Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Fried Chicken

I love all fried foods. Fried chicken is a way to eat fried food and convince yourself it is a healthy main course (hey, not red meat, very healthy) and much better for you than a naughty fried snackfood like prosciutto balls. Last night for dinner I made my favorite super easy fried chicken cutlets.

They are quick and crispy, a little bit spicy, and, aside from the buttermilk and Tabasco, don't involve any special ingredients that you don’t have lying around the fridge. If you don’t have buttermilk or Tabasco, substitute yogurt (plain if possible) and anything spicy that you have hanging around in the condiment area of the fridge.

The drawbacks of this recipe are twofold. First, guests with sensitive palates may be overwhelmed by the spice. I don’t understand this myself, but my soon to be in-laws are not so welcoming of the pleasures of tongue burning and stomach searing. Spicing it down is easy, just leave out the hot stuff (Tabasco and cayenne). You may want to make flavor substitution though, like using seasoned breadcrumbs (I use them anyway), some crushed fresh rosemary (or dried), paprika for color, or maybe a bit of parmesan in the breadcrumb mix or sprinkled on immediately after they come out of the pan. Second, this recipe is only good for a small group; it is a pain in the ass to deep fry individual chicken breasts for a large group.

If you’re cooking dinner for a group, it is best to use this recipe for spicy oven-fried chicken. It saves time, effort and money. Oven fried chicken thighs are fantastic for a big group and this recipe produces a consistently juicy, crispy chicken, regardless of whether you mess up and cook it for 15% too long or at 15% off temperature. It is stupid proof; you can drink a bottle of champagne before you cook it. The one essential thing to note is that you must buy chicken pieces with the SKIN ON. The skin crisps up and protects the chicken from drying out – the skin is essential.

Also, be sure to note that it has a long marinating time. If I’m cooking for 8 people or more, I just divide the marinade into two big bowls and either let the chicken pieces sleep overnight in the fridge in their marinade or make them first thing in the morning and let them have a full day of bathing in the yummy buttermilk.

And my favorite – the best crispy chicken recipe on the face of the earth – is Staff Meal Chicken.

It is spicy. Seriously spicy. And if you love spicy things like I love spicy things, you can make it even more spicy. But there is a certain lowest tier of spicyness (see recipe) below which you should not go. So if you do not like spicy at all, just go back a paragraph and make the yummy oven-fried chicken that is called “spicy” but is really not so much. As the article explains, Staff Meal Chicken was created by the Mexican chefs in the kitchen of Artie's Delicatessen, “a Jewish-style place on the Upper West Side.”

This recipe was originally published in the New York Times on October 16, 2002. On the following day, the Raisinhater family tried it for the first time. I’ve probably had it 400 times since that day, and I could eat it every day for the next year. It is one of my desert island foods. In our stockings every year, in our Easter baskets (yes, the Easter bunny still hides baskets for us), we receive our staff meal seasoning packets and it is a joyous occasion. We celebrate by eating even more staff meal chicken.


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