Several days ago in a post on her blog Fun With Carbs, Leeanne Griffin described recreating the amazing buttermilk fried chicken served at chef Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc restaurant in Yountville, CA. Her joyfully over-the-top account was enthusiastic and bursting with fun, and she made it obvious that the recipe produced an awesome-tasting fried chicken that was second to none. I found it quite inspiring, in fact, and made up my mind to try the recipe myself.
Because I have long experience with both whole fowl and big batches of brine (smoking, pickling, and homemade bacon all require gallons of the stuff) I didn't find the prep work as daunting as Leeanne perhaps did. But although it's indeed time-consuming and labor intensive for such a relatively simple meal, the results are truly worth it.. The brine is absolutely the key - it imparts a wonderful flavor and juiciness to the meat and makes it more than just another fried chicken recipe. It was so good that I consider the recipe a keeper, and one that I will certainly make again.
There are, however, a couple of changes I'd make (may Mr. Keller and Leeanne forgive me.) Wanting to test the seasoning balance in the coating, I fried up a couple of test pieces before going all out and found the coating a little bland. An extra tablespoon of salt and a tablespoon of Bell's Poultry Seasoning mixed into the coating mix provided what we were looking for. Before making any tweaks to the recipe, though, I still recommend that you fry a piece of chicken in the coating as originally formulated just to be sure you really want to tinker with what many people feel is perfection.
The other change I plan is in the cooking method. I no longer own a deep fryer - it's one of those "single use" appliances that I shed from my kitchen a few years ago when I decided that I'd collected too many one-trick culinary ponies in the pantry. I deep fry the way my grandmother did, with a heavy pot of oil, a frying thermometer clipped to one side, and careful regulation of the fire. The trouble with deep frying chicken is the chicken fat which contaminates the cooking oil and renders it, for me anyway, unacceptable for further use. Next time I make Ad Hoc chicken, it will be coated the same way as in the cookbook, but fried in shallow oil in a covered "chicken fryer," turning frequently to ensure that all sides are browned and crispy. It will take no more time than deep-frying in batches, and the end result will be virtually indistinguishable from deep fried, but it will use far less oil (and give me a pan of drippings for whipping up some country gravy.)