Almost every Sunday we cook a whole chicken for dinner. There’s something about a roast with veggies and a nice bottle of wine on a Sunday evening that I find very comforting.
At least 30 times a year, we use the Thomas Keller method: a tablespoon of kosher salt carefully sprinkled over a whole chicken, tucked into a very hot oven for an hour. That’s it. Two ingredients, one oven setting. It doesn’t get easier and it doesn’t get much tastier.
In the summer, I’ll cut the backbone out of the chicken and press it flat (known as spatchcocking). On a gas or charcoal grill it’s done in 45 minutes (turn it every 15 mins: skin side up, skin side down, skin side up).
Rarely do I deep fry the bird. This is partly due to the prep work, partly due to the potential mess, but mostly it’s due to my fear of becoming addicted to the savoury crunchy golden crust and the ever-so-moist meat within. And while becoming addicted to fried chicken might make me incredibly happy, it would also do very bad things for my health.
So this chicken remains a once or twice a year treat and it’s something I treated my family to last Sunday.
Yes, it’s a bit of a challenge with numerous steps, but it produces a damn tasty dinner, and I think it’s worth the extra effort in the kitchen every once in a while.
A few notes on the recipe:
The recipe has four steps: breaking down the bird, brining, dredging and frying. I suppose you could skip the brining stage, but if you’re going to go all-in on frying up a chicken, you might as well take the extra step to brine it, especially as it’s as easy as sautéing some salty onions and letting water cool.
If you don’t feel confident in breaking down a whole chicken into 10 pieces (two thighs, two drumsticks, four half-breasts and two wings) you can just buy an assortment of your favourite chicken parts (though it is much cheaper to buy the whole bird and cut it up yourself—you can also make a terrific soup out of the carcass).
We ate this fried chicken at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in California and the recipe is extremely close to the original. Michael Ruhlman wrote the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook and the ever so awesome people at Food 52 have posted their variation on it here with a lot of great photos and step-by-step too.
This version is an amalgam of the Keller original and the Food 52 variant—I prefer the spices in the Keller recipe to those of the Food52 (for some reason, they omit the onion and garlic powder) but that’s the only real change.
You can brine the chicken for as much as a day or for as little as a few hours. I usually make the brine early Sunday morning, leaving the chicken about 8 hours to soak.
1 onion, sliced very thin
4 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons kosher salt
4 cups (1 litre) water
2 sprigs rosemary
One lemon, halved
1 Whole chicken, cut into 10 parts (or any combo of chicken thighs, drumsticks, and boneless breasts)
2 cups of all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 tablespoons fine salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 cups buttermilk
Neutral, high-heat oil for deep-frying (like canola)
1. For the brine, in a large stockpot over medium heat, sauté the onion until it starts to turn translucent—about four minutes. Add the crushed garlic and stir, cooking for a minute or so (do not let the garlic brown—it will turn bitter). Add the kosher salt and stir again—the salt will draw the moisture from the onions and garlic, expediting the cooking process. A minute or so later, add the rosemary and cook for 30 seconds. Add the water, squeeze the lemon juice into the water and then add the lemon halves to the brine. Bring to a boil and then remove from the heat and allow to cool (you can refrigerate until chilled or cool it quickly over an ice bath).
2. Submerge the chicken parts in the cooled brine and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours.
3. Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse under cold water, pat dry with paper towels and set on a rack. For ideal results, you’ll let the chicken dry in the refrigerator for another 24 hours, but this all seems a bit much. I just get it dry and ready to fry.
4. Combine all of the dry ingredients, mix well, and divide into two large flat containers. I find pie plates are ideal for dredging the chicken. Pour the buttermilk into a bowl.
5. Heat oil in a pan for deep-frying to 350F and set the oven to 250F
6. Dredge the chicken in the first pie plate of the flour mixture, shake off any excess, dip it in the buttermilk, and then dredge them aggressively in the second bowl of flour. Place the double-coated chicken parts on a rack (I used a perforated pizza pan over a cookie sheet. Any racking system will do) until ready to fry.
7. I cook the dark meat first as it takes longer—carefully place as many chicken pieces as you can without crowding into the hot oil. Let it sit for two minutes and then gently stir/flip the chicken to make sure it cooks on all sides.
8. Thighs will take 12 to 13 minutes; drumsticks will take about 11; wings and breasts (cut into halves) will require about 10. As the pieces are cooked, transfer them to a rack in a 250F oven to keep them warm.
9. Before serving, I like to sprinkle the chicken with Maldon Salt, but kosher salt is good too.
We enjoyed our fried chicken with a roasted beet and arugula salad, sautéed kale and a bottle of Cava.