"If there's a picnic, you bring fried chicken; if there's a graduation you have fried chicken; if there's a death in the family people drop it off so you don't have to cook - it's the cornerstone of Southern food."
That's Casey Wall, co-owner of Rockwell and Sons. Originally from North Carolina, the American chef started the first draft of his recipe when one of the owners of Le Cirque, the French institution where he was working, asked him to cook up some fried chicken to eat during a football game.
"It blew up," says Wall. "It just went nuts and then I had to make it all the time." Wall and his chicken recipe landed in Collingwood in 2012, after a stint working at Cutler & Co., when Rockwell and Sons opened. His timing couldn't have been better. "The GFC was responsible for fried chicken. There were a lot of Australians going to the States at that time, and that's what sparked the American craze," says Wall. This recipe, modified for the home cook, takes a few hours instead of the usual four days.
Wall suggests using a neutral cooking oil, ideally peanut, but cottonseed is second best if you have an allergy. Because chicken contains a lot of moisture, using a pot for this recipe is more likely to result in it getting burnt. Stick to a domestic deep-fryer set to 175°C and fill according to the manufacturer's instructions.
1 x 1.1kg chicken (the best you can afford)
8 thyme sprigs
1 x 15cm rosemary sprig
4 parsley stalks
2 fresh bay leaves
1 small onion, sliced
6 garlic cloves, smashed
zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1½ teaspoons chilli flakes
2 tablespoons hot sauce
peanut or cottonseed oil, for deep-frying
1½ cups plain flour
3 teaspoons cornflour
3 teaspoons baking power
1 tablespoon fine salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon chilli powder
You will need a bench top deep-fryer and a probe thermometer for this recipe.
Cut the chicken into eight pieces (keep the backbone and wingtips for stock or gravy).
Add the salt, herbs, onion, garlic, lemon zest, peppercorns, chilli flakes and 500ml of water to a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat and stand for 10 minutes.
Pour the brine into a large container, add the ice and stand until the ice has melted. Strain and pour the liquid over the chicken in a bowl or container that fits everything quite snugly. This is a 10% brine and will brine the chicken in a fairly express manner; Rockwell and Sons does it for a day at a much lower salinity, but this version works well and it's a lot quicker. As long as you keep the salinity levels correct, you can add whatever flavouring aromatics you like. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
Drain the brined chicken in a colander and stand for 30 minutes before adding to a large container.
Combine the buttermilk and hot sauce and pour over the chicken. Marinate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the deep-fryer to 175°C.
For the seasoned flour, combine all the ingredients in a large bowl.
Remove the chicken from the buttermilk. The buttermilk will be used to dredge the chicken and needs to be the consistency of thin yoghurt, so whisk through a little of the seasoned flour if necessary.
When ready to cook - make sure to do this just before cooking - dredge the chicken in the seasoned flour, then the buttermilk and back in the seasoned flour. Place on a wire rack while you dredge the remaining chicken. Fry the chicken for about 8 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 75°C. Rest for 2 minutes on a wire rack before serving.
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