I think I’ve been avoiding writing this post for the same reasons I’ve always avoided making fried chicken from scratch – I’m afraid I’m not going to do it justice, or do it right.
Seven Spoons has been one of my favourite blogs, if not my number one, for as long as I’ve known food blogs existed. I’ve been waiting for Tara’s book to be conceived, written and released for almost as long – and now it’s finally here, in glorious 3D, and for lack of a non-cliché, even more beautiful than I imagined. Pardon the poor/harsh late-night kitchen/bedside lighting.
I’ve loved cookbooks literally since I was a kid and hoarded stacks of them at my bedside, and Seven Spoons has everything I always crave in one. For years I’ve aspired to Tara’s focus and precision, her ability to slow down, to commit time to quality over quantity. Her style and her eye and her taste – everything she makes, I want to eat. The printed and bound version of her blog is no different, except that I can hold it in my hands and flip through the pages; I stopped bookmarking with my usual post-it notes because I was noting all of them. Just reading it makes me feel like a better, calmer, more grounded cook.
When I came to the page with the photo of bee-stung fried chicken, named for the Korean chile-infused honey butter drizzled overtop, I knew I had to give it a go – not only because it looked, like everything else in the book, like something I wanted to lick right off the page, but because although I have no fear of frying – I fry doughnuts and fritters and even fried chicken to lay over waffles – for some reason I stop short at the idea of frying bone-in chicken for fear that the irregular pieces won’t cook through to the bone, or turn into some form of wet paper towel-wrapped jerky as a result of overcooking. I needed Tara to hold my hand.
We invited friends over on Saturday night. After a long day out and about I arrived home, chickens in hand, with just two hours before everyone arrived. I was unconcerned, until I referred to the recipe and noticed it requested a minimum 4 hour marinade – or overnight. This is the kind of thing I tend to miss. But I broke the chickens down and put the pieces in a bowl with salt, pepper, a bit of brown sugar and paprika – I was out of thyme and bay leaves – and they sat for a couple hours, and were completely fine and delicious. Perhaps some extra time and thyme would have made a difference, but we didn’t notice.
My photos are lacking; I didn’t want to interrupt our evening with cameras or food styling or make our friends feel like I was working rather than visiting. They came over and sat in the kitchen nook as it started getting dark, and we sipped rhubarb-ginger cocktails while I cooked a batch of hush puppies (corn fritters) to nibble on in anticipation of the chicken. We ate them by the warm plateful, drizzled in Tara’s sauce – honey and butter spiked with garlic and Korean gochujang and gochugaru, which turned out to be as brilliant an accessory for the fritters as for the chicken itself.
The recipe was posted earlier this week on the Random House website; as usual mine morphed as I cooked, partly because of my lack of attention to detail, and partly because that’s what recipes tend to do – I have a hard time following them exactly, although this time for the most part I did.
Tara says, in the intro: “While it takes some time, the method for fried chicken isn’t burdensome. It is particular, though. There’s a dry rub first, then careful dredging and cooking. Mixing flour and cornstarch contributes to the crunch, while using diluted buttermilk slows the browning of the crust, to allow the meat the time it needs to cook, and baking powder helps keep the coating light. There is a glee in the making, and unmitigated joy in the eating.”
If you don’t have gochujang or gochugaru in your spice rack, don’t sweat it – I spiked my honey-butter with some homemade hot sauce from the farmers’ market (my spice rack has not regained its previous size since the kitchen reno), or you could add a big pinch of chile flakes, although it won’t make your sauce as brilliant red as the powder and paste. I used salted butter because I like a bit of salt, but other than that the only difference, besides the abbreviated initial marinade, was that while frying the chicken I didn’t cover the pot for the first two minutes – I don’t like the way it spatters and pops as the condensation runs down the lid and hits the hot oil. But Tara told me by text that she likes the way the lid creates extra pressure to help cook the chicken through, so as with all cooking, do what your comfort level dictates.
Tara also says, by way of a recipe note: “In terms of double dipping and dredging, more coating sounds like a good idea, but unfortunately,that’s not always the case. A thicker crust makes a more solid barrier between the chicken and the heat. That increased distance and the coating’s ability to trap steam adds risk; though the exterior looks golden, you might find flabby skin beneath a wet underside of crust and pink spots at the bones. If you choose to double up, keep the layers light, and be sure to check the meat with a thermometer to confirm proper cooking.”
Really, this coating could not be improved upon. It creates a deep, crisp, shattering shell that’s not at all hard or powdery. I found that it provided enough for two whole chickens, my pieces cooked in 6-8 minutes, and I loved the extra insurance a stint in a warm oven provided.
The chicken you see here represents what was left over; I kept the last few uncooked chicken pieces in the remaining buttermilk mixture in a zip-lock bag in the fridge and fried them the next day, quickly dredged in a new batch of flour-cornstarch-paprika-saltandpepper, without the initial dry dip. So glorious. Thanks for helping me take this leap, Tara. And for the beautiful book. xo
Tara’s Bee Stung Fried Chicken (with Korean gochujang honey)
Adapted slightly in my own kitchen from Seven Spoons by Tara O’Brady.
1 Tbsp. medium-grain kosher salt
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. smoked or sweet paprika
1 tsp. brown sugar
6 sprigs thyme (optional)
2 bay leaves, broken in half (optional)
1 fryer chicken, about 3 lb (1.4 kg), cut into 10 pieces
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. medium-grain kosher salt
3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, well shaken
1/3 cup water
2 tsp. aluminum-free baking powder
4 cups (1 L) oil, for deep frying (Tara likes peanut; I used canola)
Hot honey butter:
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
1/2 clove garlic, grated
1 tsp. gochugaru (Korean ground red pepper powder), cayenne, or crushed red pepper flakes
To season the chicken, combine the salt, pepper, paprika, sugar, thyme leaves pulled off their stems, and broken bay leaves. Put the chicken pieces in a large bowl and toss with the seasoned salt. Cover and refrigerate for as much time as you have – up to overnight. If you’re frying right away, let it sit on the countertop while you get everything else ready. Otherwise, remove the chicken from the fridge an hour before you plan to cook to take the chill off, and set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet.
To make the coating, in a wide, shallow dish or pie plate stir together the flour, cornstarch, paprika, salt, and pepper. In a bowl (or another pie plate) whisk the buttermilk, water, and baking powder.
Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves from the chicken. Using one hand in the wet and another in the dry, lightly dredge a piece of chicken in the seasoned flour, then dunk in the buttermilk mixture, letting any excess drip off. Place the pieces on the rack as you go. Starting with the first piece, coat the chicken again in the seasoned flour, coating it well, then shaking off any excess dry mix. The aim is to build up a thin, wrinkled coating. Return the piece to the wire rack and do the same with the rest of the chicken.
Line a large plate (I always use a large cast iron skillet that lives on the stovetop) with a few layers of paper towels. Preheat the oven to 200°F and set another wire rack over a sheet pan and place in the warm oven. In an 8-quart (8 L) Dutch oven with a 12-inch diameter, bring the oil to 350°F over medium-high heat. (Or use a deep fryer and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.) It should be hot, but not smoking – a scrap of bread should sizzle as you dip it in.
While the oil heats, make the honey butter. In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the butter and honey, swirling to combine. Stir in the gochujang, garlic, and gochugaru. Set aside.
Starting with the legs and thighs, lower half the chicken pieces into the oil, skin side down. Cook for about 8 minutes, turning after the first few, and then again as needed until the pieces are deep golden. While cooking, adjust the heat as needed to maintain the oil temperature around 335°F (170°C)—the initial oil temperature of 350°F (175°C) is to compensate for how much heat will be lost once the chicken hits the fat. Transfer to the paper towel lined plate or pan to drain a bit, then to the oven rack for about 10 minutes, after which the chicken should be around 180°F at the thickest part of the thigh. Either toss the chicken with the hot honey butter or drizzle it over the chicken, then have at it.