the first one and froze the second. Months later, we had the second fillet and it tasted just as fresh as the first one. We probably need to go to the Yellow Umbrella seafood store immediately when they get their fish in and if it still tastes sub-par then I’m going to quit getting Kona Kampachi from them.
Anyway back to the fried chicken. The first thing I did was retrieve the chicken from the depths of the brine, pat them dry and proceed to cut them up (check out my step-by-step method of cutting up a chicken at the end of this post). I laid the pieces out on a casserole as I prepared the coating which was very straight forward. Coating it was a bit tricky because the flour mixture started to gum up. You need to fluff it repeatedly with a fork.
I let the chicken pieces dry for an hour; in the meantime I measured out my oil and put it in a six-quart pan with a frying thermometer attached. I used all 12-cups of oil because it was correct depth for deep frying in the pan I had.
When the oil got to 330 F, it was time to fry those pieces!
Thomas Keller’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Bon Appetit, September 2008
24 cups water
1 cup coarse kosher salt
½ cup plus 1 tbs. of honey
18 Turkish bay leaves
30 unpeeled garlic cloves, smashed
3 tbs. whole black peppercorns
5 large fresh rosemary sprigs
1 ½ bunches fresh thyme sprigs
1 ½ bunches fresh Italian parsley
2 tbs. finely grated lemon peel
¾ cup fresh lemon juice
3 ½-pounds chickens
6 cups all purpose flour
5 tbs. garlic powder
5 tbs. onion powder
4 tsp. paprika
4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 tsp. coarse kosher salt plus additional for serving
6 cups buttermilk
12 cups peanut oil (for deep frying)
Fresh rosemary and thyme sprigs (for garnish), deep fried 30 seconds (optional)
Brining/ Bring all ingredients except chickens to boil in a large pot. Boil 1 minute, stirring to dissolve salt. Cool completely. Chill brine until cold, about 2 hours.
Rinse chickens; add to brine, pressing to submerge. Chill at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours. Drain the chicken and pat dry, removing any herbs or spices sticking to the skin. Cut each chicken into 8 pieces.
Frying/ Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Mix first 6 ingredients and 4 tsp. coarse salt in large bowl. Place buttermilk in another large bowl. Dip each chicken piece in flour mixture to coat; shake off excess. Dip pieces in buttermilk, coating completely, then dip into flour mixture again, coating thickly (do not shake off excess). Place chicken on prepared sheets. Let stand 1 to 2 hours at room temperature to dry.
Pour peanut oil into heavy large pot. Attach deep-fry thermometer to side of pot and heat oil over medium-high heat to 320F to 330F. Working in batches of 4 pieces at a time, add leg and thigh pieces to oil (use splatter screen to protect yourself from hot oil). Adjust heat as needed to maintain temperature. Fry until cooked through and the skin is deep golden brown, turning once with wooden spoons (to prevent crust from breaking), about 13 minutes. Using wooden spoons, transfer chicken to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Add breast pieces to oil and fry until cooked through and skin is deep golden brown, turning once about 7 minutes. Transfer chicken to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.
Transfer chicken to platter. Serve warm or let stand up to 2 hours and serve at room temperature. Garnish with herb sprigs.
You have to play around with the temperature of your thermometer and it is important to cook only 4 pieces at a time as the instructions stated so you will not have a wildly fluctuating reading on your thermometer. We fried the wing pieces first and found that at a 330 F the pieces got very dark before they got fully cooked – about 7 minutes. So we did our best to maintain our cooking temp at 320 F; we added 2-3 minutes of cooking time to the suggested ones in the recipe. There’s nothing more of a turn-off than cutting into an undercooked portion of chicken. We used a ladle with holes in it instead of tongs so as not to break the crust.
We feasted on the wings while we proceeded to cook the rest of the chicken. That first bite was pure heaven. The skin was crunchy, the insides flowed with tasty juices that were flavored by the herbs and garlic they were brined in…best chicken I’ve had in a long time!
A note when frying the herbs: when we put the rosemary and thyme sprigs in the oil, they hissed so loudly they made both me and the HH jump. I think despite air-drying them very well after rinsing, there was some moisture left in them. Thirty seconds in hot oil is all that is needed for the herbs to become crisped finishing touches on the chicken.
Instead of laying the cooked pieces on paper towels I put them on a rack so they would remain crisp and crisp they stayed even an hour after cooking. And delicious they were served with the cheddar green onion corn bread.
What a soul-satisfying dinner HH and I had. We did not use any utensils because there was something primordial about eating with our bare hands. We sat at the dinner table, spent from a fulfilling dinner and sipped our glass of wine leisurely till the last drop was squeezed from the bottle. The Fried Chicken project was a success!
Here’s a snippet from Bon Appetit regarding deep frying:
A. Hot Oil
Just before you start to fry food, sprinkle about a quarter teaspoon of coarse kosher salt into the oil to help keep it from splattering.
Lower food gently into hot oil; don’t drop it from high up.
If using tongs, keep them pointed downward to prevent hot oil from dripping down the handles.
B. Leftover oil
Unless the oil had been used to fry seafood, you strain, chill and reuse it for sauté. Do not use it again for deep-frying because particles left in the oil makes it potentially unsafe for frying.
Or, you can strain the cooled oil into a glass container and store it at room temperature until full and then dispose of it or call a recycling center if they take waste vegetable oil.
C. Fry-shack smell
Start the vent:
Open window and close the door tightly.
Light some scented candles.
Boil cinnamon or a bay leaf in an uncovered pot.
Personally the smell did not bother meJ.
Okay now for some pictures of me wielding my chef knife as I tackled the chicken.