The Art of Fried Chicken

imageWhen I saw the fried chicken sandwich on the cover of April’s issue of Bon Appetit, I thought, “That looks amazingly delicious.  But who would ever make that at home?”

And then this week I thought, “Perhaps I could make that.”

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For a long time, I assumed that frying was something I should never attempt.  The first time I ever tried to fry something – five years and two apartments ago – I filled the entire apartment with smoke and chased my roommate’s cat down the hall when I opened the front door to get some fresh air.

Since that single traumatic experience (which resulted in Mark and I almost ordering take-out), I had sworn off frying recipes.  But now, armed with not only a great deal more cooking experience, but also the proper equipment (i.e. a heavy dutch oven and a liquid thermometer), I was feeling empowered to give it another go.

And since I was feeling bold, I figured I might as well go for the cover recipe of Bon Appetit.

Step one was simple.  Combine mayo, grated fresh garlic, and hot sauce.  Store it in the fridge until ready to serve.  Done:

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Second, prepare the slaw, a combination of pickle juice, pickles, red onion, jalapeno and cabbage.  As I cut into the cabbage, something didn’t seem right.  As Mark put it, “Cabbage always smells bad.  But THAT smells really bad.”  I took a tiny bite, spit it out, and into the garbage the whole head went.  We aren’t really cabbage fans to begin with, so we were fine with a pickle, onion jalapeno mix.  (I was not fine, on the other hand, with bad produce.  Shame on you, Fairway.)  Mark was skeptical about the call for Bread & Butter pickles, but it turned out that the sweeter pickle was the perfect balance to the pepper and onion:

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Next up was the chicken.  Somehow, I had completely forgot to buy buttermilk – a critical ingredient.  But the wonders of the internet never cease to amaze.  In under a minute, I found that mixing milk and lemon for five minutes could produce a buttermilk substitute.

Back in business with my lemon-milk mixture and flour (combined with salt and a hefty serving of black pepper), I was ready for the chicken’s flour, milk, flour bath:

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Meanwhile, the oil – a combination of vegetable and peanut oil – was heating on the stove with an electric thermometer tracking it’s progress.  For a long time, I had just assumed that when you fry something, it smokes.  I’m not sure why I believed this.  I’ve been in enough fried chicken joints not filled with smoke to know this is not true.  But it took a little research for me to be enlightened to the fact that the key to frying is having oil that is hot enough to fry the food and cool enough not to smoke.  For this recipe, the magic number was 350 degrees Fahrenheit.   When the thermometer went off at 350, I put the two pieces into the pot.

Perhaps my pieces were too small or I had used too much oil, because once the pieces were in the pot, I could no longer see them.  I had to go on blind faith that Bon Appetit  would take care of me.  The recipe said that I needed to cook each piece for 3 minutes on each side, which is exactly what I did.

IMG_1631Around minute 5 of 6, I was getting nervous.  The chicken looked tan, not golden.  And the pieces were so thin that I was worried I could have dried-out chicken on my hands.  Oh, the anxiety….

At exactly 6 minutes, I pulled out the chicken and found that at least the color was accurate.  The taste, on the other hand, was still to be discovered.

Mark and I assembled our sandwiches with care – knowing there would be a “photo shoot” before we ate.  Mark has picked up two ciabatta rolls from Bien Cuit, which were the perfect settings for our food. Mark went with the hot sauce mayo on both slices of bread.  I went for a heavier drizzle on just one side.  Both of us opted for lettuce (an improvisation on my part) and the slaw, which didn’t miss the cabbage at all.  While we hadn’t quite achieved the beauty of Bon Appetit, we were rather proud of the visual results:

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Finally, we came to the moment of truth.  So anxious about the chicken itself, I pulled off a piece of chicken and took a bite without the other ingredients.  It was juicy, crunchy and – from all the black pepper – spicy.  Exactly what I was hoping for.  And the full combination of ingredients was outstanding – Bon Appetit rarely lets me down on flavor.

IMG_1639My main regret was that it could have used more crunch on the pieces. I know from watching many an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives that I can achieve this next time by really packing on the flour – easily rectifiable.  And I would have liked a slightly thicker piece of chicken, so next time I’m going to chicken breasts over thin-slices. (Note: It was Bon Appetit that instructed me to go thing.  But you’ll notice the cover photo is definitely not thin sliced.  False advertising!)

IMG_1632But despite my goals for next time, it was a success.  I didn’t fill the apartment with smoke, I didn’t have a cat making a run for it and I didn’t have to consider ordering take-out.  My fear of fried foods has been cured.  The only other down side was that poor Mark had to listen to me talk about how much my cooking skills have improved over the years for the entire meal.  Yes, I suppose mastering the cover art (in taste, if not in appearance) from Bon Appetit will give you a big head.

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