Side Dish: 4AM (October 25, 2010)
It’s 4am and I haven’t slept a wink. My mind has been racing all night about what my life will look like now.
Last night a lot of dark and painful things from my past came rushing to the present. It’s in these moments that you want to be supported by a loving family. Of course, if you’ve hurt the people in your family, that can be almost impossible. And while I am not typically an emotional eater I do think there are certain recipes that can invoke strong memories of better times. And when you don’t have your family around – whether they are physically (or emotionally) distant – sometimes all it takes is a taste of something familiar to bring you back home.
As some readers know, I have not really had much of a relationship with my mother. But I do love her deeply in spite of our differences; I don’t care how old you are, there are some points in your life, when there is nothing you want more than being close to your mom. So this week I am going to make her simple and delicious Buttermilk-Soaked Fried Chicken and think of happier times at home.
BUTTERMILK-SOAKED FRIED CHICKEN
- 1 chicken (about 3 ½ pounds), cut into eighths
- 1 ½ cups buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon salt
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- All-purpose flour
- Vegetable shortening or vegetable oil as needed (about 1 ½ cups)
The simplest way to get pieces of chicken down to the right size for frying is to buy a chicken already cut into eighths, available in most supermarkets.
- Trim any overhanging fat from the chicken pieces. If there are pieces of the backbone attached to the thigh and breast pieces, cut them off with kitchen shears. Cut off any wing tips. (Save the backbones, wing tips and giblets for broth!) Cut each breast in half crosswise with a sharp, heavy knife.
- Stir the buttermilk, salt and cayenne pepper together in a large bowl. Add the chicken pieces and toss gently to coat with seasoned buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
- When ready to fry, spread the flour out in a generous layer on a baking sheet. Have ready a wire cooling rack set over a baking sheet. Lift each piece of chicken from the buttermilk, holding it over the bowl and wiping off all but a light layer of buttermilk. Lay as many of the chicken pieces in the flour as fit without touching. Clean and dry your hands. Shake the baking sheet to turn and evenly coat the chicken pieces, then turn them by hand to make sure they are lightly but evenly coated. Lift the chicken, tap off any excess flour and set, skin-side up, on the rack. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
- Melt enough shortening in (or pour enough oil into) a wide deep skillet to fill 1 inch. (A 10-inch cast-iron skillet will hold half a chicken.) Heat over medium heat to 325 degrees F. If you don’t have a deep-drying thermometer, dip the handle of a wooden spoon in the oil. When it is hot enough, the handle will send out a steady, lively stream of tiny bubbles. Lay as many pieces of coated chicken, skin-side down, into the pan as will fit comfortably, leaving a little space between each. Don’t move the chicken until it begins to brown, or the delicate coating will stick to the pan. Adjust the heat so there is a steady, not riotous, sizzling. If there is any spattering or if the chicken starts to brown even slightly before 4 minutes, the heat is definitely up too high. Cook until the underside is a deep golden brown, about 12 minutes. Flip and cook the second side. If the heat was regulated properly, the chicken should be fully cooked. Check by inserting the tip of an instant-reading thermometer into the thickest part of each chicken piece closest to the bone. The temperature should be 165 degrees F or above.
Alternatively: Poke the tip of a pairing knife into the thickest part of each piece right down to the bone. Wait a second or two; the juices that run out must be clear, not pink, in order for the chicken to be safe to eat.
If the chicken browns before it is fully cooked, simply finish cooking the chicken, testing as above, on a baking sheet in a 375 degree F oven.
NOTE: The chicken can be served warm or at room temperature. If you’d like the serve the chicken warm, preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Fry the drumsticks and thighs first, drain them, and keep them warm on a baking sheet in the oven while frying the breast and wing pieces.