I mean, fried chicken. Do I really have to say anything else to get you to come to this party? Just those two words, and mouths water, stomachs grumble, and napkins steady themselves for the work ahead. There aren't many dishes as iconic, as cultish, or as personal. It's the thing fast-food empires are built on and everybody's mama makes the best version of.
Historically and belovedly low-brow, in the last few years, fried chicken has moved beyond Sunday dinners in the South and greasy buckets at a tailgate, and is holding its own on fine-dining menus across the country. And why not? It's so good. Lee Brian Schrager, who is best known as the creator of the Food Network South Beach and New York City Wine & Food Festivals, has a soft spot for the crunchy stuff, as so many of us do. He, however, had the smarts and resources (and digestive fortitude, apparently) to sleuth and secure the recipes for some of the most delicious fried chicken this nation has to offer, from highbrow chefs and hole-in-the-wall chicken shacks both, for his new book, Fried & True: More than 50 Recipes for America's Best Fried Chicken and Sides.
Fried chicken can be as simple as throwing unembellished chicken parts into a pan of hot oil, or as involved as a brining, dipping, dredging, and more. This book showcases many versions, and the techniques, and even ingredients, vary wildly from bird to bird: No brine, wet brine, dry brine, buttermilk soak, air-chill. No flour, all-purpose, self-rising, rice, White Lily, cornstarch, potato starch, cornmeal. Naked, one dip in flour, or two. Room-temp or super-chilled chicken. Skillet or deep-fry in various temperatures of canola oil, vegetable oil, peanut oil, oil flavored with butter, or lard, or country ham, or herbs...You get the idea.
The recipes in the book are divided into four chapters that speak to the tabula rosa nature of the medium. There's the chapter called Southern Inspiration, which pulls from the historical epicenter of the fried chicken frenzy, coaxing classic recipes from the likes of Arnold's Country Kitchen in Tennessee (quick dry-brine, dipped, dredged, chilled, then dredged again) and Tyler Florence (originally from South Carolina, who flavors his frying oil with fresh herbs and garlic). Schrager's friend Thomas Keller makes an appearance in this chapter, as well, with the recipe for the Southern-style fried chicken he serves at his California bistro, Ad Hoc (herb-and-lemon infused brine, meticulous technique). Institutions in Atlanta, New Orleans, and Nashville all get their due and share their recipes for sides like dirty rice, candied yams, and fried green tomatoes.
The next chapter, American Originals, is the catch-all for birds that are not easily pigeonholed. Here, Schrager compiles recipes that have international or modern touches, like Marcus Samuelsson's Coconut Fried Chicken (brined in coffee and lemon juice, sautéed and simmered in a spicy coconut milk/buttermilk/coffee/lime juice mixture before breading and quickly frying). Then there's the very next thing I want to cook, Asha Gomez' Keralan Fried Chicken (marinated in garlicky, gingery, fiery buttermilk and drizzled with melted coconut oil after frying). In fact, there are so many recipes in this chapter in particular that I can't wait to try, like peanut-y Senegalese Chicken, Smashed Garlic Fried Chicken, and Sweet Tea-Brined Chicken, for starters. (I know I'm going all Forest Gump on this one, but they just all sound so fantastic.)
Schrager then gives us the chapter Pacific Rim Flavors, to touch on some of the Asian-inspired fried chicken that has become it's own faddish phenomenon. Some highlights: Nathan Myhrvold contributes Korean-style chicken wings, which he dredges in potato starch and Wondra flour for ultimate crunch. Co-owner of NYC's Red Farm, Ed Schoenfeld, triple-fries hunks of dark meat for sweet-tangy General Tso's Chicken, and Filipino restaurant Maharlika shares a batterless fried chicken that gets its crispy exterior from seasoned egg whites.
Finally, the chapter to wrap it all up in a grease-splattered package: Sandwiches, Wings, Li'l Bits, and Special Diets. I'll resist detailing every single delectable recipe in this chapter, but this is where you'll find Buffalo wings, fried chicken tacos, Yotam Ottolenghi's schnitzel, Sean Brock's fried chicken skins, and Son of a Gun's chicken sandwich. And in case you need them, there's oven-fried, gluten-free, and even vegetarian recipes, too.
After working through all these recipes, Schrager distills essential wisdoms into Fried Chicken 101, which gives reasoning behind many of the techniques and tips for successful frying, like maintaining the proper oil temperature or buying a pre-salted Kosher chicken if you don't have time to brine. There's also a useful Master Frying Chart, comparing the crucial points of each recipe (brine, time, sides, etc). Fried & True is co-authored by noted food writer, Adeena Sussman, who undoubtedly contributed her expertise to the easy-to-follow recipes, and Evan Sung took vibrant, lusty photos of the birds in all their copper-toned glory. It's an easy read and an extensive, though certainly not exhaustive, look at one of America's favorite foods.
I had a terrible time choosing the recipes to test this week! (Poor me.) I finally decided to represent a chapter each day, and accept the hard fact that I couldn't share every single recipe with you. We'll start with a killer version of Nashville's iconic fried chicken, Hattie B's Hot Chicken, which gets a powerful coating of cayenne-packed hot oil after coming out of the fryer. Then we'll go high-lowbrow with a faithful recreation of Popeyes-Style Chicken Tenders and Biscuits from none other than WD-50 chef Wylie Dufresne. Next, we'll make Charles Phan's Hard Water's Fried Chicken, because how could I pass up turmeric and coriander-laced chicken draped with tangy, irresistible Sriracha butter. And if you have leftovers, Hugh Acheson's Fried Chicken Salad (not fried chicken ON a salad, but AS chicken salad, mind you) is a great way to use up fried chicken from the night before, though the chicken thighs he fries for the recipe are terrific in themselves.
Win a Copy!
As usual, we are giving away 5 copies of Fried & True this week, thanks to our friends at Clarkson Potter. Tell us how you (or your mama) like to fry your bird in the comments below.
Reprinted from Fried & True by Lee Schrager with Adeena Sussman. Copyright (c) 2014 by Lee Schrager. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, a division of Random House, LLC.