Ruhlman’s Fried Chicken
Growing up, my mom and grandma cooked mostly Vietnamese food. We never ate out because we didn’t have the money. On special occasions (or more likely when grandma didn’t feel like cooking), she would hand one of my older cousins a $20 bill and send us out for a bucket of KFC. Those were always special days.
I haven’t had KFC in a really long time but fried chicken is still a special treat. All week, I’d planned on making fried chicken from the ad hoc at home cookbook. While I was researching methods, I read a post by Michael Ruhlman (who co-wrote all of Thomas Keller’s cookbooks) in which he proclaimed his fried chicken better than TK’s. The recipes are fairly similar though the seasonings are different. Ruhlman isn’t a cocky guy, so I decided to believe it and go with his recipe instead. I also reviewed the batter seasoning and Ruhlman’s sounded better.
Now, if I’m going to spend 3 days prepping fried chicken (1 day each to brine, air dry and cook), I’m going to make a bunch, invite my family over to share, and make sure I have enough for leftovers during the week (2 whole chickens for 6 adults). The result was a unanimous thumbs up. I had never deep-fried anything before (invest in a candy thermometer to maintain your temps) but it wasn’t that difficult. The meat was juicy but not greasy at all (like KFC usually is). The skin was crispy and flavorful and the leftovers made for great salads during the week. We served it with asiago/chive buttermilk biscuits (need to find a better recipe), fresh corn, and for dessert–apricot/peach pie. I strained the leftover oil and have it stored in a canning jar for future use. Supposedly the oil gets better after a few fries.
Fried chicken isn’t something I can eat every Sunday, but we’ve agreed every 3-4 months it will be good for the soul…assuming we keep running on all of the other days.
No brine pictures, but above is the air-chilled chicken ready for frying
Ready for the fryer
Tea time before dinner
Sunday night family dinner
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 4 smashed garlic cloves
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- Kosher salt*
- 5-6 branches rosemary
- 3-4 bay leaves (optional)
- 1 bunch parsley and/or thyme (optional)
- 4.5 cups water
- 1 lemon, quartered
- 8 chicken legs (drumsticks and thighs separated) and 8 chicken wings or 2 whole chickens (3-4 lbs each) cut into pieces
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 Tbsps black pepper
- 2 Tbsps paprika
- 2 Tbsps sea salt*
- 2 tsps cayenne pepper
- 2 Tbsps baking powder
- 2 cups buttermilk
- Lots of canola/vegetable oil for deep-frying
*Sea salt is saltier than table salt, which is saltier than Kosher. Adjust according to what you have on hand.
Day 1: Make the brine
In a saucepan over medium-high heat, sauté the onion and garlic in oil. After 30 seconds or so, add 3 tablespoons salt and cook until translucent (3-4 minutes). Add your herbs (rosemary, parsley, bay leaves, thyme) and cook to heat it, ~30 seconds. Add the water and lemon, squeeze juice from the wedges into the water and remove any seeds. Bring the water to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from heat and allow the brine to cool. Refrigerate until chilled.
Place the chicken in 2 large, sturdy ziploc bags. Set the bags in a large bowl for support. Pour the cooled brine and aromatics evenly into the bags. Seal the bags so as to remove as much air as possible and the chicken is fully submerged. Refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours, agitating the bag occasionally to redistribute the brine and the chicken.
Day 2: Air dry the chicken
Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse under cold water, pat dry, and set on a rack or paper towels. Discard the brine. The chicken can be refrigerated for up to 3 days before you fry it, or it can be fried immediately. Ideally, it should be refrigerated, uncovered, for at least a day to dry out the skin. You get a crispier skin and less oil splatter this way.
Day 3: Fry and eat!
Set the chicken out for 60-90 minutes to allow the meat to come to room temperature. Combine the flour, black pepper, paprika, sea salt, cayenne, and baking powder in a bowl. Divide this mixture between two bowls. Pour the buttermilk into a third bowl. Set a rack on a baking sheet/tray. Dredge the chicken in the flour, shake off the excess. Next, dip in the buttermilk, and finally, dredge them aggressively in the second bowl of flour and set them on the rack.
Heat oil in a cast-iron pot for deep-frying to 350°F (I used a 7 qt Le Creuset and a candy thermometer). You don’t want to fill your oil higher than 1/3 of the way up the sides of the pot. Add as many chicken pieces as you can without crowding the pot. Adjust the heat to maintain the frying temperature. Cook the chicken, turning the pieces occasionally, until they are cooked through: 12-15 minutes for legs/thighs, 7-9 minutes for breasts, and 6 minutes for wings. Remove to a clean rack and allow them to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with fine sea salt before serving.
If you have to fry in batches for a party, you can keep the chicken warm in a 250F oven on a rack to keep the skin crisp. Try to place the drumstick sides up so more grease drips away.