Many, many years ago, before I even started writing about food, I went to Atlanta on a business trip. I have no idea what the business trip was about, but what I really went to Atlanta to do was taste fried chicken. I went to to the justifiably famous Deacon Burton's, Mary Mac's Team Room, and a new restaurant, the Horseradish Grill, because I had heard that the chef there had learned how to make fried chicken from the legendary Edna Lewis (pictured, right). Deacon Burton's chicken was truly fine, Mary Mac's was merely very good, but the chicken made by Scott Peacock (also pictured), Edna Lewis' protégé, was damn near perfect. It was crisp, greaseless, perfectly seasoned, and had that one-two punch of great dark brown crust and tender, juicy meat that all great fried chickens must have.
When I showed up last weekend at the Southern Foodways seminar, what was in our welcome packet? A copy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's food section from October 18, which was mostly devoted to the joys of making and eating fried chicken. It had recipes from all the places I mentioned and even threw in the late Austin Leslie's Creole Fried Chicken with New Orleans Confetti, another sure-fire Fried Chicken Hall of Fame entrant.
Then, to complete my fried chicken education, I got a chance to hang out with Peacock at the conference, and we talked a lot about his and Ms. Lewis's fried chicken recipe, which he serves at his current Atlanta restaurant, Watershed, on Tuesday nights.
Photograph by Christopher Hirscheimer
Read no further unless you want to know just how many calories each serving of this fried chicken has. If this number alarms you, consider this: An awful, soggy ham-and-provolone sandwich I had at a Wolfgang Puck kiosk at an airport recently had more than a thousand calories. -->
Per serving: 494 calories (percent of calories from fat, 59), 38 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 32 grams fat (12 grams saturated), 138 milligrams cholesterol, 466 milligrams sodium.
- 1/2 cup kosher salt (do not use table salt for brining)
- 2 quarts cold water
- 1 three-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
- 1 quart buttermilk
- 1 pound lard
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup country ham pieces, or 1 thick slice country ham cut into 1/2-inch strips
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
To make the brine: Stir kosher salt into cold water until dissolved. Place chicken parts in a nonreactive bowl or pot; add enough brine to cover completely. Refrigerate 8 to 12 hours.
Drain the brined chicken and rinse out the bowl it was brined in. Return chicken to the bowl, and pour the buttermilk over. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours. Drain the chicken on a wire rack, discarding the buttermilk.
Meanwhile, prepare the fat for frying by putting the lard, butter and country ham into a heavy skillet or frying pan. Cook over low heat for 30 to 45 minutes, skimming as needed, until the butter ceases to throw off foam and the country ham is browned. Use a slotted spoon to remove the ham carefully from the fat.
Just before frying, increase the temperature to medium-high and heat the fat to 335 degrees. Prepare the dredge by blending together the flour, cornstarch, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl or on wax paper. Dredge the drained chicken pieces thoroughly in the flour mixture, then pat well to remove all excess flour.
Using tongs, slip some of the chicken pieces, skin side down, into the heated fat. (Do not overcrowd the pan or the cooking fat will cool. Fry in batches, if necessary.) Regulate the fat so it just bubbles, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes on each side, until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through. Drain thoroughly on a wire rack or on crumpled paper towels, and serve.
Fried chicken is delicious eaten hot, warm, at room temperature or cold.