MAY IT PLEASE THE PALATE: Perfect fried chicken

By Nick Roumel

I have two confessions to make. I had never made fried chicken. And I am a sucker for those puff-piece "Yahoo Shine" articles like "Perfect Fried Chicken!" or "Foolproof Grilled Cheese!"

So when I recently saw a Yahoo Shine article about perfect fried chicken, I knew what I was cooking on Sunday.

I started by buying a chicken. Not just any chicken, but a locally raised, humanely nurtured, and ethically slaughtered bird. It set me back $21. But I had eaten his cousin a few months ago, and it was amazing. All that liberal education had done wonders for its taste.

Then I read the article's fried chicken tips. Like cutting the breast into three, so that every piece is a similar size, and cooks evenly. Letting the fried pieces rest in a low oven for twenty minutes, to cook through and work up its inner juiciness. Adding bacon or pancetta to the peanut oil, for extra greasy goodness. And of course the "crouton test," to determine if the oil was the right temperature -- see below for details.

After sufficient study, I decided, I could do this. And it turned out ... real good. So agreed my friend Ken. "Although," he continued, "It's not as good as that fried chicken we had in Tennessee. That was amazing."

Still, Ken was happy to take some home for lunch. Here is nearly perfect fried chicken -- courtesy of Yahoo Shine. God that is so embarrassing to say.

Fried Chicken

Serves 6 to 8 This is a lie. It serves two for dinner, with leftovers for lunch the next day.

Ingredients:

* 2 chickens, around 3 pounds each, each chicken cut into 9 pieces. Warning: I used one 4-lb. chicken and it sucked up so much of the flour mixture (below) that I had to make extra. So if you use two chickens, double the below recipe.

* 2 cups gluten-free flour or all-purpose flour

* 1/4 cup cornstarch (optional, it is used for a crispier crust)

* 1 tablespoon Spanish paprika

* 1 tablespoon garlic powder

* 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning

* 1 teaspoon dried thyme

* 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

* 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning

* 2 cups buttermilk

* 1 egg

* 1 1/2 cups peanut oil

* 2 slices pancetta, 1/16-inch thick (this adds a really nice subtle flavor to the finished product) I used Trader Joe's packaged "bacon bits 'n' pieces." Basically the crap ends of bacon, but without pancetta's price tag, which I couldn't afford after financing that chicken.

Directions:

1. After you have cut up your chicken, place it in a tray or on a sheet pan with sides. Season it on all sides with kosher salt. Place it back into the fridge for at least 2 hours to overnight.

2. When you are ready to fry the chicken, combine the flour, cornstarch, dried seasonings, salt, and pepper in a large plastic or paper bag. Give it a shake to mix.

3. Work with three pieces of chicken at a time. Place the first three pieces into the flour. Close the bag and shake it around until the chicken is coated evenly. Before you remove the chicken to a cooling rack give it a gently shake to rid it of excess flour. Continue with the first flour coat until all the pieces are floured.

4. Again, working with three pieces at a time dip the first three pieces of chicken into the egg wash (the buttermilk and egg whisked together). Make sure they are coated on all sides. Remove them from the wash and place them into the flour bag. Gently shake and roll them until they are fully coated for the second time. Remove them to a cooling rack once more. Continue until you have finished with all the pieces. Now let the flour-coated chicken rest for 20 minutes to form a crust.

At this point I made another half-batch of flour/seasoning mixture, as the chicken soaked that first batch up like Lindsay Lohan soaks up vodka.

5. Turn your oven to 250û F.

6. Place the pot over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and oil. You can use a deep fry thermometer but I never really find them accurate unless you can submerge them at least 2 inches up the stem. The pancetta is your canary in a coal mine. As the oil heats it will begin to bubble. It will get you close to the right oil temperature but then you need to go with the crouton method. In other words I take a piece of bread, pinch off a corner and drop it into the oil. If the oil is hot enough the bread will sink almost to the bottom but before it gets there the bubbles that have formed from the hot oil will carry it back to the top. If the bread sinks to the bottom and rests, gets a few bubbles and then slowly rises, the oil isn't hot enough. On the other hand if the bread hits the surface of the oil and it looks immediately like it is surfing a volcano then the oil is way too hot -- remove the pot from the heat, let it cool for a few minutes then place it back on the heat and test again.

7. Remove the pancetta when it is crispy. Eat it. Bacon fried in grease is good for you.

8. When the oil is right, begin frying 5 to 7 pieces of chicken at a time. Just be sure to give the chicken some room. This, of course, is a common sense moment. It all depends on the size of your pot -- you be the judge. Just realize if you crowd the chicken, the crust will cook together and you either have one big piece of fried chicken or you'll have to break off pieces of the crust, which is less than desirable.

9. After you place the chicken into the pot, let it sit for 15 to 30 seconds before you attempt to turn it. This moment of time allows the crust to set so when you go to turn it the crust doesn't fall off.

10. Turn the chicken as necessary. If by chance your oil has not risen above the chicken you will need to turn it more often but by no means add oil after you have begun frying.

11. Brown the chicken on all sides. Once it has browned, remove it to a tray with a cooling rack and place it immediately into the heated oven.

12. After the last batch of chicken goes into the oven, let all of it rest in there for 15 to 20 minutes. Finish any sides that need it, dress the salads, and get everything to the table. Platter up the bird and serve.

Final comments. They said "salads?" Heh heh. This is the kind of dish you want to serve in baskets lined with parchment paper, to get that translucent sheen of oil, and that Tennessee dive bar presentation. If you feel sufficiently guilty and want a vegetable, I recommend that you toss some potato wedges in that hot bacon-oil. They're a good complement for that chicken in tomorrow's lunch.

----------

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine in Ann Arbor. He occasionally updates his blog at http://mayitpleasethepalate.blogspot.com/.

Published: Thu, Oct 24, 2013

Comments

  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »