I look forward to football season more and more. With it comes a welcome cooling trend from the summer heat, festive weekends and, of course, addictive snack foods that go best with sports. I don’t know all the stats or follow the majority of the games, but I’m just as happy being along for the ride (and around for a lot of the food). For a recent UW game, I decided to change up the usual chips, burgers and hot dogs for some good ol’ fried chicken.
Backstory: This is Tyler Florence’s signature fried chicken that he serves at Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco. It’s a very distinct kind of fried chicken, that I’m sure true Southerners would balk at, but I absolutely love it. I had the home version for the first time when my sisters made it for this year’s Fourth of July BBQ, and it was all we could talk about at the table. We have previously held Ina Garten’s Engagement Chicken as a go-to chick dish, but it became clear we’d rather devour this chicken any day (I mean, it’s fried.). After a few glasses of wine, we started to joke about how this was more like “marry a better guy chicken.”
If you search for the recipe online, you’ll find a few slightly different versions. But from what I can tell, all of the spice ratios are about the same, it’s the cooking style that varies. At Wayfare, the chicken pieces are sous vide with herbs before they are fried, so the restaurant version achieves this insane moisture, flavor and crunch. I don’t think the home version can touch it, but it comes surprisingly close. I set out to make this dish with just the simple brine described below, spiced crust and traditional fry method. However, my younger sister told me to try Florence’s alternative method that’s supposed to mimic sous vide: bake the herb-smothered chicken pieces in a 200-degree oven for about 2 1/2 hours before the batter and fry. Both were delicious, but for me the clear winner was the pre-fry oven baked. I served this with a watermelon, tomato and feta salad and it was a knockout combo for game time.
Oven Baked: I chopped up about a tablespoon each of rosemary and thyme, and rubbed it onto the chicken skin with some olive oil before baking. While I did have to allow for some lead time for the chicken to bake and cool (it must be cool enough to handle before you batter), it still took less time than brining overnight. Frankly, for the chef, it just felt simpler to bake it first rather than having to fish chicken bits out of a bowl of brine water and dry them. Another plus was that the fry time was cut almost in half, to about 6 or 7 minutes. Which meant chicken was in our mouths faster. Finally, I think all the eaters agreed the flavor just popped on this one. I think baking it with the herbs really sealed the flavors, so you got them in the meat, and in the crust from the herb oil.
Brine and Fry: Renders completely juicy and lovely chicken. One could argue this version take less active time than the oven baked version since you simply drop it in a brine and forget about it overnight. Definitely a classic technique that delivers every time.
- Salt the chicken when it comes out of the fryer.
- Don’t skimp on the lemon garnish. It makes the whole dish bright, and adds that acid the fried coating really needs.
- I like more spice, so I dumped more Sriracha into the buttermilk after the first batch.
- Once you’ve battered the pieces, be sure and let them rest for 5 to 10 minutes. This lets the coating really set so it won’t fall off during frying.
- Keep the oil hovering around 360 degrees F while the pieces are cooking. My first few pieces went in at 380 degrees, and the crust became very dark and overly crisp. Invest in a candy/fry thermometer, it’s worth it.
- Chicken is great hot, but even better when you let it sit and come more to room temp (if you can keep people away from the tray that long). Keep it warm for longer on a baking rack in a 200-degree oven.
Note: This is the brine-style recipe, so if you’d like to try the oven baked, just ignore the brine instructions, and adjust frying time.
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 teaspoons cayenne
Freshly ground black pepper
1 quart buttermilk
2 tablespoons hot chili sauce (recommended: Sriracha)
Peanut oil, for frying
1/4 bunch fresh thyme
3 big sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4 bunch fresh sage
1/2 head garlic, smashed, husk still attached
Lemon wedges, for serving
Put the chicken pieces into a large bowl. Cover the chicken with water by 1 inch; add 1
tablespoon of salt for each quart of water used. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
In a large shallow platter, mix the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and cayenne until well blended; season generously with salt and pepper. In another platter combine the buttermilk and hot sauce with a fork and season with salt and pepper. Drain the chicken and pat it dry. Dredge the pieces, a few at a time, in the flour mixture, then dip them into the buttermilk; dredge them again in the seasoned flour. Set aside and let the chicken rest while you prepare the oil.
Put about 3 inches of oil into a large deep pot; it should not come up more than half way. Add the thyme, rosemary, sage, and garlic to the cool oil and heat over medium-high heat until the oil registers 350 to 365 degrees F on one of those clip-on deep-fry thermometers. The herbs and garlic will perfume the oil with their flavor as the oil comes up to temperature.
Note: I removed the garlic at this point, since I worried it would burn.
Once the oil has reached 350 to 365 degrees F, working in batches, carefully add the chicken pieces 3 or 4 at a time. Fry, turning the pieces once, until golden brown and cooked through, about 12 minutes. Total cooking time should be about 30 minutes. When the chicken is done, take a big skimmer and remove the chicken pieces and herbs from the pot, shaking off as much oil as you can, and lay it on a tea towel or brown paper bag to soak up the oil. Sprinkle all over with more salt and a dusting of cracked black pepper. Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces. Once all the chicken is fried, scatter the fried herbs and garlic over the top. Serve hot, with big lemon wedges.