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Buttermilk Fried Chicken

2009/11/21

Thomas Keller is one of the most iconic chefs in the United States. He holds three Michelin stars each for The French Laundry in Yountville, CA and Per Se in New York. Three Bouchon locations, Bouchon Bakery, and most recently, the opening of Ad Hoc (also in Yountville) round out Chef Keller’s empire.

In addition to the restaurant side of his business, Chef Keller has released several books – The French Laundry Cookbook, Bouchon, Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide, and most recently, Ad Hoc at Home. I own all of these books and was very excited to receive Ad Hoc at Home shortly after it was released a couple weeks ago. One reason I was looking forward to the new book was due to the expectation of its recipes being much more attainable than was presented in the first three. Ad Hoc’s approach is to present a family-style menu that changes daily based on what is local and seasonal.

First off, I must say the book is fantastic. When I flipped through it initially, I could count on one hand the number of recipes I wasn’t interested in. The first recipe is a tribute to Chef Keller’s father who unfortunately passed shortly after he started writing the book. Grilled chicken, collard greens, and mashed potatoes with lots of butter and cream. The second recipe, however, was one that immediately grabbed my attention and has apparently become legendary at the restaurant – buttermilk fried chicken.

Fried chicken is delicious. I love it. Let’s face it – anything fried is absolutely fantastic. After reading Keller’s recipe, I knew it would be the first dish of his new book that would be prepared.

Brine ingredients

Brine ingredients

The recipe calls for the chicken to be brined for up to 12 hours. Because the brine must be cooled and refrigerated before adding the chicken, I decided to make it the night before. Salt, honey, lemons, fresh parsley, fresh thyme, bay leaves, black peppercorns, and garlic were brought to a boil with two gallons of water to dissolve the salt. After cooling to room temperature, I divided the brine between 8-quart containers with lids and refrigerated until the morning.

Free range chickens

Free range chickens

10-piece cut

10-piece cut

The recipe calls for two small chickens in the 2.5-3lb range to optimize the chicken-to-breading ratio. I sourced a couple free-range chickens of that weight from my local butcher and broke them down into the suggested 10-piece cuts (wings, legs, thighs, and breasts in half). I placed the chicken in brine in the morning and left it there for about 8 hours (no longer than 12 hours is suggested, otherwise the chicken will get too salty).

Once the brine had done its work, the chicken was removed, rinsed under cold water to remove excess salt, placed on a rack set in a sheet pan and patted dry. The chicken was left to come to room temperature for a couple hours and allowed the skin to dry a little.

Dredge station

Dredge station

A dredge station of seasoned flour (split between two bowls) and buttermilk was set up next to the stove on which I had my Le Creuset and a few inches of canola oil. A typical dredge process of seasoned flour –> buttermilk –> seasoned flour was followed. The thighs and legs were fried for 11-12 minutes at 320F, breasts for about 7 minutes at 340F, and finally wings about 6 minutes at 340F.

Fried chicken!

Fried chicken!

As with any fried food, I sprinkled the chicken with fleur de sel after it came out of the oil and rested on a rack. Look at it! Gorgeous! Crusty with excellent colour, sealing in the moist chicken.

Fried chicken, mashed potatoes with homemade chicken gravy, coleslaw

Fried chicken, mashed potatoes with homemade chicken gravy, coleslaw

But fried chicken alone does not make a meal, so other things needed to find their way to the plate. Coleslaw with celery seed and an apple cider vinaigrette and skin-on mashed potatoes were the perfect accompaniments. I decided to whip up some homemade chicken gravy to pour over the mash as well. It was a variation on the turkey gravy I wrote about in my Thanksgiving post. Seasoned chicken wings were placed on a rack set over mirepoix and chicken stock. After roasting the wings at high heat, the vegetables and stock were strained, defatted, topped up with more chicken stock, and then thickened with a roux taken to just past a medium blonde. Don’t worry, the roasted wings didn’t go to waste and made for a nice snack pre-frying.

So after all that work, how was it? I don’t think enough expletives can express how amazing this chicken was! It was crusty and crunchy on the outside, moist and flavourful on the inside and not a bit greasy. The brine added a beautiful lemon-herb hint to the chicken that really took it to the next level. It was totally worth the effort and will be made again in the near future. One of the most impressive things was that the breading retained most of its crunch in the fridge overnight! Reheating in the oven for about 5-8 minutes at 375F brought it back to the same crispness as when the chicken was right out of the fryer. I’ve had a lot of fried chicken over the years and simply put this is the best I’ve ever had. Ever. I honestly don’t see any need to eat any other fried chicken or prepare it any other way. Now I understand why people in Yountville go apeshit over Fried Chicken Nights at Ad Hoc and reservations are required to get in.

In typical hedonistic style for this blog, you may be wondering what was paired with this meal. Well, I said it before and I’ll say it again – one can rarely go wrong with Champagne. The richness of the Champagne was a perfect pairing with the fried chicken.

  • 1999 Charles Ellner Champagne Brut Prestige – France, Champagne (11/14/2009)
    Medium-dark gold colour. Rich, expansive nose of warm brioche, pear, Granny Smith apple, vanilla, walnuts. Linear to the palate showing great texture and unctuousness. Moderate-long finish, ~40s. This was delicious and a fantastic food wine. It reminded me of a rich, well-made, buttery, balanced Chardonnay but with bubbles. The Chardonnay (60%) was more prevalent than the Pinot Noir (40%). Definitely going out to buy a couple more bottles. (92 pts.)

Buy the book. Make the chicken. Enjoy it with friends. You won’t be disappointed!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Glenn Keeler permalink
    2009/11/21 1:10 AM

    Dude, looks amazing. I’m trying the receipe very soon….

  2. Dave permalink
    2009/11/21 6:41 PM

    What other cookbooks do you recommend? (one’s practical for the home cook)

    • futronic permalink*
      2009/11/24 8:49 PM

      Dave,

      I generally use cookbooks for inspirations for flavour combinations and techniques and rarely use the recipes verbatim (save for baking). That said, Saveur Italian and Regional Cuisine of Abruzzo are good. Something else to look into are some of the Cooks Illustrated books. They consolidate many of the recipes from the magazines. The recipes are pretty good and are well written so the directions are easy to follow.

      Hope that helps!

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