I’ve made fried chicken many times. I’ve made good fried chicken many times. I made exceptional fried chicken for the first time. What was the difference between the chicken I’d been making and the chicken I will make from here on out? A little thing called brine.
I’d heard of brine before now. Deb at Smitten Kitchen extolled the virtues of brine here and here. I just hadn’t ever tried it, fearing it would make the chicken too salty. I then read Thomas Keller’s recipe in his Ad Hoc at Home cookbook.
Brining a chicken, whether you are sauteing it, roasting it or frying it, imparts a delicious, flavorful moisture to the finished product. It’s a big payoff for a little morning preparation. There are several recipes for brine, and though I can’t attest to their flavor, this one has a mild, citrus taste. The seasoning can be appreciated all the way down to the bone, which is nice if you are using the 4 pound chickens available at grocery stores. These larger birds have a large meat to skin ratio, so without brining, once you got past the skin, you’d be left with a fairly bland piece of chicken.
Having tasted brining, I don’t think I could go back to plain chicken. The recipe is simple and the finished product is amazing. I hope you’ll try it soon.
Thomas Keller’s Fried Chicken
adapted only slightly
- 1 gallon water
- 5 ounces kosher salt – it is important to weigh your salt because different brands are different weights for the same measurement
- 2 lemons, well scrubbed and cut in half
- 1 large head of garlic cut crosswise, in half
- 2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 12 bay leaves
Combine all ingredient in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and stir all the ingredients. Cool the brine in the refrigerator overnight.
Cut chicken into 8-10 pieces, or buy pre-cut chicken pieces. Place cut chicken in a 1 gallon ziplock bag, or a large bowl and cover with cooled brine. Refrigerate for 6-12 hours. I stopped at six, Mr. Keller recommends 12. I found six hours imparted plenty of flavor.
Ingredients for fried chicken:
- whole fryer chicken cut into 8-10 pieces
- canola oil (enough to fill a deep fryer with at least two inches of oil)
- 1 quart buttermilk
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 6 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup garlic powder
- 1/4 cup onion powder
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon paprika
- 2 tablespoons cayenne
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
Remove the chicken from the brine and rinse under cold water. Place chicken on a rack to drain and let air dry. Let the chicken rest at room temperature for 1-1.5 hours, until it is at room temperature.
Once the chicken is ready, ready your staging area. Fill a deep fryer or a deep pot with 2-3 inches of oil, making sure that the oil takes up no more than 1/3 of the pot. Heat oil to 310-320 degrees F. In a medium bowl, pour buttermilk and season with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, combine flour, and remaining spices. Mix well with a fork, then pour half of the flour mixture into a separate large bowl. Place a rack over a baking sheet and set aside for draining cooked chicken. Optionally, you can place a parchment lined baking sheet to hold dredged chicken prior to frying. Arrange everything for an organized work flow.
Once the oil is heated, begin the dredging process with the dark meat first. Only dredge the pieces you are frying. This makes for an extra crispy finished product. Dip the chicken into the flour mixture until well coated, shaking to remove any extra coating. Dip the coated chicken into the buttermilk mixture to coat, then into the second bowl of flour mixture, making sure all of the buttermilk is covered with flour. Transfer to the parchment lined baking sheet or into the fryer. Fry for two minutes, then move the pieces around to ensure even frying. Cook for 11-15 minutes until chicken is deep golden brown and cooked throughout. Monitor oil temperature to ensure chicken cooks thoroughly without over-browning the skin. Cook all dark meat pieces first, following the same instructions. Drain chicken well and let rest for 10 minutes. If you are not going to eat it until all the chicken is cooked, you can put the tray in a 400 degree oven while you cook the remaining chicken.
For the white meat, turn the oil temperature up to 340 degrees, repeat the dredging and frying process, cooking pieces for about 7-10 minutes for breasts and 6 minutes for wings, until all the pieces are fried. You can sprinkle fine sea salt on the chicken after frying if you wish. I served this with a garden salad, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. Delicious!