Buttermilk and Herb-Fried Chicken With Hot Honey
Chef’s Notes: My Grandma Nora’s sister, Great Aunt Bama, lived in the small town of London, Kentucky, and grew up near Colonel Sanders himself. Whether or not she ever actually snagged the secret recipe for his beloved fried chicken, I’m not altogether sure. But sometimes when we visited her, she’d have fried chicken out on her kitchen counter, along with many other beautiful scratch-made goods. I like to think she’d be proud of my version of the classic.
I use a couple of tricks here that help make this a fried chicken to beat all others. The buttermilk tenderizes and flavors the meat from the inside out, ensuring you get one juicy bite after another. Roasting the chicken first helps to lock in moisture and keep the chicken from burning, because it won’t need to fry nearly as long. I also fry a bundle of flavorful herbs and some garlic in the oil, right along with the chicken (a trick I learned from Tyler Florence). This not only helps add additional flavor to the meat, but also makes a tasty garnish when you’re ready to serve. I like to drizzle my chicken with a homemade hot honey, or use it as a dip, because I am a total sucker for sweet and spicy flavors and also happen to believe that more is more in the case of this chicken.
- 4 tablespoons kosher salt
- 4 tablespoons freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
- 1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- Two 3 1/2- to 4-pound whole chickens, cut up
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 cups buttermilk
- 1 1/2 tablespoon hot sauce (such as Cholula or Tabasco)
- Canola oil for frying
- 4 fresh rosemary sprigs
- 5 fresh thyme sprigs
- 4 fresh sage leaves
- 1 head garlic, broken into cloves, cloves peeled
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 cup onion powder
For the hot honey:
- 1 cup honey
- 2 fresh chiles, cut into rings (I like jalapeños for this)
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- Kitchen string
- Meat thermometer
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons of the salt, 2 tablespoons of the pepper, 1 tablespoon of the poultry seasoning, and 2 teaspoons of the garlic powder. Lay the chicken pieces in a roasting pan. Drizzle them with the olive oil and then rub the spice mixture all over them. Roast for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thighs registers 150 degrees F. Remove from the oven and let the chicken cool in the pan.
In a large bowl, whisk the buttermilk together with the hot sauce. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large cast-iron skillet or a sauté pan, heat about 1 1/2 inches of canola oil to 350 degrees F. Using kitchen string, bundle together the rosemary, thyme, and sage. Put the bundle in the hot oil along with the peeled garlic cloves. When the herbs have crisped and the garlic is starting to lightly brown, transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate or baking sheet to drain. Set aside if you’d like to use them as a garnish. Leave the oil in the pan.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, the remaining 1/4 cup of garlic powder, the onion powder, the remaining 2 teaspoons of poultry seasoning, the remaining 2 tablespoons of salt, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of pepper.
It’s best to work in batches with this, so remove half the chicken pieces from the buttermilk, allowing the excess to drip into the bowl. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, pressing it down gently so the flour and spices stick.
Reheat the seasoned oil to 360 degrees F this time. Fry the chicken pieces in the oil, being careful not to crowd the pan, and turning them once halfway through cooking, until they are golden brown and a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of each piece registers 160 degrees F, 6–8 minutes.
Transfer the fried chicken to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain. Let the oil return to 360 degrees F before you dredge and fry the remaining chicken. (Don’t dredge your chicken early, or the flour will soak into the meat, keeping it from getting a crispy, crunchy exterior.)
To make the hot honey, combine the honey, chiles, and vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a gentle simmer and remove from the heat. Let sit for about 30 minutes to allow the chiles and vinegar to infuse the warm honey. Use immediately or cool completely and store, covered, at room temperature for up to 3 days.
To serve, transfer the fried chicken to a platter and garnish with the crispy herbs and garlic cloves, if desired. Drizzle with the hot honey, and enjoy.
Reprinted from “Smoke Roots Mountain Harvest” by Lauren Angelucci Mcduffie with permission by Chronicle Books, 2019.