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Cook the Book: Ad Hoc's Buttermilk Fried Chicken

"The equation makes perfect sense: a great brine, a dip in buttermilk, and an intensely flavored coating."

[Photograph: Caroline Russock]

A few months back I read Lucy Baker's review of Ad Hoc's Fried Chicken Mix and basically ran out the door to the nearest Williams-Sonoma to pick up a bag to try it for myself. Lucy wasn't a big fan of fried chicken before she tried Thomas Keller's version but quickly became a convert. As Lucy can attest, it's pretty incredible. The brine flavors the chicken down to the bone and the coating defies nature with its unearthly crispness.

But if mixes aren't your thing, you can find the recipe for Keller's Buttermilk Fried Chicken in Ad Hoc at Home.

It all starts with an unorthodox brine. The list of ingredients is long but the labor is minimal. Even before the chicken goes in, it smells incredible. Lemons, honey, garlic, thyme, parsley, and more bay leaves than I've ever used in one sitting—it's all combined with a 12-hour soak to make sure your chicken has no chance of blandness.

The next step is to dry the chicken and bring it to room temperature. This is an important step since wet, cold chicken is a guaranteed frying disaster. Once your chicken is properly toweled off it gets dipped in buttermilk, then in the spiced flour mixture. Onion and garlic powder are two things that I don't normally associate with high-end cooking but in this case they are just right. Combined with cayenne, paprika, and freshly ground black pepper, they make for a perfectly spiced coating.

Frying is where Keller's expertise really comes into play. Amateur fryers might not give a second thought to the order in which pieces of chicken are fried but it makes a huge difference in frying time. Thighs and drumsticks first, followed by the breasts and wings, this way each piece is allowed to cook at its ideal heat and rate. Keller provides exact cooking times and temperatures for each chicken portion.

After the last piece of chicken was extracted from the pot of oil, a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme get fried for a garnish. This might seem like a superfluous touch but the crunchy herbs make a great addition to the chicken.

There was no question the chicken would taste good but what I really wanted to know was if the crust would be as shatteringly crisp as it was with the mix. Happily the answer was yes.

It was almost identical to the prepackaged mix—not all that surprising since the ingredients are identical and I'd be willing to wager that the proportions are pretty similar too.

The moral of this story: There is no need to go out and buy a $15 bag of fried chicken mix (even if the packaging is quite appealing) since this recipe will give you the same, if not better, results. The equation makes perfect sense: a great brine, a dip in buttermilk, and an intensely flavored coating. Plus some thoughtful notes from Keller don't hurt.

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