KFC’s Double Down sandwich makes me want to vomit. Truly. Two cheap-ass chicken patties, filled with bacon and mayonnaise? It’s like a nationwide mentoring program for cellulite that wants to grow up to be big and lumpy and on the thighs of overweight Americans. Not my cup of tea.
But I do love me some fried chicken. And with our embargo on caged chicken (I’m looking at you, Tyson and the fast food industry), it’s getting increasingly hard to find.
Fortunately for us and for everyone else, fried chicken is stupid-easy to make. And ridiculously cheap, even for the free-range birds.
I bought a free-range bird from WhoFo. It was $9.01. From this single bird, I got two thighs, two breasts, two tenders, two drumsticks, four wing segments, and a carcass for making stock with meaty bits in it (i.e. flavorful soup).
That’s easily three meals for Chris and me, at $3 a meal (or $1.50 per person).
And THAT is why it’s always more economical to buy and fabricate whole birds or larger pieces of meat than to buy the packages of pre-fabbed stuff. And it’s not at all hard to fabricate a chicken– just ask YouTube.
Here’s a frugality moment for my less-food-experienced friends:
Want another money-saving tip while I’m at it? For those of you who throw away vegetables that are past their prime (like carrots that are starting to be bendable) or that weird first layer of an onion right underneath the skin: Keep freezer bags full of this stuff.
A bag of chicken bones/carcasses. A bag of leftover bones/gristle from trimming beef. A bag of spare vegetable bits. Then simmer in water to make stock, strain, and freeze in ice cube trays. May you never have crappy storebought stock again!
When I was in culinary school, I was kind of a genius of fried chicken. I don’t mean to blow my own whistle, but it was good.
Then I read about Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc fried chicken. I heard it was unparalleled. They started selling kits to make it at Williams-Sonoma. Reviews were all over the interwebs. I got curious, and I got a fierce craving for fried chicken that has lasted the better part of a month now. Finally, I decided it was time.
The Keller recipe itself was intense. Lots of brining and breading and measuring. I wasn’t feeling quite like brining anything at the moment. So I went for a combination of my own traditional method and Keller’s seasoning mix. Success. Suxxxess. Sexiest fried chicken you ever saw, and jaw-droppingly good. Much better than anything I’d ever pulled out of my hat at school, and my hat was big and tall and dorky, so there’d have been lots of room to pull good things from it.
And it was cool, because I have a new habit of dragging my fryer outside to fry things, thus relieving the poorly ventilated house of its burden of smelling like fried food for days on end. Best trick ever, provided you don’t set your deck on fire. Rule number one for frying— never, ever walk away from your fryer. Watch your fryer like you’d watch your girlfriend at a “naked male cast-members from Twilight” party.
As for the recipe, it’s got a lot of steps, but is embarrassingly easy to prepare. And I can personally GUARANTEE it will knock the crap out of your favorite fast food chicken. And it’s better for you. And it’s cost-comparable. Double down on THAT, yo.
Triple Down Fried Chicken
1 free-range chicken, fabricated into frying pieces
2 C buttermilk
1/2 C Frank’s Red Hot
Step One—Mix together your buttermilk and hot sauce, then coat your chicken and marinate it in the fridge for 6 hours or as long as overnight.
2 C buttermilk
4 C AP flour
1/8 C garlic powder (you can get a giant bucket of this stuff for $4 at Costco)
2 t paprika
2 t cayenne pepper
2 t kosher salt
1 t ground black pepper
2 T Ozark Fried Chicken spice from Chicago Spice House (optional, but encouraged) OR you can use 1/8 C onion powder
Step Two—Mix together your dry ingredients in a large bowl. Pour your buttermilk in a separate large bowl. Set aside.
Step Three—Take your chicken out of the buttermilk, rinse each piece gently in cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Allow it to sit at room temperature for an hour or so.
*This is not recommended by food safety experts, but I did it, and so does Keller, and it’s the way to get juicy chicken that’s cooked evenly all the way through to the bone. Plus, it’s only for an hour in a climate-controlled kitchen, and you’re cooking it in boiling oil afterwards. Guess what, also?? Salmonella is much less prevalent in free-range and/or organic chickens. So…suck on that*
Step Four—Dredge your dry, rested chicken pieces (one at a time) in your seasoned flour. Then dip in buttermilk and gently drip off any excess. Then dredge again in flour mixture, patting it gently to make sure it adheres. It makes a fairly thick coating. This double-dredge method is highly effective for making a fantastic crust.
Step Five—Heat your deep fryer (or 4 inches of oil in a high-sided frying pot) to 335 F. This is the magic temperature at which the outside will crisp slowly enough that the inside has time to cook through, but not so slowly that the crust absorbs excess oil.
Step Six—With an instant read thermometer handy, fry your chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165-170. Pull it out of the oil using metal tongs to check the temp, and make sure you’re measuring the thickest part of the piece. Oh, and be gentle with it–you don’t want the crust to fall off.
Step Seven—As the pieces finish cooking, pull them to a sheet tray lined with a paper bag. Never overcrowd your pan, and make sure there’s an inch or two of room between each piece so they cook evenly.
Step Eight—When all of your chicken is fried and golden brown, turn off and unplug your fryer.
While we were eating these, juices -not grease- were running down our hands and threatening to drip onto our laps. Pulling the chicken a little earlier than the recommended 180 means that carryover cooking brings it to the safety zone without letting it dry out. Honestly, it was the juiciest chicken I’ve ever had. And the buttermilk soak with the Frank’s gets the insides so moist and flavorful, while the super-seasoned crust is crunchy and spicy and assertive. Most of the fat from the skin melts into the meat and bastes it as it fries, but a tiny thin layer clings to the inside of the crispy crust to make it that much more savory. I can’t even begin to tell you how emotional this chicken made me feel.
Also, in a defiance to odds, the leftovers were still crispy two days later. Seriously. I know because I just ate the last thigh while I wrote this.
I served it up with a whole lot of orange. Farm-fresh carrots, peeled and simmered in butter and a touch of honey until crisp but tender, and buttermilk biscuits that packed a full cup of shredded sharp, white cheddar and garlic in the mix. Whooey, were those some biscuits!
Did I need mayonnaise or bacon to cover the flavor of this meal? HELL NO. They’ve both got their place in another meal, maybe, but fried chicken this good wants to be eaten by itself. It shuns even the most traditional trappings of honey or mustard or gravy, and demands to be the center of attention.
Best of all, you can feel good about eating a meal that’s both delicious and ethical, decadent and inexpensive, fancy and simple.
I had my FiberOne cereal for breakfast and a salad with fresh fruit for lunch, so a couple pieces of fried chicken and a single biscuit for dinner didn’t threaten my thighs any more than a regular day of responsible eating. It’s balance, say I. And balance allows for whatever you want to eat, provided you eat in moderation.
And provided you don’t put mayonnaise on fried chicken, for God’s sake. Who DOES that??