In the depths of winter, it can often feel like summer and its many eating pleasures are a long way off. If you live in a colder climate than my home in Southern California, a glance out the kitchen window might reveal a picnic table covered in snow. Even here, I sometimes feel a little wistful when I see water from LA’s seasonal rainstorms pooling on our patio furniture, while our outdoor grill huddles underneath its weatherproof covering.
But then, I remind myself that cooking and serving just the right recipe can have the power to change the way you see the world. If you prepare a spring or summertime favorite, it can seem as if the sun is suddenly shining in your kitchen and dining room, even when it’s cold and damp outside.
It always felt that way during my childhood whenever my mother and grandmother made us fried chicken for Sunday dinner in our little cottage in the southern Austrian village of Sankt Viet. Golden-brown, crispy, juicy and full of flavor, that simple family-style main course offered proof with every bite that good food can brighten your spirits as wonderfully as rays of sunshine breaking through a cloudy sky.
My recipe for Austrian-style fried chicken is fairly easy to prepare, especially because it starts with boneless, skinless chicken pieces you can find in supermarkets everywhere. A simple dipping process — turning it first in flour, then egg and finally in breadcrumbs — produces a coating that adheres well and cooks to a crunchy, golden-brown surface.
Speaking of breadcrumbs, take note that the ingredients list gives you the option of using the Japanese breadcrumbs known as panko, which are available more and more in supermarkets today, either in the Asian-foods section or where regular breadcrumbs are shelved. These are coarser and drier, yielding the extra-crispy results that many people
enjoy in Japanese-style fried foods.
Take special care when deep-frying the chicken, using a deep, heavy pot on your stove’s back burner and a deep-frying thermometer to monitor the temperature. Keep children away, and be extra cautious to avoid spattering of the hot oil. Or buy a good-quality, relatively inexpensive electric countertop deep-fryer, which removes some of the guesswork with its built-in thermostat and safety features.
I hope you enjoy sharing this with your friends and family. (As with all fried chicken, any leftovers are also excellent cold for lunch the next day.) Put together a fresh green salad to serve alongside the chicken, or maybe your favorite potato salad. You might even want to set the table with your best gingham tablecloth and napkins to make it seem even more like you’re having a summertime picnic in the middle of winter.
VIENNESE FRIED CHICKEN WITH LEMON-ROSEMARY BUTTER SAUCE
Serves 6 to 8
Vegetable oil for deep frying
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, beaten
2 cups dry breadcrumbs or panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs)
2 lemons, cut into wedges
Lemon-Rosemary Butter Sauce (recipe follows)
Pour the oil into a heavy, deep pot to a depth of at least 4 inches, or into an automatic electric countertop deep fryer. Heat the oil over high heat until it reaches a temperature of 365 degrees on a deep-frying thermometer, or set the automatic deep-fryer’s thermostat to the same temperature.
Meanwhile, cut the chicken into pieces about 2 inches wide and season them evenly all over with salt and pepper. Put the flour in a large, shallow bowl or soup plate, the beaten eggs in another and the breadcrumbs or panko in a third, side by side. Place a clean platter or tray nearby.
Bread the chicken pieces: First, dredge each piece in flour; then dip it into the egg to coat evenly, and finally, roll it evenly in the breadcrumbs before putting the chicken on the platter.
When the oil is hot, working in batches as necessary to avoid overcrowding the oil, carefully place the breaded chicken pieces one at a time into the pot or deep-fryer. Deep-fry the chicken until cooked through and evenly deep golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes, carefully turning the pieces over with a wire skimmer about halfway through.
While the chicken is frying, prepare the Lemon-Rosemary Butter Sauce.
Transfer the chicken to a tray lined with paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with some salt and squeeze a little lemon over them.
Arrange the chicken pieces on a heated serving platter or individual plates. Pass lemon wedges and the Lemon-Rosemary Butter Sauce on the side.
LEMON-ROSEMARY BUTTER SAUCE
Makes about 1/2 cup
4 ounces unsalted butter
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 lemon, juiced
Put the butter and rosemary in a small saucepan. Melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the lemon juice. Pour through a wire-mesh strainer into a warm sauce bowl.