So I have had this image in my head for a while now of a perfect fried chicken dinner. One with juicy well seasoned pieces of chicken, a nice creamy coleslaw, and tender biscuits. The problem was I have never made fried chicken before. I have seen it done a few times but the results were just OK. They weren’t hitting the flavor and texture notes I had in my head. So when I set out to try my had at my first attempt at fried chicken I knew there were only two places to look and interestingly only one had a recipe for fried chicken and that was Sean Brock’s: Heritage.
When I think about the four seasons each of them has a major holiday with a classic meal with the exception of summer. In Fall we have Thanksgiving, in Winter we have Christmas and Chanukah, and in Spring we have Passover and Easter. This got me to thinking about summer. Summer is packed full of patriotic holidays and depending on where you live it’s probably when you got to the beach or on picnics. Sure there are some classics when it comes to food like hot dogs and hamburgers but for some reason when I picture the perfect Americana summer feast it’s fried chicken, coleslaw, and biscuits. Sure there are plenty of other sides to go along with all that but these have to be there everything else is just extra in my opinion.
To find the right approach on fried chicken I knew the best place to look would be to the chefs I enjoy in the south. I am not entirely sure why but the south has cornered the market on many of the Americana food items. When it comes to chefs of the south I like it can be boiled all the way down to Sean Brock and Vivian Howard. Each have a deep passion for their local cuisines and the way the ingredients are farmed. Looking at their cookbooks I was surprised to discover that Vivian Howard did not have a fried chicken recipe, rather a recipe for her famous barbecued chicken which makes sense knowing the story behind the dish. This lead me to Sean Brock’s book Heritage. I search and sure enough he had a recipe for “Fried Chicken and Gravy”. The picture in the cookbook looked delicious! Then I looked at the recipe. Twenty ingredients and two days of work! I will admit, I paused and wondered if it would be worth it… Oh boy, was it!
DAY 1: Brine the chicken
Brining the chicken not only makes for incredibly moist chicken but in this recipe it’s also the first layer of flavor.
- 1 gallon Water
- 4 ounces loose Black Tea (or 38 tea bags)
- 260 grams Salt (1 cup)
- 200 grams Granulated Sugar (1 cup)
- 1 “8-piece” Chicken, about 3 pounds
In a large pot bring the water to a boil then remove from the heat. Add the tea and let steep for 8 minutes. strain out the tea or remove the bags if used. Pour the gallon of tea into a large 6 quart container. Let cool to room temperature then place in the fridge until fully chilled.
Once the tea is cold add the chicken. Brine for a minimum of 12 hours. Best done over night.
DAY 2: Marinate the chicken
Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Remove the chicken from the tea and place in the ice bath. (Apparently the ice is supposed to help remove impurities.) Leave in the ice bath for 5 minutes. Drain and pat-dry the chicken.
In the same tub you had made your brine in make your marinade. Quickly rinse dry out the tub you had used.
- 2 quarts Buttermilk
- 1 ½ ounces Hot Sauce (your preference of heat although it gets very deluded so feel free to go a little hotter than you normally would.)
- 1 tablespoon Ground Black Pepper
Add all the contents to the tub and whisk together. Add the chicken, cover, and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
While the chicken is marinating it’s time to work on the fat. The secret to this recipe is frying the chicken in a blend of fats. There’s chicken fat, lard, vegetable oil, bacon fat, and fat from smoked ham as well as a touch of butter at the end.
- 1 ½ pounds Chicken Skin and Fat (The best was to get this is to save any trimmings, skin or blobs of fat from previous chickens you have prepared. If you don’t work with chicken regularly you can sometimes find places that sell schmaltz. Buying premed schmaltz would save a bit of time from this recipe as it takes time to make it correctly. )
Chop up your chicken skins and fat, adding them to a large pan with a little bit of water, and placing over low heat. Once a thin layer of fat is visible raise the heat to medium low and occasionally stir keeping the skins from burning. Once the skins have turned a pale golden brown, about 45-60 minutes, strain into a bowl and discard the skins. (The skins are what are also referred to as Gribenes at this point if you are every doing Jewish cooking that calls for schmaltz and gribenes.)
Once your fat is rendered you’re ready to move on to combining all of them together.
- 1 cup Chicken Fat
- 226 grams Leaf Lard (1 cup)
- 8 ounces Canola Oil (1 cup)
- 2 ounces Slab Bacon, dice
- 2 ounces Smoked Ham, diced
In a 6 quart dutch oven add the chicken fat, lard, oil, bacon, and ham. Attach a candy thermometer, place the pan over medium heat, and bring the fats to 275ºF. Turn off the heat and let the fats infuse with the flavors from the bacon and ham for 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon strain out the diced meats and either use for another dish, as a snack or discard.
Going back to the chicken it’s time to drain the buttermilk, rinse each piece under cold water and pat dry. Set aside.
- 816 grams All-Purpose Flour
- 116 grams Corn Flour
- 2 tablespoons Cornstarch
- 1 ½ teaspoons Garlic Powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons Onion Powder
- 1 teaspoon Black Pepper
- ½ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
- ½ teaspoon Smoked Paprika
In a large bowl (the biggest you have) combine all the dry ingredients and mix together well. I like to use a whisk to stir them all together. Place the chicken in the flour mixture and toss well to coat. Let the chicken sit in the flour, undisturbed, for 15 minutes.
Carefully remove the chicken from the flour shaking off any excess and place on a wire rack. Let rest for another 15 minutes.
Time to get cooking!
Turn the heat back on under your pan of fat to about medium. Bring the fat to 300ºF, preheat your oven to 180ºF, and place a sheet pan in the oven.
Start with the breasts and thighs as they take the longest to cook. Place them in the pan. Try not to over crowd the pan but it can be fairly close. Cook for 8 minutes (For the entire time cooking you will want to keep an eye on the temperature and keep it at 300ºF). Turn the chicken and cook for another 8 minutes. At this point I use an instant read thermometer and check the thickest part of the breast. I am looking for something of at least 165ºF. If it’s there remove the chicken pieces and place them on the sheet pan in the oven. If not turn the chicken again and cook for another minute or two and check again.
Return the fat to 300ºF if the temperature has fallen and then add the legs and wings. Cook for 5 minutes, turn, and cook for another 5 minutes. Again with the instant read thermometer check the thickest part of the leg for the same 165ºF. Once at, or above the desired temperature remove from the fat, placing on the sheet pan in the oven and turn off the heat (unless you have more chicken to cook).
At this point you can go ahead and get anything else ready you need to do and then enjoy!
NOTE: In the introduction of this recipe Sean Brock talks about how in his restaurant they have to deep fry the chicken rather than in a pan on the stove. He talks a bit about how much better the pan method is to that of the deep fryer but I still had to give it a go. Since I was making two separate batches durning the week I tried it both ways as I have a deep fryer. In the end I have to say he was right and that there was something about the pan the just gave it a much better flavor and texture.
TO REHEAT: A toaster oven set to BAKE at 350º for 15 minutes made for fantastic second day chicken!