Monday, December 21, 2009

Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc Fried Chicken

I may not have found much time to blog the last few weeks, but that didn’t stop me from caving into a recent fried chicken craving. It must have been all of the praise on the blogosphere for Thomas Keller’s buttermilk fried chicken recipe from his latest cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home, for I just could not resist making a mess of my kitchen and giving Chef Keller’s recipe a spin of my own. The mess I created and the calories I ingested were well worth it, as the fried chicken was easily the best fried chicken I have ever had. The recipe can be found all over the Internet at this point (here’s one place to find it), so I won’t type it up again, but it is worth expanding on exactly what makes Thomas Keller’s fried chicken so perfect. What I love about his recipes, as complicated and precise as they may be, is that every ingredient and every step serve a clear purpose. There are three keys to his fried chicken recipe that make it the crispiest and most succulent fried chicken I have ever tasted:
  • The Brine: Have you ever wondered why restaurant chicken and pork is so much more juicy and so much more flavorful than what you cook at home, even when you purchase the best locally-produced, pasture-raised, all-organic, massaged-by-Cretan-virgins meat you can find? It’s not because the cooks have some magic up their sleeves. Often, it’s the restaurant is using a simple flavoring technique that you can just as easily use at home: brining. By soaking the meat in a brine for 12 hours prior to cooking it, the muscle cells will absorb the liquid of the brine via osmosis. In non-scientific words, a brine makes for supremely juicy meat. Keller does one better by adding lemon halves, thyme, parsley, garlic, and honey to the brine; the chicken soaks up all of those flavors making Keller’s fried chicken reach that pinnacle of fried birds where the meat is as delicious as the crust.
  • The Crust: To ensure an exceptionally crispy and flavorful crust, Keller instructs us to dredge the chicken in two layers of seasoned flour (with buttermilk between the two layers). The key to this technique is to make sure that you shake off the excess coating so that the crust on the chicken is crispy but not too thick. Keller spikes his flour with paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, and onion powder, which all lend the crust a nice bite.
  • The Buttermilk Coating: Like many fried chicken recipes, Keller’s calls for coating the chicken pieces in buttermilk. Although the chicken has already been brined, the buttermilk coating acts almost as a second brine, sealing in all of the chicken’s juices to ensure that very little moisture escapes as it is cooked.

What I love about Thomas Keller’s recipes, as complicated and precise as they may be, is that every ingredient and every step serve a clear purpose. The Ad Hoc at Home recipe may take more time and effort to make than your average fried chicken, but in carrying it out, you will perfect the three pillars that produce the ultimate fried chicken.

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