Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fry Me To The Moon

You may be wondering where the hell I've been, and I don't blame you. Between starting a new full-time job, late nights at said new job and several other adventures, I've been neglecting the blog. Fortunately I haven't been neglecting my kitchen and I have a pile-up of recipes I can't wait to share, starting with two great summer classics. I've always made decent fried chicken—juicy, flavorful and crisp, with just a hint of spice. But recently I discovered an excellent and foolproof recipe from Cook's Country (the people behind America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Illustrated) for the crunchiest chicken you've ever had. Most of the recipe is fried chicken 101: a soak in buttermilk, a dip in seasoned flour and straight into the hot oil. But with a few minor tweaks, they've managed to up the flavor quotient while also creating a super crunchy crust that doesn't compromise the juiciness of the meat, like so many chicken recipes do.

While I admire a good fried chicken with a thin and crispy crust, I've always been a bigger fan of the craggy and thickly coated chicken with an audible crunch-factor, because as much as I like juicy chicken, I will always be a bigger fan of the crispy fried skin. This recipe does just that, delivering on its promise of extra-crunchy chicken. And it tastes even better when served with ranch potato salad, another great recipe courtesy of the Cook's Country gang (my latest obsession if you couldn't already tell). I like potato salad of all sorts: German, creamy, vinegar based, plain and complex, but this one really takes the cake. It's tangy and creamy without the thick mayonnaise base of most potato salads, thanks to the welcome addition of buttermilk, which cuts the mayo almost by half, rendering the salad less cloying than most. Fresh additions like cilantro, scallions and roasted red peppers keep the flavors bright while lending that classic ranch tang to the whole dish (without the heavy texture).

An important tip I can't stress enough when making any potato salad is to under-cook your potatoes slightly. They always carryover cook while cooling and before you know it you have a squishy salad that falls apart if you've fully cooked your potatoes (trust me, I've learned the hard way). It's also crucial to let the potatoes cool before you dress them. Otherwise, they'll absorb all of the dressing and became too soft, leaving you with a grainy, dry potato salad. The best thing to do is to infuse them with a small touch of flavor while they cool as the recipe below does, utilizing a small quantity of mustard and vinegar. The only real tip that I can stress as far as the chicken is concerned is to not skip the mini-brine. Some people like to soak chicken in buttermilk overnight for the sake of tenderizing, but this recipe calls for a quick dip (just an hour) in salted buttermilk, which acts both as a tenderizer and a brine, seasoning the meat and helping it stay juicy all at once. There's not much else you can do to season a thick piece of meat all the way through, so this method is hard to beat (plus, all you have to do is toss it in the seasoned flour, so it's even saving you a step!). Hopefully these recipes can carry you through what's left of the summer—I know they'll pop up in my kitchen again before season's end.

Extra-Crunchy Fried Chicken
adapted from Cook's Country TV

2 cups buttermilk plus 6 additional tablespoons
2 tablespoons table salt
1 whole chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds), cut into 8 pieces, giblets discarded, wings and back reserved for stock (see note below for other options)
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
4 - 5 cups vegetable shortening or peanut oil

1. Whisk together 2 cups buttermilk and salt in large bowl until salt is dissolved. Add chicken pieces to bowl and stir to coat; cover bowl with plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour. (Don't let chicken soak much longer or it will become too salty.)

2. Whisk flour, baking powder, thyme, pepper, and garlic powder together in large bowl. Add remaining 6 tablespoons buttermilk; with your fingers rub flour and buttermilk together until buttermilk is evenly incorporated into flour and mixture resembles coarse wet sand. 

3. Working in batches of two, drop chicken pieces into flour mixture and turn to thoroughly coat, gently pressing flour mixture onto chicken. Shake excess flour from each piece of chicken and transfer to wire rack set over rimmed baking sheet.

4. Heat oil (it should measure 3/4 inch deep) in large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven with 11-inch diameter over medium-high heat until it reaches 375 degrees. Place chicken pieces, skin-side down, in oil, cover, and fry until deep golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove lid after 4 minutes and lift chicken pieces to check for even browning; rearrange if some pieces are browning faster than others. (At this point, oil should be about 300 degrees. Adjust burner, if necessary, to regulate temperature of oil.) Turn chicken pieces over and continue to fry, uncovered, until chicken pieces are deep golden brown on second side, 6 to 8 minutes longer. (At this point, to keep chicken from browning too quickly, adjust burner to maintain oil temperature of about 315 degrees.) Using tongs, transfer chicken to plate lined with paper towels; let stand for 5 minutes to drain. Serve.

Ranch Potato Salad
adapted from Cook's Country TV

3 pounds red potatoes , peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup drained jarred roasted red peppers , chopped fine
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
3 scallions , chopped fine
1 garlic clove , minced
1/8 teaspoon dried dill
2 teaspoons pepper
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1. Bring potatoes, 1 tablespoon salt, and enough water to cover by 1 inch to boil in large pot over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes. While potatoes simmer, whisk mayonnaise, buttermilk, 2 tablespoons vinegar, red peppers, cilantro, scallions, garlic, dill, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper in large bowl.

2. Drain potatoes, then spread in even layer on rimmed baking sheet. Whisk mustard and remaining vinegar in small bowl. Drizzle mustard mixture over hot potatoes and toss until evenly coated. Refrigerate until cooled, about 30 minutes.

3. Transfer cooled potatoes to bowl with mayonnaise mixture and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, about 30 minutes. Serve. (Salad can be refrigerated in airtight container for 2 days.)



Kathryn said...

I'm so happy to see your new blog post and can't wait to try the chicken recipe. I have a question on the potato salad, but before that...

CONGRATULATIONS on your new job!!! :-) And I hope all of your other adventures have been good.

Quick question on the potato salad...I'm not a fan of you think I can substitute mustard?

Laura said...

Hey Kathryn! The mayo is nicely imperceptible in this recipe thanks to the buttermilk, but if you really can't stand it I'd say either yogurt or even better, creme fraiche would work as a replacement. It needs to be something relatively neutral in flavor and creamy in texture, so mustard isn't quite right, but definitely try one of the others.

Let me know how it turns out. If it works I can add a sidebar for others that aren't big mayo fans so they know what to use!