In this image taken on June 3, 2013, the best fried chicken you’ll ever eat at home is shown served on a plate in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)
by J.M. Hirsh
AP Food Editor
As recently as eight months ago, I’d have told you I don’t really care for fried chicken.
It wasn’t so much that I disliked it, but rather I simply never felt it was worth the trouble. Certainly too much trouble to make at home. Even eating it out seemed more bothersome than it was worth, what with the greasy hands and bones and such. I recognized I was in the minority on this, but that’s just how it went.
Then last October I got to play Tyler Florence’s sous chef for a night. It was fun and delicious all around, but the transformative moment was when he fed me some of the fried chicken the rest of his team had been working on. I’d heard people rave about his fried chicken, a menu staple at his San Francisco restaurant, Wayfare Tavern. Nonetheless, I cautioned him that I didn’t like fried chicken.
Except it was wonderful. Rich with rosemary and sage and salt and pepper. Crisped to perfection, yet moist and tender inside.
Suffice to say, I’ve spent far too much time since that bite trying recreate some approximation of it at home. And with time and many, many attempts — as well as some tips from Florence — I finally created a fried chicken that was delicious and memorable and crave-worthy. It’s still a far cry from Florence’s version, but I think it is honest to the spirit of it.
But there was a problem. The recipe was almost impossible to share. You see, part of what makes Florence’s chicken so perfect is that he cooks the meat sous vide (basically a long, slow bath in moderately hot water) before it is deep-fried. I was actually so obsessed with this recipe that I enlisted my electrical engineer father to construct a sous vide cooker for me.
Trouble is, most people don’t have sous vide cookers. And most people retain enough of their sanity to not buy or build one just for a fried chicken recipe. Hence, the difficulty in sharing the recipe, which also happened to take roughly five hours to produce enough chicken for six people.
So I went back at it and tried to find a workaround that lets the home cook use a similar two-step cooking method without requiring any special equipment. The solution ended up being poaching the chicken. Not quite the same, but still pretty great. This method also allows you to prep the chicken right up through the breading stage, then refrigerate it for up to a day before flash frying just before serving.
One important caveat. Though inspired by Florence’s chicken, this is not his recipe. He helped me get the seasonings right, but it is by no means his. His is much better. But in the event you won’t be able to make it out to his restaurant any time soon, this is a great chicken to make for yourself at home.