“If there’s a better fried chicken out there, I haven’t tasted it.”
— Thomas Keller, Ad Hoc at Home
To be honest, I still have a torrid love affair with BonChon’s Soy Garlic Fried Chicken, but Thomas Keller has a point. His buttermilk fried chicken is the most incredible, traditional American-style fried chicken I have ever tasted. It’s the crème de la crème of American fried chicken; for those in NYC, I rate it beyond the Dutch’s and beyond Momofuku Noodle’s. And yes, I realize that sounds a bit conceited because I have only tasted what I have cooked following his recipe, but he is the creator– I just executed. Thomas Keller makes me awesome.
I had bought an unnecessarily large quart of buttermilk to make a Buttermilk Chive Dressing, and had been debating on how to utilize it before its expiration. When I had first bought Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home cookbook, the first recipe that caught my eye and stomach was his Buttermilk Fried Chicken. I had dismissed it because of my loose “no frying” rule, but I must have gotten incepted these past few months. I hate to admit it, but I think I bought the larger size knowing full well I’d have to find a recipe that required a good amount of buttermilk…
Since I had already given in to the dark side, I figured why not fall ever further with Thomas Keller’s Buttermilk Biscuits. And why not push it even further and glaze the biscuits with honey butter like Andrew Carmellini (The Dutch, Locanda Verde) does for his “World’s Best Biscuits — End of Story” recipe. Yes, that is the name.
To lighten the buttermilk load, I decided to serve this with a savory but refreshing Roasted Vegetable Salad. We basically roasted a bunch of diced butternut squash, bell peppers, onions, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, and herbs and tossed them with a leafy mesclun mix.
I think the hardest part of this recipe (besides justifying deep-frying in my mind in general) was maintaining the proper temperature of the hot oil. Keller is very specific about the temperatures needed per chicken part, and I was like a sentinel carefully watching my little food thermometer fluctuate with every addition and movement. It was an exhausting meal that I spent three days preparing. Tuesday night I made the chicken brine and left to refrigerate. Wednesday night I butchered the chickens, utilizing what I learned at my Institute of Culinary Education’s Knife Skills 2 class just the weekend before. (Side note: Knife Skills 1 & 2 are amazing technique classes by the way, if you are ever in the city and want to brush up on some skills!) Thursday morning before work, I added the chicken pieces to my brine so they would be ready to take out 12 hours later when I got home from work. Thursday evening was frying time and by night it was eating time! I invited a bunch of friends to partake in the Fried Chicken Fest and a friend had commented that the chicken had “pivotally changed [our] relationship.”
Note on chicken size: Keller’s recipe calls for two 2 1/2- to 3-pound chickens. He writes: “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 importantly, pieces of this size result in the optimal meat-to-crust proportion, which is a such an important part of the pleasure of fried chicken.”
I just bought the smallest chickens I could find at Whole Foods, which were about 3 3/4 lbs each. The amount of brine, coating, and dredging ingredients are still plenty for this upped size of poultry.
Thomas Keller’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken (from Ad Hoc at Home)
Yields: 4-6 servings
- two 2 1/2 to 3 lb chickens
- ground fleur de sel or fine sea salt
- rosemary and thyme sprigs for garnish
Chicken Brine: (makes 2 gallons; this is enough for up to 10 lbs of chicken)
- 5 lemons, halved
- 12 bay leaves
- 1 bunch (4 oz) flat-leaf parsley
- 1 bunch (1 oz) thyme
- 1/2 C honey (Keller uses clover honey)
- 1 head garlic, halved through the equator
- 1/2 C black peppercorns
- 2 C (10 oz) kosher salt (Keller prefers Diamond Crystal kosher salt)
- 2 gallons water
For Dredging and Frying:
- peanut or canola oil for deep-frying
- 1 quart buttermilk
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6 C all-purpose flour
- 1/4 C garlic powder
- 1/4 C onion powder
- 1 T + 1 tsp paprika
- 1 T + 1 tsp cayenne
- 1 T + 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp freshly black ground pepper
Combine all the brine 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.
Keller cuts his chickens into 10 pieces: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 4 breast quarters, and 2 wings. I did a 12-piece cut on my chicken, which I had learned at my ICE Knife Skills class. I had never done any butchering before but had happened to take this class just a few days before I decided to tackle this fried chicken recipe. I think receiving proper hands-on instruction is best, but I will try to explain the process as best as I can here!
Place the chicken on its back with its legs facing toward you. 1) Cut off the wings at the joint that attaches them to the breast. 2) Pull the skin taut over the backbone and cut a straight line over the backbone. 3) Using a thin flexible knife (boning knife if you have one), cut the breast away from the backbone with long, clean slices. Use your other hand to push the meat aside as you continue to remove the meat from the breastplate. 4) Grasp the thigh firmly and push the thigh joint up with your finger — the thigh joint should pop straight out. Find the wing joint connected to the shoulder and you should be able to cut one straight line all the way down to the thigh joint. Cut to separate the breast and thigh.
5) Cut through the joint to separate the breast and shoulder. Cut each breast piece crosswise in half. Cut through the joint connecting each thigh and drumstick. You will have 12 pieces of chicken. Note: In the photo below, I only have 10 pieces as I didn’t cut the breasts in half yet. Trim the fat as desired.
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 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 of 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 (I only had wax paper).
Just before frying, dip the chicken thighs into the first bowls of coating, turning to coat and patting off the excess; then 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.) 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 to 340°F for the chicken breasts and wings. Coat then fry for about 7 minutes for the breasts and 6 minutes for the wings, or until golden brown, cooked through and crisp. Transfer to the rack, sprinkle with salt, and turn skin side up. Turn off the heat. Add the herb sprigs to the still-hot oil and let them cook and crisp for a few seconds, then drain.
Arrange the chicken on a serving platter and the fried herbs over the chicken. We served the chicken with a honey-glazed version of Thomas Keller’s Buttermilk Biscuits and a Roasted Vegetable Salad.