Thursday, October 30, 2008

Living dangerously

We did not, and as yet do not, hold dear a fried chicken recipe as a family. It was not in the repertoire of three American generations. Nor was it a British or Irish dish that would have travelled with our forebearers. It is something I eat, once in a while which became a subject of interest when it came to Mother's Day picnics. For a while, my Mom and I would have loved to make picnics a tradition. A tradition which included cold "picnic chicken."

This was an ill fated pursuit: The picnics, not the chicken. However, the chicken has evolved and I have learned from my missteps: Members of my family will not eat chicken from a bone. In the spirit of compromise that first and last picnic year, I deployed my best loved fried chicken method: I plunged chicken cutlets into buttermilk and Tabasco to soak overnight, then seasoned flour dredged it and fried it all up in peanut oil, and it was fine. As fine as what I imagine any fast food fried chicken cutlet to be. Not satisfying, somehow. It just had no soul. And food without soul has no place on a table.

One does not see a lot of fried chicken in Northern Westchester, New York to be quite frank about it. Nor much fried food at all. For a while I was nervous to roll it out to the swank sophisticates around me. But then I got to thinking about how Becca would sometimes order it late at night in the diner when we were kids. She was devoted to the stuff. I decided it must have a fan club here somewhere. As time went by, we became afficiandos of the fried chicken, even travelling to Hatties in Saratoga to order the chicken. You know, because it's good. And because it has soul.

Bones or not, I think most of those swankies hold a place in their heart for fried chicken though it may not have been part of our understanding: There was a lot of Shake-N-Bake in those early days.

By now, I've brined chicken in cider and salt mixtures. I have egg-bathed and not. I have used three varieties of oil. I have yet to run into another cook who truly knows fried chicken and agrees with any other cook on how the best fried chicken is made: Many of them came up eating their Mama's and that way is always best. I can respect that. Hopefully, they run into my Baby Face one day and she tells them her Mama had two recipes: Traditional and a little lighter and both have a place in the tradition that is our table.

Below is the lighter of the two. Now, don't go imagining this is health food (all things in moderation). It is a lovely new texture and finish for a fabulous work horse of a concept. It does sit a little lighter on the belly because it is not dipped in a thick milk or egg. This chicken has a finely crispy skin and for those looking for one less step in the game, it is perfect hot cold and everywhere in between. Most importantly, it has soul.

It is not buttermilk chicken, no. But The Hostess is nothing if not daring rule-beaker: I serve this gorgeous chicken quite fearlessly even on Sundays, with Cote du Rhone, and sometimes with a hip and tangy celery root remoulade slaw. Call me a Hostess living dangerously or whatever you want, but way down South they don't call me a woman who can't make fried chicken...

Rice Flour Fried Chicken
Serves 8

1 3–4-lb. chicken cut into 8 pieces each (buy a cut chicken or ask the butcher)
Kosher salt
Peanut oil
1 cup flour
1 cup rice flour
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Lay the chicken out on a large baking sheet of a size which will fit in the fridge. Season generously with salt on both sides. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

Over high heat, pour enough peanut oil in a deep 12" cast-iron skillet to reach a depth of 3⁄4". Heat the oil until a thermometer indicates the oil is 350 degrees.

Place both flours and cayenne in a pie plate and mix until evenly combined. Dredge chicken in flour mixture and fry on the first side until light brown, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; fry, turning occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through, about 10 minutes more. Transfer to a paper towel–lined plate. Repeat with remaining pieces being sure not to allow too much gunk to build up in the oil which will scorch and leave the chicken tasting burned.


Nevis said...

Looks delicious! :)

ntsc said...

Oh, and I followed the trail of chicken crumbs from Ruhlman