Sunday, October 25, 2009

Thomas Keller Meets Pat Conroy

For Steph, who's been waiting a rude amount of time for a new post

To see just the recipe, click here.

I'm a native New Yorker, but when we moved to Atlanta in 1974, it was from St. Louis. I didn't have anything against Missouri; I had lived in Kansas City, Missouri, for two years and loved it. But I never felt at home during the year we lived in St. Louis, so I was glad to head south.

Atlanta was a smaller city in those days than it is now and different from any place I had ever lived. Most of the women I met socially did not work outside of the home. They felt sorry for me that I had a job.

I felt sorry for them that they didn't.

But the people were welcoming, and where we lived in Buckhead was beautiful. One day during the first March I lived there, I pulled my bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle over to the side of the road near The Swan House just to sit still and take in the flowers and the foliage. It was breathtaking. When I moved to Old Town, Alexandria, arguably one of the loveliest places in America, seven and a half years later, I cried every spring for the five years I lived there.

We hadn't been living in Atlanta very long when I got a yearning to go to the beach, and we decided to spend a few days at Sea Island, one of the beautiful tidal and barrier islands off the coast of Georgia.

Sea Island Postcard, Circa 1992

It was my first visit to the Georgia Coast.

Until I drove from NYC to Atlanta to look for an apartment, I had never been south of Washington, D.C. - but I felt completely in my own skin as I drove over the causeway and spied the Marshes of Glynn and saw a live oak tree for the first time.

I believe once you've been to the lowcountry, you always have a longing to go back.

To describe our growing up in the lowcountry of South Carolina, I would have to take you to the marsh on a spring day, flush the great blue heron from its silent occupation, scatter marsh hens as we sink to our knees in mud, open you an oyster with a pocketknife and feed it to you from the shell and say, "There. That taste. That's the taste of my childhood." I would say, "Breathe deeply," and you would breathe and remember that smell for the rest of your life, the bold, fecund aroma of the tidal marsh, exquisite and sensual, the smell of the South in heat, a smell like new milk, semen, and spilled wine, all perfumed with seawater. My soul grazes like a lamb on the beauty of indrawn tides.

Pat Conroy, Prince of Tides

Great Blue Heron
John James Audubon
Princeton Audubon Limited

Some of my happiest memories are vacations spent at Sea Island

with Carolyn and John and all the members of their family.

I rode my bike up and down every street on that tiny island, sometimes stopping outside Casa Genotta, the house that had once been home to Eugene O'Neill and his wife Carlotta (get it - Gen-Otta), imagining him sitting inside a room, which reportedly was built to mimic a ship's cabin, writing Ah, Wilderness!, with the Atlantic ocean lapping just yards away.

I am glad that I live in New York City again. I grew up here, and to me it is as home as home can be. But I was very happy to live in Atlanta for almost eight years and missed it so much when we moved to Northern Virginia that I drove myself back five times the first year after the move.

So it isn't surprising that the first recipe I made when I received my copy of Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller was his famous fried chicken.

The recipe calls for brining the chicken. I didn't do that, but I will try it the next time, not because it wasn't delicious - it was scrumptious - but because Michael Ruhlman says that's the secret of the recipe.

Instead, I did what I always do with chicken. I rubbed the chicken pieces all over with kosher salt and refrigerated them on a rack over a platter for 24 hours, turning them over once, to air dry them before I cooked them.

Thomas Keller recommends using chickens that weigh 2-1/2 to 3 pounds, which is smaller than the usual grocery store chicken, because the pieces are smaller and will cook in less time than pieces from a larger chicken. I am usually able to get D'Artagnan chicken or chicken pieces, which are small, but if you don't have access to them, your best bet for a small chicken is a farmer's market.

I used drumsticks and thighs instead of cutting up a whole chicken because I like dark meat and because that way the chicken pieces would cook in the same amount of time. (Dark meat cooks for a little longer than white meat.)

Fried Chicken

Adapted from Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller

Serves 4

Chicken - a whole chicken cut up into 10 pieces (2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings, 2 breasts cut in half crossways for 4 pieces) or 10 pieces of your choosing (thighs, drumsticks, breasts, etc.)
Peanut oil for deep-frying
1 quart buttermilk for dipping

Mix together:
6 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup garlic powder
1/4 cup onion powder
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
Maldon salt, crushed with your fingers

Mix together, and divide the mixture between two bowls.

I cut off any obvious globules of fat and trimmed a little hanging skin from the pieces of chicken. Then I dipped each piece of chicken in the seasoned flour, then in buttermilk, then in the seasoned flour again. I heated 2 inches of expeller-pressed peanut oil to 350 degrees in each of two pans, one an All-Clad 8-quart pan and one a LeCreuset 7-quart pan, and fried the chicken in the pans until it was almost mahogany brown.

Using these pans, with sides almost 6 inches high, instead of a skillet, was Thomas Keller's brilliant suggestion. The chicken fried perfectly, the oil didn't splatter all over the stove, and the pan was easy to clean up. If you try this, you must be extremely careful not to tip the pan over because the oil is very hot

Between the two pans, I actually preferred the way the chicken cooked in the All-Clad pan, and it might be worth having two of them if you want to make this often. I assume a cast-iron Dutch oven would work well too provided the sides are high enough, but I can't speak from experience.

This fried chicken was absolutely delicious - the best I ever had.

It is easy enough for a weeknight meal, especially since it doesn't make a mess all over the kitchen, and it was just as good leftover cold as it was right from the pan. I am going to make it often. It will be the star of the show next July Fourth. Dessert will be Clotilde's Orange Sponge Cake, topped with loosely whipped fresh cream.

I'm inviting Peggy. Even though she's from Charleston, I bet it will be the best fried chicken she's ever had.

Print recipe.


  1. Well there you are ! I have missed you. Oh-my-God... I really, really want to try this fried chicken - it looks like heaven. You know, I must confess- I have never tried to make anything fried. I am a little scared of the hot oil - I think an 'incident' in my nervous-mother's kitchen, ( circa my late 1980's high school years ), has something to do with this fear. It's been 20 years now. I should get over it.

    Do you think this is a good place to start, for a frying novice? (I am far more laid back than my mother in the kitchen), OR should I practice on something else before I give it a go? I really want to try it and surprise the man in my life with something FRIED! (He will love you for this).


  2. Hi,


    I think it would be a GREAT first frying recipe provided you use the appropriate pot to cook it in - one that is deep and heats evenly, such as a LeCreuset or All-Clad stainless tri-ply.

    I want the man in your life to love YOU for this!

  3. Vic! That chicken couldn't look any more perfect!!

  4. Thanks for this recipe. I made it last night. The high walled pot tip was oil flying all over the place for the first time in my kitchen! Other than using chicken directly from the supermarket I followed the recipe exactly. It was on the spicy side, but the 'heat' was good. I did have to finish the chicken in the oven.....when i took it out after 13 minutes in the pot it wasnt done yet. Searching around online I see that this is a pretty common problem. I would definitely make this again. Thanks again for the recipe. Your site is grand.

  5. there are too many wonderful things to comment on in this post! First of all, you have got me yearning to go to the lowcountry...Savannah's as close as I've ever gotten and I've been itching to go back ever since. And I've been wondering about Ad've confirmed my suspicions about the book!

  6. Temperature is hard to control with frying when you add cold chicken to the pan it drops the temp and doesnt cook through. Keeping a lid on during frying or using room temp chicken will help with not losing too much heat when the chicken goes in and helps with mess.
    V- I like brining and buttermilking in one step- I throw a few handfuls of salt into the buttermilk and let the chicken sit in that for a few hours. Also, for storage, I bring the temp of the chicken back down to room temp before putting it in tupperware and refrigerating it, as this prevents it from steaming and sogging the beautiful crust.
    By the way V, I almost bought ad hoc at home today on an impulse- would you recommend it?


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