Beard Award Winner: General Cooking
|Thomas Keller declares, “If there's a better
fried chicken, I haven't tasted it.” The all-important secret to
the dish’s success is the first step, brining the chicken for 12
hours in a herb-lemon brine, “which seasons the meat and helps
it stay juicy.” The chicken is then dredged in seasoned flour,
dipped in buttermilk, and dredged again in the flour, a process
that yields a crust that “becomes almost feathered and is very
crisp,” Keller says.
2 1/2- to 3-pound chickens
Chicken brine (recipe follows), cold
For Dredging and Frying:
or canola oil for deep-frying
1 quart buttermilk
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
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
1.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
2. 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
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
Makes 2 gallons
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.
1. 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.