I love to cook for an Independence Day celebration, and not only because I’m a proud naturalized U.S. citizen. July Fourth is such a perfect occasion for celebrating all-American foods, including favorites such as grilled burgers and hot dogs, not to mention barbecued ribs. And then there are all sorts of wonderful pies and cobblers for dessert, accompanied — if I have any say — by big scoops of ice cream, preferably homemade.
But, like many people, I frequently find myself facing a conflict when preparing food for the Fourth. The problem centers on the most common events of the day.
Lots of families love to head for a local park or stadium on July 4 to see an evening display of patriotic fireworks. And that trip naturally calls for some sort of picnic dinner to enjoy before the show.
Public parks, however, can be hit or miss about grilling. Sure, some of them have a few built-in barbecue stations. But the supply comes nowhere near to the demand on such a big holiday, and these may have to be reserved in advance, or you may have to stake your claim to one as early as possible. Sure, you might bring your own portable setup, something similar to what you’d use for tailgating before a stadium pyrotechnics display. But you may face restrictions on live fires or risk alienating other picnickers nearby, not to mention the muss and fuss.
So, please allow me to propose an easier solution to all-American picnic fare: fried chicken.
Of course, I’m not
suggesting you bring a deep-fryer to the park or parking lot! As you might guess, I mean that you should bring cold fried chicken that you made the morning or day before.
Fried chicken tastes outstanding when it’s cold. I know some people who’ll even cook extra just for the leftovers. All you need to do is cook the chicken, let it cool awhile at room temperature, and then refrigerate it in a covered container. Pack it in sealable
food-grade plastic bags or rigid containers, place ice packs around it inside a well-insulated bag or basket, and it’s ready to tote to your picnic.
One secret to great cold fried chicken is to start with very flavorful hot fried chicken. In my recipe here, I brine the chicken to infuse it with flavor and moisture, then soak it in buttermilk for more richness and tang, dredge it in well-seasoned flour before frying and, finally, serve it with a dipping sauce. The result is chicken bursting with flavor, whether you serve it hot or cold.
Either way, try this recipe for your own picnic wherever you celebrate. It’s so good you’ll want to stand up and salute!
BUTTERMILK-MARINATED FRIED CHICKEN WITH SWEET-AND-SPICY DIPPING SAUCE
Buttermilk-Marinated Fried Chicken:
Chicken Brine (recipe follows)
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or legs, well-trimmed and cut into 4 equal portions
2 cups buttermilk
2 quarts soy oil or canola oil, for deep-frying
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
Sweet-and-Spicy Dipping Sauce:
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons hot sauce, such as Tabasco
A day ahead, prepare the Chicken Brine (recipe follows). Then submerge the chicken in the brine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours to overnight.
Remove the chicken from the brine; discard the brine. Pour the buttermilk into a clean bowl and submerge the chicken in the buttermilk; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 hour.
Pour the oil into an automatic countertop deep-fryer or a heavy, deep pot with a capacity of at least 4 quarts. Set the deep-fryer thermostat to 350 degrees, or heat the pot of oil over medium-high heat to 350 degrees on a deep-frying thermometer.
In a small bowl, stir together the flour, salt, pepper, garlic and onion powders, and cayenne. Spread the mixture on a dinner plate. A piece at a time, remove the chicken from the buttermilk, gently shaking off excess liquid, and dredge in the seasoned flour to coat lightly all over. (For crustier results, dip the flour-coated piece back into the buttermilk, shake off excess liquid, and dredge a second time.) Transfer the chicken to a platter lined with parchment or waxed paper.
Taking care to avoid splashing and not to overcrowd the oil, slip the chicken a piece at a time into the hot oil, letting the piece slide in away from you to avoid splashing. Fry until deep golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. As the pieces are done, use the fryer basket or a wire skimmer to remove them, and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. (Cut into the thick part of a piece with a small, sharp knife to make sure it’s cooked all the way through.) Lightly season all over with salt and pepper. Serve hot, or let the chicken cool briefly at room temperature and then refrigerate in a clean, heatproof container.
For the dipping sauce, whisk together the mayonnaise, honey and pepper sauce in a small mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Serve the hot or cold chicken accompanied by sauce for dipping.
Makes about 3 quarts
2 quarts cold water
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 large organic carrot, peeled and diced
1 large organic celery stalk, diced
3 bay leaves
1 3/4 cups pure maple syrup
3/4 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons cracked black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Put half of the water, along with the onion, carrot, celery and bay leaves, in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Leave at room temperature to cool. Then transfer to a large nonreactive mixing bowl, cover and refrigerate until chilled.
In another bowl, combine the remaining water with the maple syrup, kosher salt, peppercorns, cloves and ginger. Stir with a wire whisk until the syrup and salt have dissolved.
Stir the maple-syrup mixture into the bowl of chilled water with aromatics.