Tuesday, July 05, 2011
The Fourth of July is probably my family's favorite holiday. Growing up we really threw ourselves into the fireworks, the parades, and the food--and to this day I have to make sure we celebrate the holiday properly. This year we spent the day at the pool and then had friends over to eat fried chicken and biscuits, watermelon and corn on the cob...totally classic. It absolutely poured rain though, so the fireworks were kind of a bust. But we had this delicious pan-fried chicken to make up for it--the recipe comes from The Gift of Southern Cooking, by Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis. Scott Peacock used to be the chef at Watershed Restaurant here in town which is justifiably legendary for their fabulous fried chicken served every Tuesday evening. Making it at home takes a little effort and planning ahead but it's totally worth it, especially for the best holiday of the year.Start with a 3 pound chicken (these days I only buy from Springer Mountain Farms) cut up into 8 serving pieces. Make enough brine to cover the pieces--for this amount, 2 quarts of water mixed with 1/2 cup kosher salt will be enough.That's why this recipe takes so long--it's all the time needed for brining. Let it sit 8-12 hours in the fridge (basically put it together before you go to bed the night before and you'll be fine). The salty brine really needs the time to get in there to make the chicken unbelievably juicy and tender. Bright and early the next morning (or 8-12 hours before dinnertime, whichever comes first), drain the chicken from the brine...Fail to plan ahead adequately and make a run to Kroger for buttermilk (but it's OK because that means you can get some doughnuts for breakfast!).Pour one quart of buttermilk over the drained chicken pieces.And let it all soak in the fridge for another 8-12 hours. Again, as with the salty brine you made earlier, the buttermilk just needs some time to get in there to tenderize and add its unmistakable flavor. You should go to the pool in the meanwhile. After enough time has elapsed, you can go ahead and drain the buttermilk off 'cause you are ready to fry!Well, almost ready. There's a lot of preparation involved in making proper fried chicken, in case you hadn't noticed. You need to get your fat right. At Watershed they use a combo of 1 stick butter and 1 pound lard but I don't really have any lard, generally speaking. So I used 1 stick of butter together with all of my saved up bacon fat.Melt the fat and the butter together and cook over low heat for 30 minutes, skimming off any milk fat solids from the butter that rise to the surface. When you are ready to start frying, heat it up over medium-high until it is sizzling. The original recipe calls for the frying fat to be at 350 degrees, in case you have a thermometer handy.Mix together 1 cup flour, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dredge your chicken pieces one by one in this mixture, tapping off any excess. And set aside on a plate. OK, you have your chicken all ready to go and your fat is all prepared--now it is time to fry. For real this time!Fry the chicken on each side until it is a gorgeous golden-brown, 8-10 minutes per side. You do not want to crowd the pieces in--give them lots of room and be sure to cook in batches if needed! I needed to do mine in 2 batches and I do have a very large pan, so adjust as needed for your size of kitchen equipment. I also ended up turning on two burners to keep an even heat--this will only work if you have a large pan and a stovetop that permits a pan to fit over at least 2 burners at once.When both sides are lovely and browned, remove and drain the pieces on a wire rack over some newspaper to catch all the drips.I thought I'd need to, but in the end didn't end up keeping it warm in the oven or anything like that between batches. It stayed crispier that way and was perfectly flavorful simply warm or at room temperature. Serve with honey and fresh biscuits. Phil makes great biscuits--he cuts in the butter by hand and uses yogurt to mix them together. I should get him to do a guest post sometime :)Enjoy your chicken--every last piece! It makes a perfect new Fourth of July tradition.