Fried chicken is something I’ll never stop trying to perfect. This version is the latest in my quest for the ideal. Fried chicken is difficult to make well, and especially tough to make for a crowd. Trying to achieve a perfectly cooked, moist interior while getting that crunchy skin with a breading that stays put is one of the things that can keep any good Southern cook up at night. This recipe is one I couldn’t be happier with. That said, since writing it down, I’ve already thought of a few new ideas!
For this recipe, I skip the common step of dipping the chicken in buttermilk. Buttermilk is delicious, but cooking buttermilk-dipped chicken creates steam. The steam blows off the breading, and you’re left with a naked piece of chicken. Nobody wants that! The most important step in the recipe is giving your chicken pieces time to sit in the breading overnight. That allows the breading to form a tight bond with the skin so that it won’t disappear as you fry it. The next day, do the second breading before your guests arrive so when you are ready to cook, you can simply grab the chicken from the breading with your tongs and put it straight into the fryer.
As an ode to the fried chicken recipe in my first book, Heritage, and to the Nashville hot chicken I love, I finish the fried pieces with a quick toss in some super-flavorful rendered fats. That adds a wonderful depth of flavor and takes the chicken from being really, really good to being really, really, really good with a little extra something your guests won’t quite be able to place.
Note: You’ll need to start this recipe up to 2 days ahead of time to brine the chicken and then refrigerate it overnight after the first breading.
8 cups water
3/4 cup kosher salt
3 tablespoons sorghum syrup, preferably Muddy Pond
One 3- to 3 1/2-pound chicken
1 1/2 dried bay leaves
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried summer savory
1/2 teaspoon Bourbon Barrel Bourbon Smoked Paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper
Canola oil for deep-frying
1 1/2 tablespoons Rendered Fresh Lard (recipe follows)
1 1/2 tablespoons Rendered Bacon Fat (recipe follows)
1/2 ounce fatty country ham scraps, preferably Bob Wood’s Country Ham Trimmings, diced
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
To brine the chicken: Put the water in a pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from the stove, add the salt and sorghum syrup, and stir until completely dissolved. Pour the brine into a nonreactive heatproof container large enough to hold the chicken, cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate until completely cold.
Cut the chicken into 8 pieces: 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 wings, and 2 breasts. Cut the skin away from the backbone, transfer the skin to a container, cover, and refrigerate. Rinse the chicken pieces with cold water, then place in the chilled brine, cover, and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or overnight.
While the chicken is in the brine, make the breading:
Place the bay leaves, sage, ginger, coriander, summer savory, paprika, nutmeg, cayenne, cardamom, and cloves in a blender and blend to a fine powder. Combine the blended spice powder, flour, salt, black pepper, and white pepper in a bowl and stir to combine well. Cover and set aside at room temperature.
After the chicken has brined, make an ice bath with equal parts ice and water in a large bowl. Place the chicken in the ice bath for 5 minutes. (The ice will help pull out impurities.) Remove the chicken, lightly rinse it under cold water, and pat it dry. Pour half the breading into a large container, add the chicken, and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to overnight. Cover the remaining breading and set aside.
The next day, fry the chicken: Preheat the oven to 200°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels. Fill a deep fryer with canola oil according to the manufacturer’s directions and heat the oil to 325°F. Alternatively, fill a deep heavy pot half full with canola oil and heat the oil over medium heat to 325°F.
Combine the reserved chicken skins, the lard, bacon fat, and country ham scraps in a small saucepan and let the fats infuse over low heat while you fry the chicken. Put the remaining breading in a large bowl.
Remove the chicken from the chilled breading and toss it lightly in the fresh breading. Working in batches to avoid crowding, fry the breasts for 6 minutes, then turn them over and fry until deep brown and crispy, about 6 minutes more. Transfer the breasts to the prepared baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Return the oil to 325°F and fry the thighs for 2 minutes. Add the drumsticks and wings and fry for another minute, turning the pieces over halfway through.
Strain the infused fats through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl and stir in the butter until melted.
To serve: Put the fried chicken in a large bowl, drizzle with the infused fats, and toss to coat.
Rendered Fresh Lard
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1 pound fresh pork fat, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup water
Combine the pork fat and water in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until all the fat has rendered and the water has completely evaporated, about 1 1/2 hours.
Strain the fat through a fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof container. Discard the browned bits in the sieve. Cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use. Tightly covered, the lard will keep for up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.
Rendered Bacon Fat
Makes about 1 cup
1 pound smoked bacon scraps, preferably Benton’s, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
Put the bacon scraps in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until all the fat has rendered, about 1 hour.
Strain the fat through a fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof container. (The browned bits can be saved and used on a salad or sprinkled on your eggs in the morning.) Cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use. Tightly covered, the bacon fat will keep for up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.
Excerpted from South by Sean Brock (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2019.
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