Road Test: Thomas Keller’s Fried-Chicken Mix

Can great fried chicken come from a mix? What if we told you the recipe belongs to the best chef in the country?

Is Keller’s designer fried chicken worth the effort? Photograph by Chris Leaman.

There are as many ways to make fried chicken as there are cooks—and lots of people wouldn’t dream of sharing their recipes. But last year, Thomas Keller divulged his secrets for the summer staple. The chef behind the California epicurean mecca French Laundry is selling a fried-chicken kit ($14.95) through Williams-Sonoma that should replicate the version from Ad Hoc, his casual bistro. Intrigued by the idea that we could make fried chicken that tastes as if it came from one of the country’s top chefs, we got to work.

The burlap sack is filled with spices, coating mixtures, and a novel’s worth of instructions. You won’t need any expensive ingredients, special equipment, or advanced skills—just some patience. The 24 hours before the chicken goes into the fryer should be mapped out: After you boil the spices in water to make a brine, the mixture cools for two hours before the chicken goes in. That’s followed by 8 to 12 hours of refrigeration, a rinse to remove herbs, and another two hours on the counter for the meat to reach room temperature. And that’s before you turn on the fryer.

During the preparation time, we made a mental checklist of everything we look for in great fried chicken: crispy skin, juicy meat with lots of flavor, and the ability to come back to life the next day. Around Washington, benchmarks are the peppery birds at the General Store and Oohhs & Aahhs. Keller’s chicken surpassed those, acing every category: Each bite combined crunchy skin with lemony, garlicky meat, and the next day’s lunch was equally sublime. It was so good that it made us forget the painstaking cooking process.

This article appeared in the May, 2010 issue of The Washingtonian. 

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