I like most things Southern: grits, monogrammed stationery, bourbon, good manners and fried chicken. I bought Thomas Keller's cookbook, Ad Hoc, because I read quite a bit about his recipe for buttermilk fried chicken plus he owns the French Laundry....I had high hopes. It was good but not exactly the holy grail of fried poultry I was hoping for. The perfect fried chicken is moist with crispy skin and a golden brown crust. The Ad Hoc recipe called for brining the chicken overnight and then double dredging the chicken. It tasted fantastic but the skin was a far cry from crispy.
In the depth of winter, Bon Appetit delivered me from my fried chicken woes. The February issue featured a recipe billed as the 'only fried chicken recipe you will ever need'. Who am I to doubt the good folks at Bon Appetit? I hustled to the grocery store to buy a couple of chickens and see if I finally would achieve fried chicken nirvana. The BA recipe involves a dry rub, a single dredge in seasoned flour and a cast iron skillet— the skin was crispy, the meat was moist and I was satisfied.
After all this talk about the quest for the perfect fried chicken, I have to admit the first fried chicken I ever tasted was from Kentucky Fried Chicken. One evening when I was nine or ten, my Grandma Duffy came home with a red and white striped bucket of greasy goodness from KFC. My sister, Bridget, and I were excited to tuck into a dinner of chicken, wall paper paste consistency mashed potatoes and gravy until we took a look at the chicken. There were little feathers poking through the golden brown exterior (say what you want about KFC, they know how to get a crunchy crust on their chicken). We immediately renamed it Kentucky Fried Feathers and didn't eat it for years— I am not sure if Bridget ever ate it again. I still remember Grandma standing over the sink with a lit match burning off all the feathers on the raw chicken before she made us dinner— she was a marvelous woman.
I can't remember why I decided to re-visit fried chicken, after that traumatic experience with the fried feathers in my Grandma's den. As Minny, from the movie The Help, said, 'fried chicken just tend to make you feel better about life'. She was right, dropping a chicken thigh ensconced in buttermilk and seasoned flour in a skillet full of shimmering oil, feels like something special is going to happen. It isn't the easiest dinner to prepare. Frying chicken requires advance planning and time spent over a sizzling skillet— definitely not a 30 minute meal. Just like the sound of a champagne cork set aloft, a platter of fried chicken means I am headed to a party and it is going to be grand.
I had an idea about butter for the biscuits (you always need biscuits at a beach party with fried chicken) I was taking to the beach. God forbid we eat ordinary butter on an evening when Venus was transiting between the Sun and Earth. I placed a stick of room temperature butter in a mixing bowl and added some chopped rosemary and thyme, about 1/4 cup of maple syrup, a pinch of Maldon sea salt and cayenne, mixed it together and smeared it on a 'test' biscuit. It was delicious, sweet, hot and perfect for a picnic. I wish I wrote down the exact measurements but I was late (big surprise) and threw it together on the fly.
It was the first of the many dinners we will spend on the beach this summer and it was perfect. Perfect because the flies hadn't hatched yet, the kids were in the water, there were 2 platters of deviled eggs, we toasted Venus with Italian wine and there was fried chicken galore. Summer of 2012 is going to be glorious.