A Fried Chicken Conundrum

Deep-fried drumsticks and thighs glistening just after their turn in the hot oil

I couldn’t help but feel a wee bit like a traitor when I made this fried chicken dish.

Growing up, I loved my mum’s fried chicken. In fact, I worshiped it. To me, there was no comparison. Mum made two versions of fried chicken: one, we called ayam goreng kuning (yellow fried chicken) that was tinged with turmeric, and ayam goreng manis (sweet fried chicken), which was made with palm sugar. Both were braised in a rich array of spices before being deep fried to a crisp.

I always ate both fried chickens with my fingers, and still do to this day. Licking the juices and spices off my fingers at the end of the meal was part of the sublime experience. I would tear away some succulent flesh from the bone and scoop it up with a handful of rice. I loved the meeting of crispy skin and fluffy, white rice in my mouth, as well as the taste and texture of the fried bumbu (or seasoning) bits that added flavor and crunch to each bite.

Yes, my mum’s fried chickens were the end-all and be-all until … I discovered Scott Peacock’s and Edna Lewis’s Miraculously Good Fried Chicken.

I was longing for fried chicken but didn’t want to attempt my mum’s long and laborious recipes so I did what everyone does nowadays. I sent a request out to the Twitter universe, asking for easy yet tasty fried chicken recipes. Shauna James Ahern of Gluten-Free Girl fame came to my rescue and suggested I try this recipe.

The recipe didn’t require any pounding of spices and while there’s no instant gratification (the whole process took about 24 hours), most of the prep time was taken up by passive brining and soaking. It seemed pretty simple to me, and simple was what I was looking for. I also got to try my hand at deep frying with lard, which I’ve not attempted before.

Fluffy, white-as-clouds lard sizzling in my Staub with butter

The resulting chicken had tasty, tender, and juicy meat (because I used only dark meat, it was all the more luscious) and a crusty coating that fell apart as I crunched into it. As my husband and I sat there enjoying our meal in silence, I consoled myself that Southern fried chicken was worlds apart from Indonesian fried chicken and there was still no comparison to mum’s.

I have to admit though, that the flavor of the lard was a little overpowering and next time, I’ll try using a combo of butter and cooking oil instead. There is a limit to how much my arteries can take after all.

Scott Peacock’s and Edna Lewis’s Miraculously Good Fried Chicken
Adapted from “The Gift of Southern Cooking”

This recipe blends the authors’ best chicken-frying tips from Virginia and Alabama. The chicken is soaked twice: first in brine, Alabama-style, and then in buttermilk. The brine helps the flesh retain moisture and season it all the way through; the buttermilk adds a tangy flavor and helps tenderize it. The Virginia-style frying fat originally includes country ham but I figured the lard and sweet butter would make the chicken rich-tasting enough. I couldn’t help but embellish the recipe with a couple of Asian twists by using soy sauce to inject some rich umami into the brine and tapioca starch instead of cornstarch in the dredge.

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 1 to 1 1/2 hours, plus 24 hours or more for brining

3 tablespoons sea or kosher salt (don’t use table salt for brining as the iodide will discolor)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/3 cup sugar
1 quart cold water
3 pounds chicken thighs and drumsticks
1 to 2 cups buttermilk
1 pound lard
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons tapioca starch
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Make the brine: In a large nonreactive bowl or pot, stir the sea salt and sugar into the cold water until dissolved. Add the chicken, making sure the brine covers the pieces completely. Cover and refrigerate 8 to 12 hours.

Drain the brined chicken and rinse out the bowl it was brined in. Return the chicken to the bowl, and pour enough buttermilk over to cover. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours. Drain the chicken on a wire rack, discarding the buttermilk.

Prepare the fat for frying by combining the lard and butter in a wok or large cast iron pot (my 2 liter Staub pot worked beautifully). Cook over low heat for 30 to 45 minutes, skimming as needed, until the butter ceases to throw off foam.

Just before frying, increase the temperature to medium-high and heat the fat to 335 degrees F. Prepare the dredge by blending together the flour, tapioca starch, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl. Dredge the drained chicken pieces thoroughly in the flour mixture, then pat well to remove all excess flour.

Prepare a plate covered with crumpled paper towels or a wire rack to drain the fried chicken.

Using tongs, slip some of the chicken pieces, skin side down, into the heated fat. Do not overcrowd the pan or the cooking fat will cool. Fry in batches, if necessary. Regulate the fat so it just bubbles, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes on each side, until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through. Drain on paper towels, and serve with mashed potatoes and braised greens.

Some useful tips for frying chicken from the book:
-Be sure to pat off all excess dredge.
-Drain the chicken well on crumpled-up—not flat—paper towels or a wire rack.

Universal Fried Chicken–A Recipe for Filipino Fried Chicken

I’m convinced. Fried chicken is universal.

In the U.S., we’re most familiar with Southern-style fried chicken–thanks (or perhap, no thanks) to ubiquitous fast food chain KFC–but Southerners weren’t the first people in the world to fry their chickens. Just about every country has their version of fried chicken: Vietnam has ga chien (marinated with fish sauce of course) while Italy has pollo fritto. And then there’s the tongue tickling Indonesian fried chicken*s*–yes, there’re two different types–my mum made when I was growing up. One was ayam goreng kalasan (sweet chicken) made with coconut water, palm sugar, bay leaves, and galangal among other herbs and spices; while the other, ayam goreng kuning (yellow chicken), is seasoned with lemongrass, ginger, and turmeric which gives it its ochre hue. Both chicken dishes have to be braised together with the herbs and spices first before deep frying.

Lucky Seattleites can savor my mum’s signature fried chicken at Julia’s Indonesian Kitchen. Others will just have to wait until I blog about her recipe :).

Or you could try this very tasty and oh-so-simple fried chicken recipe christened Chicken Joy! (exclamation point included). I asked Aunty Neneng, who gave me this recipe, why it’s called as such. She couldn’t tell me but once my teeth sank into the crisped skin of a freshly fried drumstick and I chewed on the moist flesh beneath, I knew the answer. The smile on my face must have spoken of pure joy. (An aside: as a child I used to love chicken wings, I especially enjoyed gnawing on wingtips till they lost their flavor but drumsticks have since overtaken as my favorite chicken part.)

Aunty Neneng is Filipino (and not really my aunt, see here for explanation) and I was a wee bit surprised that she offered up this fried chicken recipe which I thought very “American.” When she was showing me how to make it, I was hoping at every step that she would “Asianize” the recipe, perhaps with some chilies or tamarind juice. No such luck.

Then it came to me. Considering the Philippines was under U.S. rule (1889-1935) and then dominated by heavy U.S. military presence (the last military base closed in 1992) for almost a century, it’s not surprising that fried chicken is common. And like the advent of Chinese-American restaurants (though much tastier and more authentic I’d hope), it’s inevitable that Asian home cooking in the U.S. evolved to include dishes from the adopted homeland or fusion dishes amalgamating both near and far. In a similar vein, many former colonies have embraced offbeat hybrids into their culinary vernacular–Filipino spaghetti and my mum’s spam Mac and Cheese come to mind.

Besides, the recipe differs from traditional Southern fried recipes in that it doesn’t use milk or buttermilk, and the chicken is mixed in with the flour as opposed to dredged in it. And instead of the usual biscuits, coleslaw, or mashed potatoes with gravy, Chicken Joy! is more often than not, eaten with rice. Tell me if I’m hanging on by a thread here …

Regardless of where it originates or how it’s made, we can all agree on one thing–that fried chicken should be eaten with the fingers.

If you have a cross-pollinated home cooked dish to share, do drop me a comment!

Chicken Joy!

 

Aunty Neneng says her Chicken Joy! is a favorite at children’s parties and fiestas to celebrate the days dedicated to patron saints. But this scrumptious crispy on the outside, succulent on the inside fried chicken (also known as yummy yummy chicken to Aunty Neneng’s grandkids) is perfect anytime you’d like a bite of comfort food. Frying always makes a mess and isn’t the healthiest of cooking methods, so if you don’t feel like dealing with kitchen splattering, artery clogging oil for one day, you can always bake the chicken in the oven at 375F for about 45 minutes. It doesn’t turn out as juicy but still tastes pretty good. Tip: younger chickens, broilers, fryers, and game hens are best for frying.

Makes: 6 servings

3-1/2 to 4 pounds of chicken pieces: drumsticks, wings, breasts, thighs, etc.

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt, divided

1 teaspoon black pepper

Juice from 2 small lemons, (about 1/4 cup)

2 eggs

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

3 cups (or more) of canola oil for frying

Wash chicken pieces.

In a large bowl, combine chicken, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper and lemon juice. Mix well. Set aside and marinate for at least 30 minutes up to an hour.

After 30 minutes, crack eggs into bowl. Add flour and 1 teaspoon salt and mix until chicken is well coated.

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Heat oil in a wok or heavy skillet over high heat until temperature reaches 375F. Reduce heat to medium. Use tongs or cooking chopsticks to lower chicken into the fat, one piece at a time.

Chicken should be completely immersed in oil and do not crowd the pan.

Fry chicken until golden brown and tender, turning the pieces, if necessary, so they brown evenly, about 10 to 15 minutes. When done, drain on paper towels. Use a slotted spoon or a wire mesh strainer to remove any debris from the oil then continue frying the rest of the chicken.

Serve hot with banana ketchup or Thai sweet chili sauce. Mmm…