Cook the Book: Tea-Brined Batter Fried Picnic Chicken

Cook the Book: Tea-Brined Batter Fried Picnic Chicken

[Photographs: Caroline Russock]

Sweet tea and fried chicken might just be the most Southern of all pairings. This recipe for Tea-Brined Batter Fried Picnic Chicken from One Big Table by Molly O'Neill comes from Blackberry Farm, an absolutely gorgeous resort in Tennessee. Blackberry Farm has two major draws—breathtaking grounds and an incredible kitchen. This chicken is meant to be cooled and packed for a picnic lunch the following day, preferably to be enjoyed while out exploring the resort's acres.

But even if you can't make it to Blackberry Farm, you can enjoy their incredible fried chicken at home. Brined in sweet tea for two days, the chicken is flavored with a sweet-salty lemon zest-infused tea before frying. Once the chicken has soaked in all of those tea flavors, it's floured, dipped in an eggy buttermilk, and coated again in a mix of flour, corn meal, Old Bay, and chili powder. This coating gives it a shatteringly crisp crust, made even crispier from the addition of corn meal.

When I made it at home I had quite a difficult time getting all of the chicken into the fridge to cool, since the skin was pretty much being asked to snack on. But like most fried chicken, this is a recipe that's best enjoyed the second day. When cool, the tea flavors come through bright and even a little tannic, and the crisp crust packs a wallop of Old Bay.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of One Big Table to give away this week.

Adapted from One Big Table by Molly O'Neill. Copyright © 2011. Published by Simon & Schuster. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.

  • Yield:serves 8
  • Active time: 1 hour
  • Total time:3 days


  • For the Chicken:
  • 1 quart freshly brewed tea
  • Zest of 1 lemon, removed with a vegetable peeler
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1 quart ice water
  • 8 whole chicken legs, thighs and legs separated
  • For the Coating:
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups finely ground cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons seasoning, such as Old Bay
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 cups vegetable oil, for frying


  1. 1.

    To brine the chicken: Two days before serving the chicken, combine the tea, lemon zest, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat, add the ice water and cool completely. Submerge the chicken pieces in the liquid, cover, and refrigerate for 48 hours.

  2. 2.

    At least 1 hour before serving, remove the chicken from the brine and drain in a strainer for 10 minutes.

  3. 3.

    To make the coating: Place 3 cups of the flour in a large bowl. Whisk together the buttermilk and eggs in a second bowl. Whisk together the remaining flour, the cornmeal, Old Bay, chili powder, salt, and pepper in a third bowl. Set two wire racks over two separate rimmed baking sheets.

  4. 4.

    Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Coat each piece lightly the plain flour and shake off the excess. Dip in the buttermilk and egg batter, and finally roll the chicken in the cornmeal mixture. Transfer the pieces to a rack and let sit 20 to 30 minutes before frying.

  5. 5.

    Pour the oil into a large cast-iron skillet and heat over high heat until a pinch of flour sprinkled into the oil immediately bubbles or a deep-frying thermometer registers 365°F. Working in batches, fry the chicken pieces, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain the oil temperature. Cook for 8 minutes, flip, and cook for 7 minutes more. The chicken should be golden brown. The juices should run clear when the thickest part is pierced, and an instant-read thermometer should register 165°F.

  6. 6.

    Transfer the pieces to the clean wire rack; blot them with paper towels. Cool for a few minutes or cover lightly and place in the refrigerator overnight before serving.