With a cookbook collection of more than 50 cookbooks I recently realized that I have to put the brakes on any further purchases. My latest strategy has been to “test drive” cookbooks on my wishlist from the library. One book that has been on my wishlist for a few months now is Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller. Thomas Keller is kind of a big deal. He’s a chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and winner of James Beard awards (yes, plural). He’s behind restaurants like French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon and of course Ad Hoc. I’ve never dined at a Thomas Keller restaurant before (unless regular treats from Bouchon Bakery count) but a number of his restaurants are on my list of places to try.
I fell in love with Ad Hoc at Home after flipping through it while in various bookstores. First of all it’s gorgeous. The photos are so clean and contemporary and make the food look delicious. The recipes themselves are for really simple comfort food-type dishes… like fried chicken. When I saw the fried chicken recipe I knew I had to try it.
The last time I made fried chicken was courtesy of this recipe from Cooks Illustrated. It turned out great. The technique for the Ad Hoc chicken had some similarities (brining) but also varied somewhat as well (CI brines in buttermilk, Ad Hoc doesn’t). As with most great recipes some advanced planning is required. The chicken has to brine for 12 hours (no more) and then it has to rest for about 1.5 hours. To make the timing work I had to get up at 6am to brine my chicken so that by the time I got home at 6pm it could sit out until about 7:30pm in time for dinner.
The chicken turned out beautifully. It totally looked like the chicken I might get from my favourite fried chicken spot. My big issue however was the saltiness. WOW was the chicken ever salty. I ended up brining my chicken for just under 12 hours because I was nervous about salt (I can be kind of sensitive to food that is oversalted). Clearly I needed to brine for a shorter period. I also used chicken pieces that were larger than called for but that didn’t seem to help. Aside from the saltiness the chicken was moist and juicy and the other flavours from the brine (lemon, herbs etc) really shone through and made this a pretty darned good piece of chicken.
Oh, and for the record I ended up ordering the cookbook from The Good Cook for a steal!
Buttermilk Fried Chicken
* Two 2 1/2- to 3-pound chickens (see Note on Chicken Size)
* Chicken Brine (recipe follows), cold
For Dredging and Frying
* Peanut or canola oil for deep-frying
* 1 quart buttermilk
* Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 6 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/4 cup garlic powder
* 1/4 cup onion powder
* 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon paprika
* 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cayenne
* 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 teaspoon freshly ground black 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, 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, or until it comes to room temperature.
If you have two large pots (about 6 inches 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 inches of peanut oil and heat to 320°F. 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. Pour the buttermilk into a third bowl and season with salt and pepper. 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 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 them into the second bowl of coating. Transfer to the parchment-lined pan.
Carefully lower the thighs into the hot oil. Adjust the heat as necessary to return the oil to the proper temperature. Fry for 2 minutes, then carefully move the chicken pieces around in the oil and continue to fry, monitoring the oil temperature and turning the pieces as necessary for even cooking, for 11 to 12 minutes, until the chicken is a deep golden brown, cooked through, and very crisp. Meanwhile, coat the chicken drumsticks and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet.
Transfer the cooked thighs to the cooling rack skin-side-up and let rest while you fry the remaining chicken. (Putting the pieces skin-side-up will allow excess fat to drain, whereas leaving them skin-side-down could trap some of the fat.) Make sure that the oil is at the correct temperature, and cook the chicken drumsticks. When the drumsticks are done, lean them meat-side-up against the thighs to drain, then sprinkle the chicken with fine sea salt.
Turn up the heat and heat the oil to 340°F. Meanwhile, coat the chicken breasts and wings. Carefully lower the chicken breasts into the hot oil and fry for 7 minutes, or until golden brown, cooked through, and crisp. Transfer to the rack, sprinkle with salt, and turn skin side up. Cook the wings for 6 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer the wings to the rack and turn off the heat. Arrange the chicken on a serving platter. Add the herb sprigs to the oil (which will still be hot) and let them cook and crisp for a few seconds, then arrange them over the chicken.
Note on Chicken Size: You may need to go to a farmers’ market to get these small chickens. Grocery store chickens often run 3 to 4 pounds. They can, of course, be used in this recipe but if chickens in the 2-1/2- to 3-pound range are available to you, they’re worth seeking out. They’re a little easier to cook properly at the temperatures we recommend here and, most important, pieces this size result in the optimal meat-to-crust proportion, which is such an important part of the pleasure of fried chicken.
Note: We let the chicken rest for 7 to 10 minutes after it comes out of the fryer so that it has a chance to cool down. If the chicken has rested for longer than 10 minutes, put the tray of chicken in a 400°F oven for a minute or two to ensure that the crust is crisp and the chicken is hot.
Makes 2 gallons
* 5 lemons, halved
* 24 bay leaves
* 1 bunch (4 ounces) flat-leaf parsley
* 1 bunch (1 ounce) thyme
* 1/2 cup clover honey
* 1 head garlic, halved through the equator
* 3/4 cup black peppercorns
* 2 cups (10 ounces) kosher salt, preferably Diamond Crystal
* 2 gallons water
The key ingredient here is the lemon, which goes wonderfully with chicken, as do the herbs: bay leaf, parsley, and thyme. This amount of brine will be enough for 10 pounds.
Combine all the ingredients in a large pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and cool completely, then chill before using. The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
(From Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller
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