In re: Fried Chicken

Chicken and buttermilk biscuits

I don’t have it too often (fortunately or unfortunately), but fried chicken is one of those foods that while seemingly incredibly simple and common, can and often is, so much more.  Thomas Keller makes it and so do plenty of gas stations, which makes it kind of democratizing meal of sorts – but rather than get too philosophical about the food (others have and its a topic worthy of it) I just wanted to write up a few recent fried chicken dinners I made here at home.

The first was a few months back and featured chicken that followed somewhat the recipes and techniques of Thomas Keller (from the Ad Hoc cookbook) and from Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty (Also see Ruhlman’s post on fried chicken here).  Ruhlman worked on the Ad Hoc cookbook and claims his is better – a bold statement (unfortunately we didn’t try making both head to head – I have made the TK version before and knew it was amazing).  Instead the recipe I used started with a brine mostly like Ruhlmans, one that has a lot of rosemary, the predominant flavor he likes in fried chicken.  In addition I had lemon and some other herbs (thyme and parsley), but not quite as much as TK uses.  The brine was left overnight before taking out the chicken to air dry on a rack in the fridge.  (The brine is really the biggest difference between amazing fried chicken and fried chicken and cannot be skipped).

After drying the chicken gets dredged in seasoned flour – I used a mixture of cayenne, paprika, black pepper (a bunch), salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and a bit of baking powder (TK doesn’t use BP, Ruhlman does)

Next is a dip in buttermilk and back into the flour mixture, before frying it up, and finally topping w/ some fried rosemary and some lemon zest.  (Actually some of it sat for a while in a 250 oven on a rack – dark meat especially actually benefits from this and lets you do the chicken in advance, something I should have done rather than frying huge batches of chicken with my friends standing around – oh well next time.)

Even though this chicken was of the American variety, I served it with some sauces that are somewhat asian if people felt like it (this chicken doesn’t need anything and really your just gilding the lilly, but I do like sauces…) One of them was Momofuku’s Octo Vin (a reverse vinagrette with a lot of garlic and ginger.  The sauce/dressing’s full name is shortened from Octopus Vinaigrette, and was intended to stand up to octopus and has the reverse ratio of a vinaigrette with the oil and vinegar amounts flipped, the stuff is amazing and goes with fried chicken amazingly well, among other things).  I also served a korean style sauce (discussed again below) and siracha honey which is amazing on fried chicken and is as easy as combining the two.

Fried Chicken

zesting a lemon onto the chicken

Three sauces for chicken

octo vin, siracha honey, korean sauce

chicken, quick pickles, biscuits

Quick pickles (fennel, carrots, cukes), fried chicken and biscuits

[Thanks to Ham Sandwich Indicted for the above photos as well as for the amazing biscuits that featured homemade cultured buttermilk – those could have been dinner alone.]

Fast forward to yesterday and I tried out David Chang’s recipe for fried chicken in the Momofuku cookbook (which is not the fried chicken they serve at Momofuku I might point out as they serve a breaded version there – amazing I should also add – but the one in the cookbook has no breading and is sauced with the octo vin).  Anyway the gist of DC’s version is that the chicken is brined (simple sugar and salt brine for several hours) and then steamed for 40 minutes – thats right its fully cooked by steaming.  The idea is clearly inspired by Asian preparations such as crispy duck where hot oil is used at the end to get a crispy skin, but the steam is used to cook the meat and cook and render the skin so that it is ready to quickly crisp. After steaming the chicken, take the chicken out and put it onto a rack in the fridge to dry / chill.  After a few hours its ready to be fried and as you can guess it doesn’t need long. Word of warning have a splatter shield or at least be careful frying this chicken (I learned the hard way and was hit with quite a few large oil pops).  Not being a scientist I assume this has something to do with the way moisture was trapped in the cooked chicken versus raw chicken, but just consider yourself warned.

The chicken crisps up quickly probably takes only about 5 minutes or so at 375.  After draining it I tossed in the octo vin (and served more on the side of course).  I also tried dipping some of the chicken in a  thin (Korean style?) batter, basically cornstarch, AP flour, some salt/pepper, cayenne, garlic powder, and very cold seltzer water (I guess that part is maybe Japanese).  This battered batch I tossed with a sauce made from gochujang (the amazing fermented Korean chili paste), garlic, ginger, rice vinegar, soy sauce, honey and siracha.

The results were amazing and compared to the breaded versions a whole lot less work, way less mess and means you can essentially precook the chicken and fry it up at the last moment.  It isn’t quite the same thing however and is really its own dish as the intense chicken flavor that comes from frying chicken isn’t quite there due to the steam cooking.  Don’t’ get me wrong though this is a dish worthy in its own right, just not quite the same thing.  In case you were wondering I served this with some cabbage/fennel slaw and some beans from rancho gordo (Yellow Indian Woman – one of their heirloom varieties) that were cooked slowly all day with onions, celery and bay leaf, salt and pepper, which leads one not in the know to think there is meat in the dish as they are so rich tasting and flavorful.

Just out of of the fryer

Fried Chicken a la David Chang