From the Chronicle Kitchen:
Eat Like a Man
Today’s post comes from Ryan D’Agostino, editor of Esquire’s Eat Like a Man: The Only Cookbook a Man Will Ever Need, which celebrates the best qualities of being a man in the kitchen. That includes, of course, being a dad, and with Father’s Day just around the corner, it seems only fitting that Ryan reveal his choice of meal for the occasion. We’ll be giving away a copy of the book to one lucky reader (a father himself, perhaps?) next week—leave a comment below telling us your Father’s Day eating plans for the chance to win!
My mother-in-law was in town not long ago. She’s a wonderful lady—kind, soft-spoken, funny, and generous. She is from the South, having grown up in Roanoke, Virginia, and she raised her three children (including my wife) in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
She knows fried chicken.
I’m from Connecticut. I love fried chicken, but I don’t know fried chicken. I’ve eaten enough of it, in good places, to understand what it is and should be, but I did not grow up grabbing drumsticks off the kitchen table on Sunday afternoons and washing them down with sweet tea, which is what I imagine everyone in the South doing on Sunday afternoons.
But I had this great recipe for fried chicken. So I decided to make fried chicken.
I felt confident, partly because of my mother-in-law’s generosity. She doesn’t judge. But also, I had a recipe from a Southern chef, John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi, that made me believe that anyone can make fried chicken at home. The recipe is a recreation of the fried chicken at Willa Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans, which sounds like the kind of place one should eat fried chicken. You brine it in a solution that includes Coca-Cola, batter it, and fry it in a combination of peanut oil and lard on the stove.
The method looked involved, but not difficult. I opened a beer and started cooking. I had finished that beer and another by serving time. The chicken, hot and glistening gold, was incredible. It was what I picture people in the South grabbing off the table on Sundays—juicy, crunchy, sweet, salty. My mother-in-law said it was some of the best she’d ever had. Even if she was exaggerating, I think she liked it.
It wasn’t difficult to make. Everyone helped a little—my four-year-old son giggled as he dipped the chicken pieces in the goopy batter and stared, mesmerized, as it transformed in the fry oil. The smoke alarm went off, which was exciting.
In a way, making John Currence’s Coca-Cola-Brined Fried Chicken is the perfect example of eating like a man, which is why it’s included in Esquire’s new cookbook, Eat Like A Man. The recipe, and the book, are about cooking and eating with joy and enthusiasm, and without the stress of perfection. They’re about feeding people you love. They’re about getting in the kitchen and trying something, to see how it comes out. And they’re about busting outside of your comfort zone, and your accepted geography.
I should note that the book is not exclusive—we were all of us eating like men that night: me, my wife, her mother, and our two sons. I had fed my family something delicious and satisfying. They had showered me with praise and thanks, which is of course what we all seek every day.
There are about a hundred other recipes in the book, so I’ll be repeating the experience of cooking for my mother-in-law—Sunday gravy, steak au poivre, croque monsieurs, chilaquiles—every time she visits. This Sunday, Father’s Day, I’m going to ask my wife and my boys to repeat that fried chicken, for me.
Coca-Cola-Brined Fried Chicken
After Katrina, I helped rebuild the fifty-year-old Willie Mae’s Scotch House, one of the city’s culinary landmarks. This is my attempt at re-creating Willie Mae’s secret-recipe chicken, the best I’ve ever eaten. The Coca-Cola gives it a sweetness that plays nicely against the cayenne. I added pickle-garlic relish as a nod to the late, great Austin Leslie, another New Orleans cook and a high priest of the deep-fat chicken fryer. He died after evacuating his home after the storm. This dish is a tip of the hat to two of the best I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.
Difficulty: Worth the Extra Effort
12 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin-on
4 cups Coca-Cola 1 tsp liquid smoke (optional)
2 1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp Tabasco sauce 3 tbsp coarse salt
3 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg
3/4 cup peanut oil
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp coarse salt
4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
peanut oil and lard
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 cup dill-pickle chips, plus a little pickle juice if desired
3 tbsp minced garlic
TO BRINE THE CHICKEN: Rinse the chicken, drain, and set aside. Combine all the remaining brining ingredients in a large bowl, stirring until the salt dissolves. Put the chicken in the brine, cover, and marinate, refrigerated, for 4 hours.
TO MAKE THE BATTER: Whisk the egg well in a stainless steel bowl and add the peanut oil and 2 1/2 cups water. In a separate bowl, combine all the remaining batter ingredients, then add the dry mixture to the egg mixture, whisking slowly so the batter doesn’t clump.
TO FRY THE CHICKEN: Fill a large cast-iron skillet halfway with equal amounts of peanut oil and lard. Slowly bring the temperature to 375°F. (Use a deep-fat thermometer.)
While the oil is heating, remove the chicken from the brine and place in a colander in the sink. Once the chicken has drained, pat it dry with paper towels (a critical step) and season with salt and pepper. Dip the chicken in the batter and place it (carefully) in the hot oil. Adjust the heat, as the chicken will bring the oil temperature down dramatically—you want it back up to just above 350°F. Turn the chicken regularly using tongs to prevent burning. After 8 or 9 minutes, remove a piece, prick it to the bone with a fork, and mash it. If the juices run clear, it’s done. Continue cooking if necessary.
TO MAKE THE PICKLE-GARLIC RELISH: Finely chop and combine all the relish ingredients.
Serve with the chicken. Cover any leftovers with a dishtowel and leave out at room temperature (or in the fridge, if you must, although my grandmother never did). This keeps it crisp.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
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