December 31, 2013

Thomas Keller - The Day After (The Brining) - Frying the Chicken

The next day, March 31, (and we're talking an early rise at 7:00) was the day to begin the next phase of experiments. I drained the brine and rinsed the chicken and dried it with a thick towel, returning it to the  refrigerator. I then poured some buttermilk into one tray, plain AP flour into another, and began heating vegetable oil in a pan.

Would the marinade make any difference? Could I taste the marinade seasonings? To investigate this I left the flour unseasoned. I dipped the chicken into the flour, then into the buttermilk, shook off the excess and dipped into the flour a second time and then put the pieces into the deep fryer. Tasting the result I can confirm, yes, the brine makes a world of difference. I had been so concerned about the salt content of the brine, but with the rinsing and drying, it wasn't too bad. So, yes to brining the chicken.

I then seasoned the flour for the next test. What would the onion powder, garlic powder and cayenne do to the chicken? Would the flavor change? Yes, and in my opinion, not in a good way. The heavy taste of the garlic powder and the onion powder left a sour taste on my tongue. Now, some quizzes indicate that I am a super-taster, meaning, I can taste sour flavors more than others. But my wife, Irene, did not like the taste either and described it as "metallic". For me, I would either reduce the amount to a fourth or just leave out the garlic and onion powder altogether. Onion powder at a minimum. I just didn't like it. Salt-wise, I just added a small sprinkle of Kosher salt to the flour. Additional note: for flavor, my favorite has just been what one gets with a healthy dosing of Louisiana hot sauce and not much else. Additional note: Both Irene and I really liked a fried chicken with freshly minced garlic in the buttermilk marinade (as opposed to a brine).

What about the crust? Son of a gun. It produced a crispy, crackly crust almost identical to the crust that I experienced at one of the local restaurants that claimed to use the Keller recipe. And sure enough, a lot of oil was absorbed in the crust. A lot. If you like this kind of chicken crust, you better use the freshest, most neutral oil that you can. And it needs to be served to your guests immediately.

Now that brings me to a new theory. This recipe does not soak the chicken in buttermilk for several hours. And it does not call for a double dipping of the buttermilk and flour. That leads me to theorize that both of these steps (the classic double dip especially) develop the gluten more such that a better barrier for the batter is formed.

Is it a good recipe? The Thomas Keller Bouchon / Ad Hoc recipe? Yes. With reservations. I would definitely reduce the onion and garlic powder in the seasoned flour.  I would also dredge the dried chicken in the flour, then in the buttermilk, then back to the flour. Or, even go back to the double dip with the chicken in a buttermilk marinade and two passes at the flour.

Nashville Hot Chicken: At the same time that I was working on the above, I followed a recipe for the "gravy" one pours over the chicken for this style. It consisted of 2 tbs. of lard, 3 tbs cayenne, 1 tbs garlic powder, some salt and 1 tsp. of sugar. Heated. The sugar doesn't dissolve and that raises a flag. Basically this is just an intense cayenne pour over. So, it's interesting from a cultural and historic perspective but not fantastic.

Whole Garlic Cloves: Separating the peel from the garlic. The Keller recipe calls for a whole garlic head in the brine, skin intact but crushed lightly. In messing with this I discovered that if I use a heavier wooden French style rolling pin to slam the garlic cloves, the shock removes the skin with very little effort. What a great trick to discover for when you are doing a lot of garlic.

Lesson Learned: I do not like the seasoned flour in the Keller recipe (2 tbs. garlic powder, 2 tbs. onion powder, 2 tsp. cayenne, salt to taste).

Here follows, the recipe from Ad Hoc at Home as published on the site for the cookbook:

From Ad Hoc at Home: Buttermilk Fried Chicken 
If there's a better fried chicken, I haven't tasted it. First, and critically, the chicken is brined for 12 hours in a herb-lemon brine, which seasons the meat and helps it stay juicy. The flour is seasoned with garlic and onion powders, paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper. The chicken is dredged in the seasoned flour, dipped in buttermilk, and then dredged again in the flour. The crust becomes almost feathered and is very crisp. Fried chicken is a great American tradition that’s fallen out of favor. A taste of this, and you will want it back in your weekly routine. --Thomas Keller
(Serves 4-6)

  • 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

  • Coating
  • 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.
Chicken Brine
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.

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