A bird in the hand

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 November, 2010, 12:00am

I've yet to meet a meat eater who would say no to fried chicken. What's not to like? Made well, it has crisp skin and moist, well-seasoned meat. Even cold, leftover fried chicken tastes good, so I always make extra.

Fried chicken (pictured)

Friends who have eaten at Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc restaurant in Yountville, California, have told me the my fried chicken is as good as his. It should be - I use a recipe loosely based on the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook.

In the book, Keller wet-brines the chicken overnight. However, this requires a lot of fridge space, so I dry-brine it instead. I also air-dry the chicken after dipping it in buttermilk and dredging it in flour. This helps the coating to 'set' better and keeps it crisp for longer after frying.

I use fresh local chickens, which, at about 1.5kg each, are smaller than frozen varieties from the United States, Brazil and Holland.

3 fresh local chickens

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

The juice and finely grated zest of one lemon

3 thyme sprigs, broken into smaller pieces

2 bay leaves, torn

6 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed

Oil, for frying

For the coating:

About 500ml buttermilk, or more as needed

850 grams flour

30 grams garlic powder

30 grams onion powder

8 grams paprika

8 grams cayenne pepper

1 tbsp fine sea salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

Remove the neck, feet and wing tips from the chicken (keep them in a freezer bag to make stock). Cut off the legs where the thigh meets the carcass, then joint each one into a thigh and a drumstick. Remove the wings. Separate the back of the chicken from the front and chop the back into two pieces (set aside the bony upper part for stock). Cut the breast in half at the breast bone.

When you're finished, each chicken will be in nine pieces that can be fried: two breasts, two thighs, two drumsticks and two wings, plus the lower back. Lay the chicken pieces on a work surface and season lightly but evenly with salt and pepper, then turn them over and season the back.

Put the pieces into a large bowl and add the lemon juice and zest, thyme, bay leaves and garlic cloves. Mix with your hands until thoroughly combined. Transfer the chicken into two large freezer bags, seal tightly and refrigerate for at least eight hours, mixing occasionally.

Thoroughly combine the flour with the garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne and salt and pepper. Divide about half this mixture between two shallow bowls. Pour the buttermilk into a third bowl. Set up your work station so you have a bowl of seasoned flour, the bowl of buttermilk, a second bowl of seasoned flour, then racks on which the chicken can be air-dried.

Remove the chicken from the fridge. Use your fingers to wipe each piece clean of the herbs and garlic. Dip each piece into the flour mixture, shake off the excess, dip in buttermilk, then dip in the second bowl of flour. Shake off the excess then place the chicken skin-side up on the drying rack. Add more seasoned flour to the bowls as needed.

After coating all of the chicken, let it air-dry at room temperature for about an hour (turn on the air-conditioner if it's warm).

Pour oil to a depth of about 3.5cm in a skillet and heat to 180 degrees Celsius. Do not crowd the pan; fry the chicken in batches. Using two skillets will make the frying faster.

It's preferable to group the chicken parts for cooking - fry all the thighs together, then all the breasts, and so on - so each batch cooks in about the same time.

Let the cooked chicken pieces drain on paper towels then pile on a platter.

Chinese fried chicken

When I was growing up in California, my family belonged to the Kau Kong (nine rivers) village association. At the biannual lunches, in the 'village hall' in Chinatown, the main part of the meal was always chow mein (cooked by my father) and fried chicken, made by a grumpy old man everyone called Uncle Gee. He never let anyone in the kitchen when he was making his chicken, which was crisp, oily and wonderful. This is as close to his recipe as I've been able to get.

2 chickens, cut up as above

300ml soy sauce

100ml rice wine

4 large garlic cloves, minced

A 1cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely julienned

For the batter:

130 grams plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for coating the chicken

130 grams cornstarch

Seltzer water, as needed, chilled

Oil, for frying

Mix together the soy sauce, rice wine, garlic and ginger, pour over the chicken and coat each piece thoroughly. Wrap with cling-film and refrigerate for at least eight hours, mixing frequently.

Mix the flour with the cornstarch. Add enough chilled seltzer water to create a thin batter that can lightly coat a wooden spoon. Pour oil to a depth of 6cm in a pan and heat to 180 degrees.

Drain the chicken pieces then dip them into a bowl of plain flour and shake off the excess. Dip the pieces into the batter and deep fry at 180 degrees or until they're cooked through and the batter is deep brown. Drain on paper towels before serving.

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