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If you told me one day I’d be making fried chicken on the internet, I’d say that is simply impossible. Even more impossible, that I’d turn that chicken into a sandwich. But here we are, September 21st, 2021, and the day has come. Why is this happening? Long story short, after a night of mildly heavy drinking, I agreed to make David a spicy fried chicken sandwich for his birthday episode of Home Movies, because despite my very public opinion on sandwiches (don’t care for them), you can’t spell friend without fried (chicken sandwich), and I finally agreed to do this if the focus was more on the fried chicken part, less the sandwich. Compromise!
And listen, while I feel like this is a decidedly “un-Alison Roman” dish to make, it’s not because I don’t like fried chicken. I LOVE fried chicken—I just feel spoiled by the ability to walk down to a number of places near me in Brooklyn (Popeyes! Kennedy Fried Chicken!) and get pretty great fried chicken, and just like ketchup in a bottle, some things taste better when purchased.
That said, I DO love an assignment!
This spicy fried chicken has everything I think you need to make an undeniably great version: a 50/50 buttermilk/pickle juice brine for very juicy meat (FWIW I’ve tested with lacto-fermented style pickle juice AND something like an Olive Mt./ Vlasic, and despite varying levels of acidity and salinity, all seem to work just swell) and a flour/cornstarch dredge for craggly bits of crunchy, toast-colored craggly bits a plenty. I’m happy with regular fried chicken, so I get if the spicy part doesn’t appeal. If you feel the same, just leave out the spices and hot sauce that make it so; exterior crunch and interior juiciness will not be adversely affected.
For spicy fried chicken enthusiasts, please know this is not a Nashville-style hot chicken (no hot oil bath after frying here), just a gentle-yet-still-very-present heat throughout. If you’re looking for something that’s so hot you’re in pain, this recipe might not be for you (or maybe it is, with a few adjustments to the cayenne, hot paprika and hot sauce). For more adjustments and swaps, read on!
See you later this week on A Newsletter!
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Fried chicken is a delightful food that I rarely make at home, probably because it takes a little more effort than the average meal. You have to make peace with the fact that your kitchen is going to get dirty, your stove will be splattered with oil, you’ll have to clean as you go, etc. This is also what makes it one of my favorite special occasion meals—growing up, it’s what my mom would make when we’d have friends over we didn’t see very often, or for our non-traditional Easter brunch. Much like the more casual version (beloved crispy chicken cutlets!), making fried chicken for someone is to love and celebrate them, and we think you should make this fried chicken for the David in your life.
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This fried chicken is tender and juicy, crispy and crunchy, spicy and salty, and all around wonderful. It gets brined in a garlicky, spicy pickle juice and buttermilk mixture (would drink), then dredged in a perfectly seasoned flour mixture with some cornstarch in there to help create the holy grail shatteringly crisp bits everyone desires. David holds the correct opinion that spicy fried chicken is the best fried chicken, and this one has the perfect level of heat without crossing into unpleasant-to-eat territory. It’s great on its own, served with some briny, spicy pepperoncinis for snacking on in between bites, or served David-style (“a sandwich”) with aforementioned pepperoncinis, lots of shredduce (IYKYK), raw onion, and a swoosh of spicy mayo-based sauce on a Big Marty’s or Martin’s potato roll (the only buns).
As for the swaps, this chicken recipe is pretty flexible, the only rule is that there is chicken (it’s called fried chicken).
THE CHICKEN: If making straight-up fried chicken, use a whole cut up chicken, or any combination of bone-in, skin-on pieces. For chicken sandwiches, use boneless, skinless chicken thighs (breasts halved lengthwise would work, but that’s kind of annoying and the thigh meat is just so much better).
THE HEAT: It’s spicy, yes, but it doesn’t have to be if you or someone you’re making it for is spice-averse. For the brine, you can use any hot sauce you like (I am a Crystal loyalist, but Alison used this excellent local scotch bonnet hot sauce). For the dredge, swap out any of the spices used for something you prefer (hot for smoked paprika is a good one), or keep it simple with salt and pepper.
THE BRINE: if you don’t have pickle juice to spare, use all buttermilk and increase salt by 1 tablespoon. Kimchi or sauerkraut liquid are also perfect substitutes (who doesn’t have extra sauerkraut liquid just hanging around?).
THE SERVING: Some of us have made their sandwich opinions VERY clear and prefer to have chicken on it’s own—all it really needs is a side of pickles, peppers or hot pickled peppers (pepperoncinis are lovely and perfect). If you are of the David-style of thought, and think, yes, I DO want a sandwich, the toppings are really up to you, but it’s hard to beat the combo of iceberg lettuce, raw onion and a spicy mayo-based sauce.
Click HERE for a printable PDF.
spicy fried chicken
FOR THE BRINE
1 4-4 ½ pound chicken, broken down into parts (or 2 pounds boneless, skinless thighs if making sandwiches)
1 cup pickle juice
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons hot sauce, such as franks, tabasco, cholula, crystal, or queen majesty (more if you want it even spicier)
2–4 cloves garlic, grated (depending on how garlicky you like it)
FOR THE DREDGE AND FRYING
2 cups all purpose flour
¼ cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper (optional)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon hot smoked paprika (optional)
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
1 48 oz bottle canola oil, for frying
Pickles, peppers or pickled peppers, for serving
In a large bowl, combine the pickle juice, buttermilk, hot sauce, and garlic. Season with salt to taste.
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add to the brine mixture and cover as well as you can. Brine for at least 30 minutes, and up to 36 hours.
Combine the flour, cornstarch, salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne in a large, high-sided bowl.
Prepare your space for frying. Set a wire rack inside a sheet pan and place it to the side of your frying station.
Preheat your oven to 425.
Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet or dutch oven over medium heat until it reaches 350 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test to make sure the oil is ready by dropping in a small piece and making sure it immediately sizzles and there are lots of little bubbles forming around it.
Dredge the chicken. Using your hands, remove the chicken from the brine one piece at a time, and coat it in the flour mixture, scooping some of the brine into the flour mixture as you go and taking care to toss and really press the dredge onto the chicken so it adheres and forms craggly bits. Shake the excess dredge off and transfer to the wire rack.
Working in batches and taking care not to overcrowd the pan, add the chicken to the oil and cook over medium-high heat for about 6-8 minutes, until they are deeply golden brown on the first side. Using tongs, flip the pieces and cook for another 6-8 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a wire rack fitted inside a sheet pan as it finishes frying, then transfer to the oven for 5-10 minutes until cooked through (if you’re frying boneless skinless thighs for sandwiches, they won’t take as long and don’t need to be transferred to the oven).
Serve with pickles, peppers or pickled peppers.
IF MAKING SANDWICHES
Shredduce (shredded iceberg lettuce)
Martin’s potato rolls
¼ cup mayonnaise
Splash of vinegar, such as rice wine or white distilled
Hot sauce, to taste
Thinly sliced onion
In a small bowl, combine ¼ cup mayonnaise with a splash of white distilled or white wine vinegar, and season to taste with hot sauce.
Toast your bun (preferably Martin’s Potato Rolls or Big Marty’s) in a small skillet with a little butter over medium heat until golden brown.
Assemble your sandwich by spooning a little of your special sauce onto the bottom bun, top with a piece of fried chicken, followed by onion, pepperonicini, shredduce, more hot sauce. Dollop another swoosh of the sauce on the top bun before topping the sandwich.
This is the best fried chicken recipe ever, so reliable and easy! I used jalapeno pickle liquid and it was just awesome. Served with a fennel/green apple/DILL salad✨
We made this, and it’s the best fried chicken we’ve ever made at home. Happened to have some apple mustard (from Ottolenghi’s column in the Guardian a few weeks ago) and that was a sweet, mustardy, fantastic accompaniment. And I’m one of those people who thinks fried chicken is superior as a cold leftover, and this did not disappoint on day 2. Make it!