After a really odd week of record snowfall, record cold, cancelled school and lots of snow shovelling, we decided to treat ourselves by making a weekend supper of fried chicken, biscuits and collard greens. The fried chicken was inspired by my latest library find, Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller – a gorgeous, heavy, hunger-inspiring book. The chicken, which called for brining followed by double-coating, seemed a bit more involved than the buttermilk fried rabbit I made a few months ago, but very doable. Well, it was indeed, but unfortunately my brain wasn’t fully in gear and we hit a few bumps along the way.
First came the brine for the chicken. I hadn’t read the recipe in its entirety, or I would have realized the brine needed to be assembled, boiled and chilled ahead of time. On Saturday morning I went to put the chicken to brine and panicked at the listing of five lemons and a whole head of garlic, then calmed down and realized we only needed a quarter recipe for the amount of chicken we had. I made a few adjustments, combining kosher salt with water, one and a half lemons, four bay leaves (carefully plucked from the cold-shocked, snow-buried tree in the backyard), two cloves of garlic, some peppercorns, and the top half of the picked-over bunch of parsley we had left in the fridge. I brought all this to a boil, then stuck the pot into the snow on the deck to chill it as quickly as possible. At least all that stupid snow was good for something.
Once the pot was cool, I combined the chicken and brine in a zip-loc bag and stuck it in the fridge. It was supposed to brine for 12 hours, but I think we only managed 7 or 8. It would have to do.
About an hour before dinner, I got the chicken out, rinsed the brine off and set the pieces to air dry and warm up. Jon stemmed collard greens while I measured out the flour coating ingredients and the biscuit dough. I got out a measuring cup and reached into the fridge to get the buttermilk. Only it wasn’t there. Why wasn’t it there? We had bought some, surely? But neither of us had any memory of buying it, or even of it being on our shopping list. Shit.
Yes, I could have clabbered milk with vinegar or lemon juice and used it instead of buttermilk. But I wasn’t sure if the texture of clabbered milk would be as ideal for dipping the chicken, and I was also slightly worried about not having enough milk for coffee the next morning. Also, we noticed that there was hardly any canola oil left in the house. So Jon drove out to the store through the falling sleet and braved the icy, barely-plowed streets to buy the things we were missing. In the meantime I parboiled the collard greens and got everything else ready to go.
Once Jon returned with the buttermilk (and frying oil), everything went smoothly. I dipped the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour, then into the buttermilk, then back into the flour. The thighs went into the pan first and cooked for about 12 minutes. When they came out, the drumsticks went in. The cooked and drained collards sizzled in olive oil with red pepper flakes and our last clove of garlic. The buttermilk biscuits came out of the oven golden and dizzyingly fragrant. We opened a bottle of lightly oaked Santa Cruz chardonnay and more or less face-planted into our plates. The breading was delicate and very savory, and the chicken flesh was tender and seasoned all the way through. Maybe the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten.
And there were leftovers for lunch the next day – cold fried chicken on a wet Sunday made the whole ordeal completely worthwhile. I’m not going to make this a weekly event, as Keller so blithely suggests, but I will certainly make it again. After making sure to buy buttermilk first.