Two years ago, roast chicken was suddenly everywhere, a homestyle family meal now a coveted restaurant dish. There’s been no letup on that trend, but now it has some crunchy competition. Fried chicken is popping up on many menus. You might say that fried chicken is next in the pecking order.
Restaurant consultants Baum + Whiteman, who issue a popular annual cooking trends list, predict that one of them for 2014 is chicken. “The humble bird is going haute,” the report says, “but starred chefs are spicing up the low end of the market.” And they’re frying those birds. “I think it’s just treating chicken in a different way and making it not the alternative part of the menu,” says Christopher Tanner, who tracks national trends and gives presentations for the professional chefs’ organization The American Culinary Federation. “Chicken was always the safe dish,” says Tanner, a Boston University grad who is executive chef of Campbell Soup Co., “but you can do a whole lot more stuff with it.” Some of that new stuff begins in a fryolator. And often the crispy chicken is served at unexpected places; other times it’s a periodic but eagerly anticipated event.
Such is the case at Cutty’s. The Brookline sandwich shop has its “Super Cluckin’ Sunday” once a month, selling only fried chicken sandwiches until they run out. Before opening, a line snakes halfway down the block. The new Commonwealth restaurant in Kendall Square serves fried chicken only at Sunday brunch, and Highland Kitchen in Somerville has “Fried Chicken & Super Tiki Mondays,” featuring crisp pieces and tropical drinks.
On the other end of the spectrum is another ‘KFC’ — this time Korean fried chicken — served in Allston, Cambridge, and Lowell at the rapidly growing chain BonChon. Wings and drumsticks are breaded and double fried. Right before serving, they’re brushed with a flavorful glaze that is absorbed by the crusty exterior so each bite is simultaneously crisp and sticky.
Other notable versions of fried chicken include Estelle’s in the South End, which serves authentic Southern fried chicken with gravy, mac and cheese, and greens; Lincoln Tavern in South Boston, where the pieces come with honey-glazed cheddar biscuits; the sandwich shop Wichit on Newbury Street, which offers chicken katsu, a tempura-battered breast on a soft roll nestled among sweet potato fries and shoelace-thin carrot strips. Here are several newer spots offering the succulent, golden pieces.
Let the addiction begin.
825 Washington St., Newtonville, 617-964-2665, www.cooknewton.com
Chef-owner Paul Turano features fried chicken at Cook, similar to what he serves at Tryst, his Arlington restaurant. Dubbed “NFC” (Newton Fried Chicken), the version in the five-month-old Newtonville spot includes two thighs, a biscuit, slaw, and mashed potatoes with gravy. But this is no chicken-in-a-bucket. The meat is moist and tender, with a crisp, flaky crust, and just enough crunch. “We had to play with it to get the recipe down,” says Turano. The chicken gets an overnight dry-rub, a slow stay in the oven, and a soak in buttermilk. The final step is a dunk in batter before quick-frying. It’s Cook’s best-selling entree. Despite that, it didn’t sell initially when introduced at Tryst. “I’d ask, ‘Why isn’t this selling?’ I thought it would be a big thing. It used to irk me. Now all of a sudden we sell a ton.”
Puritan & Company
1166 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-615-6195, www.puritancambridge.com
Chef-owner Will Gilson’s Puritan & Company, in business for a little over a year, has a menu that often bridges the past with the present or gives new life to age-old classics. Such is the case with the reinvention chicken-fried quail (different bird, same crisp crust), served as an appetizer. “It comes on and off the menu depending on what we’ve got in house,” says Gilson. Its current iteration features two tiny fried quail halves served on a savory corn pancake with lemon-paprika aioli and maple chicken jus. It’s garnished with a variety of puffed grains, including popcorn, giving each bite a variety of texture and flavor. The dish comes with a fork and knife, but take the chef’s advice: “It’s kind of primal and you tear it apart into little pieces with your fingers.”
Salt Kitchen & Rum Bar
1 Market St., Ipswich, 978-356-0002, www.saltkitchenandrumbar.com
The 49-seat gastropub, opened a year ago in Ipswich, has quickly become a North Shore destination. Here, they serve a riff on the Southern pairing of fried chicken and waffles (see related story). Chef Chris Tighe marinates half chickens in a spiced buttermilk blend, then gives them a generous coating of batter, and fries the whole thing for up to 15 minutes. The thick, chestnut-brown crust crunches like a kettle chip. “People sometimes think that we’ve done it extra crispy,” says owner Dave Gillis, “whereas it’s just perfectly crispy, but the color is imparted by the smoked paprika we put in the marinade.” The chicken is served with a bacon-flecked waffle and maple syrup infused with rum and chipotle pepper.
249 Pearl St., Somerville, 617-764-4464, www.sarmarestaurant.com
Executive chef Cassie Piuma has been making waves at this Turkish meze restaurant since it opened in October. Among the small plates, but not a permanent menu item, is Turkish fried chicken. Servers carry it out on platters and serve it dim-sum-style first come, first served. “It creates a little mystique that you can’t get it on the menu every time,” says Piuma, who packs a spice blend directly onto chicken thighs for a 24-hour dry brine. She dips them in buttermilk and dredges them in sesame and nigella seed-flecked flour to create what she calls a “ruffled” texture. After frying, the chicken is sprinkled with shabazi, a dry-spice blend of dried cilantro, green chiles, and garlic. “It’s an incredible vessel for spices,” says the chef. “I like any opportunity where I can really have them shine in a dish.”
Union Fish Seafood & Raw Bar
23 Shipyard Drive, Hingham, 781-749-3334, www.unionfishhingham.com
The focus here is fare from the sea, but the fried chicken is becoming a not-so-little-known secret. “It’s one of our top sellers — believe it or not,” says general manager Nate McMinn. This version features two flattened chicken breasts breaded and fried with herbed panko that is crisp but stays light and airy. It’s served with chorizo gravy and a serrano pepper and cheddar cornbread. It’s worth getting as much for the sides as it is for the bird. If you’ve got a non-fish loving member of your family, take heart. Among the crustaceans and fins, you’ll have at least one fail-safe option here.
Matthew Barber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.