I do some of my best thinking in the shower. I mentally draft blog posts, mull over problems and ponder recipes for upcoming feasts. The other day I had an “eureka!” moment while showering and thinking about fried chicken. A sudden flash came to me about how Thomas Keller’s fried chicken could be improved:
PANKO PANKO PANKO.
If you had been in my mind, it would’ve gone something like this:
“That fried chicken I make is really good. I wonder if the brining is necessary. What would it taste like if I didn’t brine the meat beforehand? And the coating, I really like the coating, it’s so crunchy. That crunchiness must be one of the best parts about it. What if it was crunchier? How could it get crunchier? Hmm… FLASH FLASH BRIGHT LIGHTS – OMG PANKO. What if I replaced the last dunking of flour with a coating of panko? Could that improve it? I MUST TRY IT.”
So that’s what I did on Sunday: fried more chicken. 😀
I brined half of my chicken and kept half unbrined so I could taste the difference. (I like knowing why things are done.) This time I reduced the brining time down to 5 hours. I’ve decided that a shorter brining time is better because previous batches have been on the verge of too salty.
After brining, I cut the chicken into small pieces – a bit larger than nugget sized. Now that I’ve done it a few times, I like the chicken smaller because it cooks faster and you get more crunchiness. 😀 The pieces were then coated in seasoned flour, buttermilk, and then a final layer of panko. Into the deep fryer for six minutes and they were ready for eating.
Well, that makes it sound easy. To be honest, frying over a kilo of chicken takes a while. Fortunately, having a deep fryer was useful because it meant that I could put a batch of chicken into the oil, put the lid on, set a timer, and turn around to coat another batch. If I had been using a wok or pot to fry, I would never turn my back on it, because of – y’know – the whole burning down the kitchen thing. But it seemed pretty safe in the deep fryer, and I was in the kitchen the whole time, just a couple of steps away.
But the chicken! IT WAS AMAZING. Replacing the last coating of flour with panko meant that it was SUPER DUPER CRUNCHY. Seriously, seriously crunchy. I think I could still play around with the seasoning and spices (more spiciness!) but as it stands, it’s pretty damn good.
And the difference between the brined and non-brined chicken? I found that brining made the chicken more flavoursome and saltier, but (possibly because I used thigh meat) both versions were just as juicy. So brining is good if you have the time – but it’s no biggie.
I declare Azza fried chicken the best fried chicken yet.
(If you’re wondering about the name, some of my friends call me Azza. )
- 1.5kg chicken thighs with skin or skinless – I like the skin but it’s not necessary
- 1.8 litres cold water
- 1 lemon, halved
- 6 bay leaves
- 30ml honey
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly crushed
- 1/2 cup salt
- Plenty of oil for deep-frying (I used canola)
- 500ml buttermilk
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
- 200g panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
- First, make the brine by combining all the brine ingredients in a large pot. Cover and bring to the boil. Boil for a minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
- When the brine is completely cool, pour into a large container and add the chicken thighs (leave them whole at this point). Make sure the thighs are completely submerged – pop a plate on top to weigh them down if necessary. Refrigerate for 5 hours – don’t leave it in the brine any longer than this or it will be too salty.
- Remove the chicken from the brine, discarding all the brine liquid, and rinse under cold water. Remove any bits from the brine that may be stuck to the meat and pat dry with paper towels. Cut the chicken into small pieces – about 5-6 pieces per thigh (remember the smaller they are, the quicker they’ll cook). Set aside and let the meat rest at room temperature for 1.5 hours to come up to room temperature. (Note: if you haven’t brined your chicken, season the meat with a teaspoon of salt just before you’re ready to start frying.)
- If you’re frying the full amount of chicken, start getting ready an hour before you want to eat. When you’re ready to cook, fill a large pot (or a deep fryer if you have one) with plenty of oil – but don’t fill to more than 1/3 of the way up the side of the pot. Heat the oil to 170°C.
- Turn on the oven to keep the chicken warm while it’s frying – approximately 100°C should do it. Set a wire rack over a tray and line a second tray with baking paper.
- Next, make the coating. Combine all the flour coating ingredients into a large bowl, stirring to ensure it’s all well combined. Pour the buttermilk into a second bowl and season with salt and pepper. In a third bowl, pour in half of the panko (top it up as necessary). Set up a dipping station: the chicken pieces, the bowl of flour coating, the bowl of buttermilk, the panko, and the baking paper lined tray.
- When you’re ready to start frying, dip a piece of chicken into the first bowl of coating, turning to coat and patting off the excess. Then dip it into the buttermilk, allowing any excess to run back into the bowl. Finally, dip it into the panko and place it on the baking paper lined tray. You’ll need to repeat this step until all the meat is coated – but you should start frying some chicken while this is happening. Coat approximately 10 pieces (the amount will depend on how much oil you have), put them into the fryer/hot oil, and while that’s cooking coat the next batch.
- Carefully lower the chicken pieces into the hot oil. Do this in several batches so the oil doesn’t get too cold. If necessary, adjust the heat to keep it at the proper temperature, and carefully move the meat around in the oil as they fry. Fry for about 6-7 minutes, or the chicken is golden brown and completely cooked through. (Remember that if you have large pieces of meat or meat on the bone it will take longer.)
- Transfer the fried chicken to the wire rack and place in the oven to keep warm while you fry the rest of the chicken.
- Eat the chicken with Kewpie mayo. You MUST.
Inspired by Thomas Keller