Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fried Chicken

If I were to use last night's potluck as grist for a scenewriting mill, the soundtrack would be this:

my Arkansas family singing an old gospel song:

I'll meet you in the morning with a "how do you do" and we'll sit down by the river and with rapture auld acquaintance renew...

over which the laughter of friends, the snippets of conversation, and the sizzle of chicken frying could be heard.

The occasion was a "Southern" potluck, right here in Seattle. My home and my home, a gentle collision. There was a theme, represented by fried chicken, biscuits, collards, Red Velvet Cake, and the like. There were variations: the Southern classics inflected by the region in which they were being prepared; the dishes designed to make me twitch (SUGAR! in CORNBREAD!); the fanciful and joyous interpretations of what might be Southern, if that cookbook or this friend had given good direction.

What was JUST like a Southern potluck was the celebration of the simplest of fare. Beans. Greens. Cornmeal. Chicken wings. Sweet Potatoes. And what was not at all like a Southern potluck? My bottle of pepper sauce was as full as when I brought it. I swear, y'all. It would have been DOUSED on beans and greens back home. That bottle would have been empty 5 people into a line at a dinner-on-the-ground. We'll have a do-over. And next time I'll baptize each and every one of you with pepper sauce.

Here is my preparation for fried chicken. It's not crispy--more like tooth-cracking crunchy, so beware if you have dentures.

Fried Chicken

Get a butcher to break down your chicken thusly:

legs, thighs, wings, breasts cut in half, necks separated from body; backs cut in half; giblets.

Day 1, evening: prepare a brine of roughly 1 gallon of water and 1 cup of kosher salt. Bring to a boil and dissolve salt. Take from stove and throw in a lemon, halved, and a couple of bay leaves.  Let chill overnight.

Day 2, morning: put your chicken in large ziploc bags (I bag it with chicken pieces in one and giblets separate) and ladle in brine. Chill all day.

Day 2, evening: rinse off chicken and drain. In a very large bowl, stir 2-3 T. of Louisiana Hot Sauce or Sriracha (or similar) into 1/2 gallon of buttermilk. Place chicken (innards can now be reunited with the, um, outards) in the buttermilk and stir to coat. Cover and chill overnight.

Day 3, morning: turn the chicken and return to the refrigerator.

Day 3, evening: Toss chicken piece by piece in all-purpose flour and place in clean bags. Let sit for a bit--you're trying to develop almost a paste more than a "batter"--it will be sticky.

Heat fat (about 1/2 inch deep) in a large iron skillet until a speck of flour sizzles immediately in it. I use a ratio of about 60% lard, 30% peanut oil, and 10% bacon drippings. I stand by this combination of fat types, but sure, play around.

While the fat is heating up, take the chicken out and dredge it one more time, this time in White Lily® flour (or another low-gluten flour--you could use pastry flour or cornstarch in a pinch), and shake off excess flour. Lower skin side down into the fat. Watch your heat--as you're adding the chicken, you want to maintain an even fry, so you might have to increase the flame at this stage and then ratchet it back down again.  Do NOT flip the chicken again and again. Let it cook until the bottom is a deep golden brown and THEN turn it. When the other side is done, take it out and drain it skin side up on a rack, salting lightly. Fry the giblets last, and create a diversion so that you can have the gizzard before anyone else notices there is one.

If you want to make gravy, pour off almost all the fat, but keep the brown crispies in the skillet. Add an equal amount of flour and stir well (and continuously). When the flour has turned golden brown, slowly add a couple of cups of whole milk or (gasp) half-and-half or (GASP) cream. Immediately start stirring to smooth out lumps--it'll thicken up pretty quickly, so you need to work fast. Taste for salt and then add a LOT of fresh black pepper just before you pour it up into a bowl. Finally, hope that someone else has made some mashed potatoes or hot biscuits, because you will be in a lather from frying the chicken. Sit down and pass everything around and give thanks for the chickens and for the friends or family who are around your table with you. Worry about the clean-up later.




Julie Whitehorn said...

Jenifer, the only thing wrong with your beyond-the-beyond chicken was I ate it standing up, from a paper plate, while trying to hold my own in a conversation with Janna's boyfriend about Indonesia, which will now forever be associated (in my mind) with mindblowing, fried chicken ecstasy. As if Indonesia didn't have enough going for it already.

Great chicken. Great post. Thank you for your generosity with food and words and experiences.

Uzi said...

3 day chicken! wow! and the gizzards diversion will not be a problem in my family as thankfully, I am the only one that likes it. Great post.