When a friend called me last week after a road trip through Napa Valley gushing about a “transcendent” fried chicken experience my ears perked. I believe her exact words were, “you’ve never tasted anything like this.”
Not surprisingly, the fried chicken in question was eaten at Thomas Keller’s restaurant Ad Hoc where the Monday evening Fried Chicken Menu has inspired pilgrimages nationwide. Fortunately for those of us unable to attend in person, there is a beautiful cookbook to guide us to Keller’s fried culinary bliss. What makes it so good? The secret is in the brine. Before dredging the chicken in spiced flour and buttermilk, the bird is soaked for 12 hours in a lemon herb brine. To use Thomas Keller’s words, “If there is a better fried chicken, I haven’t tasted it.”
Ad Hoc’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken (adapted from Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller)
1 3 pound chicken (I bought a mixture of legs, thighs, wings and drummettes already butchered)
2 1/2 lemons (halved)
12 bay leaves
1/2 bunch parsley
1/2 bunch thyme
1/4 cup honey
1/2 garlic bulb (unpeeled and smashed)
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 cup salt
1 gallon water
For Dredging and Frying
2 cups buttermilk
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons cayenne
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
fleur de sel (or any good sea salt)
rosemary and thyme sprigs
In a very large pot, combine all brine ingredients and bring to a boil until the salt dissolves. Take off heat and cool. Add the chicken to the cooled brine, being sure that it is completely submerged, and refrigerate for no more than 12 hours.
Drain the chicken and pat dry. Scrape off any herbs or peppercorns stuck to the skin. If your chicken is whole, cut the bird into 8 pieces, keeping the breast meat on the bone.
In a very large, deep skillet or pot, heat at least 2 inches of oil. With an instant read thermometer, measure the oil temperature – it should hover around 330 degrees. Next to the stove, set a cooling rack over a baking sheet lined with foil.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper. Divide flour mixture equally into 2 bowls. Pour the buttermilk in a large, shallow bowl. Working with a few pieces at a time, dredge the chicken in the first bowl of flour, then in the buttermilk, and then dredge again in the 2nd bowl of flour, pressing so it adheres all over. Transfer the chicken to a baking sheet lined with wax or parchment paper.
*Note: The cookbook advises cooking the dark and light meat separately, the dark at 320 degrees and the white meat at 340 degrees. Unless you have a deep fryer with a temperature gauge, I found it difficult to maintain the perfect temperature in a home setting. I suggest 330 degrees as a compromise using your instant read thermometer to check for doneness. Chicken register at 160 degrees Fahrenheit when cooked through.
Fry the chicken in batches, turning as necessary, until golden and crunchy. Transfer the chicken to the rack or to paper towels to drain. If need be, you can transfer the chicken to a 400 degree oven to keep warm before serving dinner.
Transfer the fried chicken to a platter, fry herb sprigs for garnish and serve!