Log In / Join Now

Thomas Keller's Fried Chicken and American Sparklers for the 4th of July

The chef's perfect recipe, paired with 10 wines from California, Washington and New Mexico

Laurie Woolever
Posted: June 27, 2014

What is it about fried chicken that makes it a quintessentially American food, perfect for serving on Independence Day?

"It's something that everybody can relate to. You can find great fried chicken everywhere, from your roadside fry joint to white tablecloth restaurants," explains Lee Brian Schrager, who, with Adeena Sussman, recently published a fried chicken cookbook called Fried & True. With recipe contributions from the likes of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc in Yountville, Calif., Joseph Lenn of Blackberry Farm, Israel-born, U.K.-based Yotam Ottolenghi, and New York's favorite Ethiopian-Swedish chef, Marcus Samuelsson, the book is an easy, exuberant and delicious snapshot of the best of American cooking today.

To help plan your July 4 menu, Keller has shared his excellent buttermilk fried chicken recipe, made deeply flavorful through the combination of a multifaceted brine and careful attention to seasoning at each step. Serve it warm from the fryer with napkins, or chilled, in a picnic basket. For the latter serving style, Schrager recommends, "Let the chicken cool down completely first, so the juices will settle into the chicken and it stays crispy, before putting it in the fridge."

On this most American of holidays, known for dazzling nighttime pyrotechnic displays, it's only natural that you'd pour American sparklers, whose effervescence and acidity make an easy foil for the chicken's fat and salt. Below, we've provided a list of 10 recently rated, recommended wines from California, Washington and New Mexico. Happy Fourth!

Thomas Keller's Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Adapted from Fried & True: More Than 50 Recipes for America's Best Fried Chicken and Sides by Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman, published by Clarkson Potter, 2014.

For the brine:

  • 5 lemons, halved
  • 24 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch (4 ounces) fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 bunch (1 ounce) fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup clover honey
  • 1 head garlic, halved through the equator
  • 3/4 cup black peppercorns
  • 2 cups (10 ounces) kosher salt, preferably Diamond Crystal brand
  • 2 gallons water
  • 2 2 1/2- to 3-pound chickens (see note on chicken size, below)

1.Combine all the brine ingredients in a large pot, cover and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and cool completely, then chill before using. The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

2. Cut each chicken into 10 pieces: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 4 breast quarters and 2 wings. Pour the brine into a container large enough to hold the chicken pieces, add in the chicken and refrigerate for 12 hours (no longer, or the chicken may become too salty).

For dredging, coating and frying:

  • Peanut or canola oil, for deep-frying
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon paprika, plus 1 teaspoon
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne, plus 1 teaspoon
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus 1 teaspoon, and more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • Ground fleur de sel or fine sea salt
  • Rosemary and thyme sprigs for garnish

1. Remove the chicken from the brine (discard the brine) and rinse under cold water, removing any herbs or spices sticking to the skin. Pat dry with paper towels, or let air-dry. Let rest for 1 1/2 hours, or until it comes to room temperature.

2. If you have two large pots (about 6 inches deep) and a lot of oil, you can cook the dark and white meat at the same time; if not, cook the dark meat first, then turn up the heat and cook the white meat. No matter what size pot you have, the oil should not come more than one-third of the way up the sides of the pot. Fill the pot with at least 2 inches of peanut oil and heat to 320° F. Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper.

3. Meanwhile, combine the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne, kosher salt and pepper in a large bowl. Transfer half the coating to a second large bowl. Pour the buttermilk into a third bowl and season it with kosher salt and pepper to taste. Set up a dipping station: the chicken pieces, one bowl of coating, the bowl of buttermilk, the second bowl of coating, and the parchment-lined baking sheet.

4. Just before frying, dip the chicken thighs into the first bowl of coating, turning to coat and patting off the excess; dip them into the buttermilk, allowing the excess to run back into the bowl; then dip them into the second bowl of coating. Transfer to the parchment-lined pan.

5. Carefully lower the thighs into the hot oil. Adjust the heat as necessary to return the oil to the proper temperature. Fry for 2 minutes, then carefully move the chicken pieces around in the oil and continue to fry, monitoring the oil temperature and turning the pieces as necessary for even cooking, for 11 to 12 minutes, until the chicken is a deep golden brown, cooked through, and very crisp. Meanwhile, coat the chicken drumsticks and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet.

6. Transfer the cooked thighs to the cooling rack, skin-side-up, and let rest while you fry the remaining chicken. (Putting the pieces skin-side-up will allow excess fat to drain, whereas leaving them skin-side-down could trap some of the fat.) Make sure that the oil is at the correct temperature, and cook the chicken drumsticks. When the drumsticks are done, lean them meat-side-up against the thighs to drain, then sprinkle the chicken with fine sea salt.

7. Turn up the heat and heat the oil to 340° F. Meanwhile, coat the chicken breasts and wings. Carefully lower the chicken breasts into the hot oil and fry for 7 minutes, or until golden-brown, cooked through and crisp. Transfer to the rack, sprinkle with salt, and turn skin-side-up. Cook the wings for 6 minutes, or until golden-brown and cooked through. Transfer the wings to the rack and turn off the heat.

8. Arrange the chicken on a serving platter. Add the herb sprigs to the oil (which will still be hot) and let them cook and crisp for a few seconds, then arrange them over the chicken. Serves 4 to 6.

A note on chicken size: You may need to go to a farmers market to get these small chickens. Grocery store chickens often run 3 to 4 pounds. They can, of course, be used in this recipe, but if chickens in the 2 1/2- to 3-pound range are available to you, they're worth seeking out. They're a little easier to cook properly at the temperatures we recommend here and, most important, pieces this size result in the optimal meat-to-crust proportion, which is such an important part of the pleasure of fried chicken.

RECOMMENDED AMERICAN SPARKLING WINES

Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More wines can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.

SCHRAMSBERG Brut Rosé North Coast 2010 Score: 92 | $43
A gorgeous rosé, luxurious and crisply focused, with aromas of floral raspberry and yeasty cinnamon roll leading to rich but vibrant flavors of orange zest, mineral and spice. Drink now. 7,058 cases made.—T.F.

ROEDERER ESTATE Brut Anderson Valley NV Score: 91 | $23
Focused and vibrant, with aromas of creamy apple, cinnamon and hazelnut leading to complex, layered flavors of lemon custard, mineral and almond. The finish lingers. Drink now through 2015. 80,000 cases made.—T.F.

J Cuvée 20 Russian River Valley NV Score: 90 | $28
Crisp and lively, with green apple, cream and fennel aromas and vibrant tropical fruit. The lemon and spice flavors finish on a clean mineral note. Drink now. 30,000 cases made.—T.F.

GLORIA FERRER Blanc de Blancs Carneros NV Score: 89 | $22
Rich, creamy and a pleasure to sip, offering aromas of apple and lime, with a touch of white chocolate that opens to luscious flavors of Asian pear, cinnamon and spice. Drink now. 4,194 cases made.—T.F.

TREVERI Brut Blanc de Blanc Columbia Valley NV Score: 89 | $14
Refined, with fine bubbles on a lithe frame, offering hints of lemon curd and pear compote. Shows restraint and elegance. Drink now. 4,000 cases made.—H.S.

DOMAINE CHANDON Blanc de Noirs California NV Score: 88 | $22
Floral raspberry aromas lead to crisp and appealing citrus, spice and cherry flavors, with a lively finish. Drink now. 69,000 cases made.—T.F.

GRUET Brut American NV Score: 88 | $15
Vibrant and fresh, with creamy citrus, vanilla and spiced almond flavors. Drink now. 65,000 cases made.—T.F.

DOMAINE STE. MICHELLE Brut Columbia Valley Michelle NV Score: 87 | $14
Crisp, fresh and vibrant, with pretty pear and spice flavors on a lively frame, playing against a crinkly effervescence. Drink now. 175,000 cases made.—H.S.

PIPER SONOMA Brut Sonoma County Select Cuvée NV Score: 87 | $18
An easygoing bubbly, with flavors of raspberry, cinnamon apple and blanched almond. Drink now. 85,000 cases made.—T.F.

KORBEL Extra Dry California NV Score: 85 | $14
Light in style, offering a pleasant mix of creamy lemon and spice flavors, with crisp acidity. Drink now. 350,000 cases made.—T.F.

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.