Most people, even good cooks, leave wrangling the deep-fat fryer to professionals. “Fried & True,” a new collection of recipes from Lee Brian Schrager, founder of the Food Network South Beach, and food writer Adeena Sussman, seeks to change that.
None of the recipes are Schrager’s own. They are the work of chefs from all over, big names like Yotam Ottolenghi and Thomas Keller, and proprietors of one-room chicken shacks across the South. As an endearingly obsessive chart in the back indicates, some are single-dipped, some are double-dipped, some are meant for skillet-frying, others for deep-frying, some for whole chickens, others for specific parts. It’s a glorious and unapologetic mosaic of poultry and crust.
Making fried chicken every day for a week was out of the question even for my fat-loving family, so we settled on three representatives.
The Food Network’s Tyler Florence offers fried chicken that’s coated twice in an aggressively spiced flour, with buttermilk for glue. It makes for a shattery crust and a tingly interior, the perfect match for the velvet-textured potatoes (riced rather than mashed, and dosed with a week’s supply of butter) that Florence favors.
Guilt might drive you, as it did us, into the arms of lifestyle guru Ellie Krieger and her slightly-less-sinful oven-fried chicken. With its saltine and corn-flake crust and yogurt coating, it’s not the most convincing of stand-ins for the real thing. But it’s an easy, enjoyable weeknight dinner, and there’s no arguing with the half a gallon of oil you don’t need.
But the chicken that redefines the genre is a Keralan version from Asha Gomez, chef and owner of Cardamom Hill restaurant in Atlanta. Marinated in buttermilk that has been blended with entire bunches of cilantro and mint, this is chicken with unstoppable flavor. Because the chicken thighs are skin-on but boneless, you can surrender yourself to the whole piece without impediment, and it cooks more evenly. Gomez serves the dish with cardamom waffles, which are floppy in texture and not as memorable, but they do nicely as a delivery system for spiced maple syrup (which also clings seductively to the chicken crust).
There are enough side dishes in “Fried & True” to outfit any dinner table as a meal in themselves, and most are unabashedly Southern. Nashville chef Jack Arnold tames the bitterness of collards and bite of turnips (both root and greens) with an hour on a low flame and chunks of savory ham. They leave behind a highly flavored “pot likker” that’s good enough to slurp down on its own.
An old-fashioned cole slaw from Linton Hopkins of Atlanta’s Holeman & Finch Public House features cabbage brined, rather than just salted, making it unexpectedly crisp but not raw-tasting beneath a vinegar-tart dressing. Donald Link of New Orleans offers a classic dirty rice, piggy and unsightly, made with chicken livers that supply a powerful bass note punch, while scallions and jalapenos keep things lively.
It’s hard not to love a biscuit, and chef Scott Peacock (the late, great Edna Lewis collaborator) has the airiest I’ve tasted: lard-based, fork-pierced, high-heat baked, and never rerolled. They practically levitate off the baking sheet.
New York restaurateurs Wolfgang Ban and Eduard Frauneder (Seasonal Restaurant & Weinbar, Edi & The Wolf) contribute a dill-cucumber salad. The cukes need salt and rest, but then come together in a swift marriage of champagne vinegar and creme fraiche that goes with just about everything.
If you do undertake a frying expedition, an outdoor propane burner can save you from the considerable pain of a splattered stovetop. It won’t spare you being splattered with hot oil and ending with an unspeakably soiled apron. But one shower, one cold beer, and one crispy drumstick later, I’ll bet you’ll think it was all worthwhile.