Can I tell you about the heaven that was my Labor Day? The So Cal sun was shining in a beautiful, cloudless sky, and I got to entertain six wonderful friends and cook a full meal for them, including mouth-watering buttermilk fried chicken, fresh side dishes, and made-from-scratch dark chocolate ice cream and salted butter caramel ice cream for dessert. We caught up on our lives, laughed like crazy, and everyone left with full stomachs. If this isn't heaven, then I don't know what is!
I should tell you, the inception for this Labor Day party originally came from Thomas Keller's famous buttermilk fried chicken recipe. As I was paging through Ad Hoc at Home, the images of this golden fried comfort food snuggled down deep in my brain and refused to budge; I figured resistance was futile (can you ever say no to fried chicken?), and decided to use it as an excuse to have a party.
Since the fried chicken was going to be the star of the show, I wanted to use light, in-season vegetables for side dishes. I started out with watermelon tossed with lime, followed by a quick and easy vinegar coleslaw which I accidentally oversalted but everyone still loved. I was especially excited to use sweet, green heirloom tomatoes and my own tomatoes (Yes! They survived!) to throw together a quick caprese salad. And finally, a summer party isn't a party without corn on the cob!
Moving on to the fried chicken, Thomas Keller's recipe first calls for a 12-hour brining with lemons, fresh herbs, and garlic. The brining infuses the chicken with lots of flavor and ensures that the meat stays really juicy. Tempting as it may be to skip this arduous overnight step, don't even think about it; the salty brine elevates common chicken to rockstar status, and after you taste it, you will become an adoring fan that just can't get enough.
Next, he recommends using small chickens for the meat, because they are easier to cook properly and "result in the optimal meat-to-crust proportion." I like his scientific thinking, and also the fact that smaller chickens must be organic and/or sustainably farmed, since non-organic chickens tend to be huge.
Finally, the chickens are breaded with layers of seasoned flour and buttermilk, ensuring that the crust is thick, crispy, and extremely tasty. Basically, the stuff that fried chicken dreams are made of. (P.S. Don't be scared by the frying oil. It might look like a hot disaster waiting to happen, but using a large stockpot and submerging the chicken keeps oil splatter and danger low.)
After all the brining, breading, and frying, my friends and I gathered around the table to enjoy the Labor Day feast. As my teeth crunched through the golden fried crust of my drumstick and I fully tasted the flavor of the juicy chicken, I closed my eyes and sighed with pleasure. This fried chicken was perfection. The lemony brine had made the chicken meat taste better than any I have had before, and that taste married perfectly with the seasoned crust. I felt like I could eat it every single day, and my friends couldn't agree more (in fact, they are still talking about it!). I would not have changed a thing about this meal, except maybe that there would have been leftovers.
** This post is my first entry for the Project Food Blog challenge (see my profile!). We were asked to submit a post that defines us as a food blogger, comes from the heart and is true to our blog. I thought this post would be a good representation, since my blog is all about the happiness that comes from eating well and feeding those I love.
Thomas Keller's Buttermilk Fried Chicken
From Ad Hoc at Home
15 bay leaves
3 lemons, halved
1 head garlic, halved
1 bunch each, parsley and thyme
1/3 c. honey
3 tbsp. peppercorns
1 1/4 cup kosher salt
20 cups/1 1/4 gallon water
6 cups flour
1/4 cup each, garlic and onion powder
1 tbsp each, paprika, cayenne, and salt
1 tsp black pepper
(You could probably get away with halving this)
6 pounds organic chicken
Canola oil, about 1 1/2-2 quarts
2-3 cups buttermilk
Place all the ingredients for the brine and half the amount of water in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, and stir to dissolve the salt, then remove the brine from the heat, and chill completely. Once brine is completely cold, add the remaining water and the chicken and refrigerate for 12 hours or overnight.
Next, remove the chicken from the brine, rinse and pat it dry, and allow it to come to room temperature (about 1 1/2 hours). Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the flour coating in a large bowl, then divide it into two medium bowls, and put the buttermilk in a third bowl. Set up a breading station, with flour bowl, buttermilk bowl, flour bowl, followed by a baking sheet covered with foil or wax paper.
Once the chicken is ready, begin to warm the oil on high heat and bread the chicken. First, dip the chicken into the flour, then into the buttermilk, followed by the flour again (shake off excess each time). Place each breaded piece of chicken on the covered baking sheet, and when the oil has reached 320 degrees Fahrenheit, gently lower several pieces into the hot oil. (I fried 4 thighs or 7 drumsticks at a time). After a minute or two, use tongs to move the chicken around and prevent it from sticking to the pot, and then fry for an additional 10-12 minutes. As the chicken is frying, the temperature of the oil will drop, so adjust the heat on your burner as necessary to keep the temperature high. The chicken is done when the crust is a deep golden brown. Transfer the chicken to a cooling rack set over a rimmed baking sheet to allow any oil to drip off, then serve immediately.