There was one recipe left out of Heston Blumenthal's "In Search of Perfection" that would have certainly been included... if he were from the land of Dixie and not a full-blown yankee. That staple of the American Southern table is of course, fried chicken. Although he took many classic dishes from the family table to the laboratory in search of the perfect recipe or method for them, I just cannot help but feel the desire to see that blue-footed Bresse chicken fried up to a crispy golden brown instead of roasted.
Why fried chicken? Maybe it's some subliminal pull of the Mardi Gras season. You just can't go see a parade without carrying a piece of Popeye's spicy in your hand. I've eaten far too many of them. As with the many changes in my life, fried chicken has changed with me. I now only eat home-fried chicken as most fast-food versions are disgustingly greasy and offer no satisfaction. As a result of this, I have been putting a lot of attention to frying better chicken.
This is Big Mike. He can undoubtedly fry chicken better than any of us, and when he stands over the fryer people just start appearing out of the woodwork. That doesn't mean that Chef K or myself can't hang. I never feel the lack of confidence to put my chicken on the table. We do all have one thing in common, and that is the method that we use. We all do what can be labelled as New Orleans style fried chicken.
New Orleans style chicken is found in almost every hotel kitchen, and is the method used by every creole cook I've worked with. It consists of first seasoning the chicken (usually with salt and cayenne only), adding eggs to the chicken (no dairy or buttermilk here), allowing for a marination period (always better after 24 hours), and frying in seasoned flour (again, only salt, cayenne, and maybe some granulated onion and garlic). Each batch fries at 340F for about 15 minutes. This is typical. There are some other versions, as with Austin Leslie's method of using standard frying method instead of an egg marinade. He also uses evaporated milk in his egg wash. Although I haven't tried his method, the standard New Orleans technique yields great chicken.
Here are my confessions. There are 2 additions to my recipe that may amount to fried chicken blasphemy. The first is that I add a substantial amount of cornstarch to my seasoned flour. This has more to do with getting a crispier crust that sticks and reheats well (I love left-over chicken) than with the fact that my wife is Taiwanese. The second violation is the use of cumin. Now, I know that most people think that cumin spice has no damn place in New Orleans fried chicken, but I use it for one reason. Because I use granulated onion and garlic in my method, a 'small' amount of cumin acts as a bridge flavor between these... just as fenugreek acts as a 'binder' in Indian spice mixtures. You can't taste the cumin in it, it only makes the flavor smoother.
There is a constant belief in people that great fried chicken has some secret ingredient. The real secret is exactly opposite of this. Even Austin Leslie's recipe (hailed as the Godfather of Creole Soul and fried chicken) has only salt and pepper. For the record, the Colonel is way off base and 7 or 11 herbs and spices is garbage. The crust isn't even good. Simple is better here. Great fried chicken comes in the technique. It also helps to buy great chicken that is free-roaming and added-hormone free. You want that natural farm-house chicken flavor.
This is my home fryer full or wings. I only use peanut oil. Stay away from canola! Peanut oil has a nice high smoke point and it is as important to fried chicken as sesame oil is to Japanese food. Most people fire up little barbeques on their balconies and grill food. I stand outside and fry chicken. It's just my thing. I openly encourage anyone from the south to buy a cheap deep fryer. It may be the second most important appliance after your rice cooker. The fryer just makes everything so easy, and since fried fast-food is garbage... it only makes sense to straighten up and fry right.