Recipe: Thomas Keller’s Fried Chicken

I am married to a native Southerner.  My grandmother was from the hills of Owenton, Kentucky.

I have never made fried chicken.

First, I just don’t like frying.  Oil is messy.  I still have an electric stove, so it’s hard to control the temperature as precisely as I’d like.  Second, it seems kind of unhealthy.  All of that oil?  Breading?  Eek.

I have plenty of time for projects now, and summertime is definitely fried chicken time. Inspired by Fried Chicken Night at The Cincinnatian (Chef Salazar trained in Keller’s kitchen) and armed with a copy of Ad Hoc at HOme, I decided one day to go for broke– and fried chicken.

The secret to this fried chicken involves three things:  small chickens (so they cook more consistently and in less time), brining and a triple-coating process.  The small chickens (under 4 pounds, please) were easy to get:  the Farmer’s Market area of Findlay Market yielded two little guys from Back Acres Farms.  Brining is another easy process: combine ingredients, boil, cool, then brine for 12 hours (no longer, says Keller, or else the chicken wil be salty).  Finally, well-seasoned flour, then a seasoned buttermilk mixture, then more four equals a crispy, delicious crust.

The process was time-consuming but, essentially, easy.  I’m going to change a couple of things the next time I do it.

1. I’m going to skip frying chicken parts other than thighs.  Though breaking down a chicken is pretty satisfying, the most flavorful meat was the thigh.  Plus, both The Better Half and I like dark meat, so why bother with the rest if we’re only making it for ourselves? (If we had a group, I’d go with whole chickens).

2. I will halve the recipe.  I love fried chicken, but we were tired of it by the time we ate all of it.  A half recipe (6 pieces instead of 12) will still allow for cold fried chicken, but not be an excessive amount for two people.

3. There will be honey and biscuits.  There just will be.

A few tips for you as well:

1. Be very, very sure to be prepared– this can be kind of messy and needs to be done in assembly-line fashion.

2. For the brine, put the chicken in plastic gallon zipper bags in a bowl.  That way you ensure that all of the chicken is covered and it’s easily stored in the refrigerator.

3. Carefully monitor the oil– 320 for thighs, 360 for breasts– or else you’ll end up with oil-logged  or burnt chicken, depending on the temperature of the oil. Both are bad.

4. Buy your spices in bulk– it is less expensive to buy a few ounces of onion or garlic powder from Colonel De (you need 1/4 cup of each for the flour!) than it is to buy it in little containers.

5. The chicken is excellent hot out of the fryer, but even better eaten in your bathrobe, standing over the sink at either midnight or 8 a.m.

The combination of the breading, the brining and the oil temperature results in the best fried chicken ever:  juicy, flavorful meat and the right amount of crunchy, flavoful coating.  It’s heaven.

For the recipe, head to The Today Show’s website where it is presented verbatim out of the Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook.