I’ve tried many, many fried chicken recipes and settled on a favorite. What I’ve come to believe is that there are really three very important things to get right in order to achieve good or even edible fried chicken.
1. Use the right cooking vessel. You need something very thick that conducts heat well and provides a consistent temperature for your fat. Cast iron skillets are the traditional favorites and for good reason. I use mine but more often I use my Le Crueset 7.25 qt. dutch oven. Your oil temperature won’t drop dramatically when you add the chicken and it’s nice and deep so you won’t make a complete mess out of the 2-foot radius around your stove.
2. Get your fat to the proper temperature. You will need a good, calibrated thermometer for this. You can tell if your thermometer is accurate by sticking in some boiling water. It should read 220.
3. Get the right heat level under your pot. This will take some trial and error. I have a Viking range with high BTU’s so I quickly learned that what is “high” on most stoves is really somewhere between “medium” and “high” on mine. And even then I have needed to adjust the temperature to get it just right for fried chicken (and pancakes). So even though you may get your oil to the required 320-degrees (or whatever), if your flame is too high your chicken will blacken on the outside long before it is properly cooked on the inside. If your flame is too low it will take forever to cook and absorb way too much oil.
I had heard rumors that the fried chicken from this cookbook was life-changing so I was anxious to try it. And I’m here to tell you that this is some very, very good fried chicken, although it requires a lot more planning and effort than my go-to recipe so I’m not sure I’m ready to trash that one in favor of Keller’s.
The first brain teaser here is that you are instructed to brine the chicken for 12 hours. Think about that for a minute. If you want to eat at 6:00, and you need to allow for 45 minutes cooking time and 1-1/2 hours of the chicken sitting out to come to room temp before cooking, you are going to have to get it in the brine at…anybody? anybody? 3:45 AM. My solution was to put it in the brine the night before at 8:00 p.m., take it out at 8:00 a.m., rinse per the instructions, and then just put it back in the fridge until closer to dinner time.
The brine is an undertaking unto itself. I’ve brined a lot but never used anything more complicated than water, salt, and maybe some sugar or garlic. This brine calls for the following:
5 lemons, halved
24 bay leaves
1 bunch (4 oz.) flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch (1 oz.) thyme
1/2 cup clover honey
1 head garlic, halve through the equator
1/4 cup black peppercorns
2 cups (10 oz.) kosher salt, preferably Diamond Crystal
2 gallons of water.
You combine it all, bring it to a boil, boil for 1 minute and then let cool before using. That is high-maintenance brine.
Having solved that I proceeded with the recipe without incident, making some practical short cuts. He has no advice on the level of heat to cook this over at all so I had to refer to my go-to recipe and set my dial somewhere between medium and medium-low which worked fine.
And as I said this is really good. I usually only eat dark meat but had half a breast for “research” purposes and can say that this is the most moist and tender chicken breast I think I’ve ever had. And you can really taste the elements of the brine, especially in the breast pieces. All that honey and lemon give it a subtle almost perfumy flavor. My husband was quite enthusiastic about this one and even my vegetarian daughter, who just eats the coating, loved it.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken
From Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller
Two 2-1/2 to 3 lb. chickens (he tells you you will have to go to the farmer’s market to get these but I found them at something called Fresh Farms market. The point is you will probably have trouble finding chickens this small at a regular chain grocery store)
For Dredging and Frying
Peanut or canola oil for deep-frying [I probably used about a quart]
1 quart buttermilk
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
6 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup garlic powder
¼ cup onion powder
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cayenne [I couldn’t make myself put this much cayenne in; I use about ½ a tablespoon; it was not spicy at all so next time I will probably do the full amount]
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Ground fleur de sel or fine sea salt
Rosemary and thyme sprigs for garnish
Cut each chicken into 10 pieces: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 4 breast quarters, and 2 wings. Pour the brine into a container large enough to hold the chicken pieces [I just left the brine in the stock pot I used to boil it in], add in the chicken, and refrigerate for 12 hours (no longer, or the chicken may become too salty).
Remove the chicken from the brine (discard the brine) and rinse under cold water, removing any herbs or spices sticking to the skin. Pat dry with paper towels, or let air-dry. Let rest at room temperature for 1-1/2 hours [it seems to me you could take the chicken out of the fridge for the last 90 minutes of brining time and kill two birds with one stone], or until it comes to room temperature.
If you have two large pots (about 6” deep) and a lot of oil, you can cook the dark and white meat at the same time; if not, cook the dark meat first, then turn up the heat and cook the white meat. No matter what size pot you have, the oil should not come more than one-third of the way up the sides of the pot. Fill the pot with at least 2” of peanut oil and heat to 320-degrees. Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper.
Meanwhile, combine all the coating ingredients in a large bowl. Transfer half the coating to a second large bowl [spoken like a man with an endless supply of large bowls and an equal number of people to wash them. As you will see, there is no reason to put the coating in two bowls]. Pour the buttermilk into a third bowl and season with salt and pepper [I omitted the salt here because I was just too worried about the saltiness of the dish after brining the chicken]. Set up a dipping station: the chicken pieces, one bowl of coating, the bowl of buttermilk, the second bowl of coating, and the parchment-lined baking sheet.
Just before frying, dip the chicken thighs into the first bowl [only bowl] of coating, turning to coat and patting off the excess; dip them into the buttermilk, allowing the excess to run back into the bowl; then dip in the coating again. Transfer to parchment-lined pan.
Carefully lower the thighs into the hot oil. Adjust the heat as necessary to return the oil to the proper temperature [I did not do this but adjusted according to whether the chicken was cooking too fast]. Fry 2 minutes then carefully move the chicken pieces around in the oil and continue to fry, turning the pieces as necessary for even cooking, for 11-12 minutes, until the chicken is deep golden brown. Meanwhile, coat the chicken drumsticks and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet.
Transfer the cooked thighs to the cooling rack to rest while you fry the remaining chicken. Return the oil to 320-degrees before adding the drumsticks. While the drumsticks cook, coat the breasts and wings.
Turn up the heat slightly and heat the oil to 340-degrees. Cook the breasts for about 7 minutes and transfer to rack. Return to 340 and cook the wings for about 6 minutes. [Keller keeps saying to salt all of these pieces as they come out of the oil but, again, I was really worried about saltiness so I did not].
After you take the wings out of the oil you can throw the herbs in for a few seconds and use them as garnish.