I don’t do a lot of meal making in the kitchen that involves preparations beyond seasoning something and putting it to some manner of heat. I think the most complicated thing I’ve ever made is cookies or cakes. Or daiquiris the way Hemingway drank ’em in Cuba.
This weekend though, thanks to a unique and intriguing dish from chef John Currence — involving two of my favorite if seemingly incongruous things: Coca-Cola and chicken — found in the “How Men Eat” feature of the current issue of Esquire magazine (oddly enough I couldn’t find it at esquire.com, but here reprinted at nola.com instead), I’m going to actually wander the aisles of markets buying a variety of ingredients that will then involve measuring, mixing, whisking, blending, marinating, dipping, heating, turning, chopping and garnishing in hopes of turning the following recipe into my attempt at what Currence called the best fried chicken he’s ever had. Y’all stay tuned now.
John Currence’s Coca-Cola-Brined Fried Chicken
12 chicken thighs (skin on)
Peanut oil and lard, for frying
1 quart Coca Cola
1 teaspoon Liiquid Smoke (optional)
2 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Tabasco
3 tablespoons ground black pepper
3 tablespoons coarse salt
3/4 cup peanut oil
DRY MIX (well combined)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons coarse salt
4 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 tablespoon cayenne
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 1/2 cups flour
To brine: Rinse chicken, drain, and set aside. Blend together brining mix until salt dissolves. Place chicken in brine in a large covered bowl and marinate, refrigerated, for 4 hours.
To batter: Whisk egg well in a stainless steel bowl and add peanut oil and 2 1/2 cups water. Add in dry mix, whisking slowly so batter doesn’t clump.
To prepare chicken: Fill a large cast-iron skillet halfway with equal amounts peanut oil and lard. Slowly bring temperature to 375 degrees. (Use a candy thermometer.)
While oil is heating, remove chicken from brine and place in a colander in sink. Once chicken has drained, pat dry with paper towels (a critical step) and season with salt and pepper.
Dip chicken in batter and place (carefully) in hot oil. Adjust heat, as the chicken will bring down the oil temperature dramatically — you want it back up to just above 350 degrees. Turn chicken regularly, using tongs, to prevent burning.
After 8 or 9 minutes, remove a piece, prick it to the bone with a fork, and mash it. If the juices run clear, it’s done. Continue cooking if necessary.
Serve with Pickle-Garlic Relish (below). Cover any leftovers with a dish towel and leave out at room temperature (or in the fridge, if you must, although my grandmother never did). This keeps it crispy.
1 cup flat-leaf parsley
1 cup hamburger dill pickle chips
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
Chop everything finely and combine. Add a little pickle juice, if desired. Refrigerate.