Today, I’m thinking about my Valentine, so I’m also thinking about fried chicken. Noah is a fried chicken nut I tell you. It’s his desert island food, his permanent birthday dinner request, and his greatest weakness. He likes a crispy, well-seasoned, Southern-fried buttermilk chicken (who doesn’t?), but I have seen him slum it on occasion to get his FC fix (think gas station fryer case).
This year, soon after we moved into The Ranchito, I buried all my health-oriented restraint under the rug and purchased a deep fryer. We had finally found home, and I wanted to get right into establishing our traditions, the first of which was going to be an annual fried-chicken feed for Noah’s half-birthday. He is one of those near-Christmas babies, who all too often received the dreaded birthday/Christmas combo gift. Even for him it’s hard to think about birthday cake and parties with a foot-long list of holiday gifts to buy, so he never really got into the whole birthday thing.
Years ago I hatched a plan to start a casual half-birthday tradition for him as soon as we landed, in mid-June, far away from any big holidays and right at the beginning of all the summer gatherings.
The only problem: Noah went into fried-chicken revolt.
“Once a year?!” he protested when I told him of my plan. “How am I supposed to survive for 12 whole months without your fried chicken?! I’ll wither and die.”
“It’s for your own good,” I told him. “Once a year is about as much as you should eat something like fried chicken.”
But man, he was relentless. Every time it came up he made his position clear: MORE. FRIED. CHICKEN.
I’m telling you, he’s a fiend.
Although I flat-out refuse to meet his idea of an acceptable fried-chicken ration (once a week), I gradually began to cave, and last December I pulled the Fry Daddy out from the shadows of the appliance cupboard (where no one will see that I own it) and made fried chicken again, on his real birthday, right smack dab in the middle of the great holiday eat-a-thon.
He talks about “my” fried chicken like I know what I’m doing, like my fried chicken is sent down on the wings of angels, which although it feels very good, is not entirely accurate. Prior to this year I had cooked fried chicken maybe twice, from a very good recipe I found years ago in Cook’s Illustrated. But it’s not perfect, and I don’t yet have a recipe I’m willing to call “mine”. I’m still experimenting. So when I read about Thomas Keller’s Lemon and Herb Brined Buttermilk-Fried Chicken I knew I must try it. Chef Keller says himself that if there is a better fried chicken recipe out there, he hasn’t tasted it. Seeing that he’s arguably the most genius chef in America, those words hold some weight.
What’s most intriguing about this recipe is the brine. He soaks the chicken pieces in a brine that is absolutely choc-full of freshly squeezed lemon halves, two dozen bay leaves, heaping bunches of fresh parsley and thyme, whole bulbs of garlic, peppercorns, and of course, salt. After a night in this herbaceous citrus bath, and a buttermilk-flour dip, the chicken is brought to a crunch in the fryer and served with sprigs of fresh herbs. The result is bright and citrusy meat which perfectly counters the crispy buttermilk crust. Nobody’s slumming it with TK’s Fried Chicken. Nope. No way.
This is high-brow, family-style food. In fact, that’s what Keller’s book, “Ad Hoc at Home”, is all about, and why I adore it so much. It’s a collection of recipes from his more casual Yountville, CA restaurant inspired by the “family meals” served to his staff before service time at places like The French Laundry. Unlike,” The French Laundry Cookbook,” (which I must admit has gathered some dust on my bookshelf ), “Ad Hoc at Home” contains recipes that are accessible yet inspired, and as he says, “Meant to be served from big bowls and platters passed hand to hand at the table.”
This book has got Sunday Dinner Revival written all over it.
Plotting my first test of Keller’s fried chicken, I figured what the hey, I’ll do another recipe from the book just to give it a good run. I chose Potato Pave. Thinly sliced potatoes are soaked in cream and carefully layered into a neat rectangle using a loaf pan.
The loaf is baked in the oven, cooled and then cut into tidy squares which are pan-fried to a crispy brown before serving.
Both recipes contain easy to find ingredients and don’t require a ton of skill, but they do require some time and attention. Rest assured, the labor is worth it, and much of it can be done in advance so they’re not stressful dishes to put on the table. It goes without saying that a fresh and light side dish is the best choice to round out this meal, like a simple green salad with a crisp vinaigrette.
If you’re a foodie, recipe blogger, or cookbook junkie like me, you may have seen both of these recipes floating around the web. Seems like they’re everywhere. So in the interest of being respectful to the author’s intellectual property, I hereby give you links to the recipes from sources who surely are reliable:
Truth be told we’re going out to dinner this Valentine’s Day, and I already made Noah one of his other big loves: Marmalade. You can read all about my marmalade how-to’s and check out my recipe for Rustic Blood Orange Marmalade on Nourish Network. Today, the weather is warming and I can smell our semi-annual fried chicken feed right around the corner. When it comes, it’s going to be tough not to make TK’s FC all over again.
Happy Valentine’s Day dear SDR readers. May yours be filled with love and your favorite treats!