Saturday, 13 February 2010

How not to deep fry chicken

Well, the chicken was delicious, no thanks to me. Or, rather, no thanks to the deep-fat fryer, which has signed its own death-warrant thanks to it behaviour last night.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Last time, on Recipe Girl:
I was making deep fried chicken according to a recipe from Thomas Keller's excellent 'family-style' cookbook, ad hoc at home. I'd made the rather complicated brine, had several moments of worry regarding weights and measurements, but in the end been rescued by my deeply-felt sense of slapdashed-ness, going at it half-arsed and unprepared and hoping for the best.

This resulted in some lovely organic free-range chicken thighs and drumsticks in this complicated brine, sitting on the floor of my larder for most of yesterday.

[Opening credits - some kind of haphazard music plays, with a montage of me dropping things and crying and being caught unawares drinking deeply from a bottle of cooking marsala.]

At about 6.45pm - a mere 7hrs and 45 minutes of brining time, not the 12 recommended hours - I fished the chicken out, patted it dry and then set about flouring it and 'dredging' it in buttermilk (Keller's words, not mine), before sending it off for its glory time in the deep fat fryer.

The coating, or flouring meant adding to plain flour:
1 tsp paprika
2tsp garlic granules
1 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper

and then dividing it between two bowls, set either side of a bowl of seasoned buttermilk.

Each chicken piece was coated in flour, then dipped in the buttermilk, then coated in the flour again and then left to rest on some greaseproof paper.

Then in the deep fat fryer they went, three-by-three. And they came out looking gorgeous, really crispy yet plump. I made a salad (green beans with shallot-and-mustard dressing, figs, pecorino, walnuts) and set it all out, called for Giles to come and have a look, took a photo, sat down, poured wine, bit into a drumstick and... red. Really red and bloody and almost raw in the middle. Also staggeringly juicy and flavoursome with no hint of dryness at all - but undercooked. But the deep fat fryer SAID only put it in for 8 minutes. Yes yes you're all laughing your arses off now, I'm sure - who would only cook a bit of chicken with bone in it for 8 minutes? But it SAID IT ON THE THING - 8 minutes for chicken. I know, I know - Keller himself says 11-12 minutes but what does he know? I thought to myself. HE doesn't do it in a deep fat fryer.

But we were starving. And I didn't want to take everything away and ram it back in the deep fat fryer. So we ate around the scary bits, telling ourselves that raw chicken per se is not dangerous and these, being as high-quality as they were, were unlikely to have salmonella. But I felt pretty bad and pretty sheepish after all that time and effort and drum roll and poncing about to dish up raw chicken.

And here's what makes it worse: when you live with the world's most observant, unforgiving and quick-witted man, who makes a living making and breaking chefs, it's not, funnily enough, mean words that you fear.

Giles in a bad mood? Ha! I eat his black looks for breakfast. I laugh in the face of his gimlet-eyed asides, I drop ice cubes down the back of his crushing one-liners. It rolls off me, under me, past me; it's like a knife through water.

No - what kills me, what floors me for days, what sends me wobbly-lipped to hide under my duvet, is when I make a ginormous mess of something - and he is kind.

"Poor you," he said. "All that work. It was so delicious, though, honestly - it just needed a couple more minutes."

And I crumbled.


  1. oh well, we become better cooks from our mistakes! What a lovely post, thank you for your comment (^-^).


  2. Oh noes! It's the grown up equivalent of when your mum doesn't shout, she's just very disappointed in you. I remember roasting my first, properly expensive, university-educated organic chicken for my parents, following a 'fool proof' Jamie recipe. I brought it to the table, looking all smug and cocky like (me, not the chicken), only to experience the same crushing, pink-tinged outcome.

    But the recipe does sound delicious. I'd give it a go if my deep fat fryer was big enough to hold more than half a wing at any one time (useless).
    I eagerly await your next, more fulfilling venture!