NEW ORLEANS — The September issue of Esquire magazine has an “Eat Like a Man” cover story, “Recipes by Men, For Men.” And the first recipe is from John Currence, who runs the City Grocery in Oxford, Miss., for Coca-Cola-Brined Fried Chicken — complete with full page photos to drool over.
The recipe is Currence’s attempt to re-create the secret recipe of Willie Mae’s Scotch House, which Currence helped rebuild in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005. And in a dazzling twofer, the chef includes a garnish of parsley, dill pickle chips and garlic, in a nod to the late Austin Leslie, who along with Willie Mae Seaton is legendary for his fried chicken.
As with all really good recipes, the techniques described in this one will translate to any for fried chicken. (And check out that baking powder in the dry mix.)
John Currence’s Coca-Cola-Brined Fried Chicken:
12 chicken thighs (skin on)
Peanut oil and lard, for frying
1 quart Coca Cola
1 teaspoon Liiquid Smoke (optional)
2 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Tabasco
3 tablespoons ground black pepper
3 tablespoons coarse salt
3/4 cup peanut oil
DRY MIX (well combined)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons coarse salt
4 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 tablespoon cayenne
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 1/2 cups flour
To brine: Rinse chicken, drain, and set aside. Blend together brining mix until salt dissolves. Place chicken in brine in a large covered bowl and marinate, refrigerated, for 4 hours.
To batter: Whisk egg well in a stainless steel bowl and add peanut oil and 2 1/2 cups water. Add in dry mix, whisking slowly so batter doesn’t clump.
To prepare chicken: Fill a large cast-iron skillet halfway with equal amounts peanut oil and lard. Slowly bring temperature to 375 degrees. (Use a candy thermometer.)
While oil is heating, remove chicken from brine and place in a colander in sink. Once chicken has drained, pat dry with paper towels (a critical step) and season with salt and pepper.
Dip chicken in batter and place (carefully) in hot oil. Adjust heat, as the chicken will bring down the oil temperature dramatically — you want it back up to just above 350 degrees. Turn chicken regularly, using tongs, to prevent burning.
After 8 or 9 minutes, remove a piece, prick it to the bone with a fork, and mash it. If the juices run clear, it’s done. Continue cooking if necessary.
Serve with Pickle-Garlic Relish. Cover any leftovers with a dish towel and leave out at room temperature (or in the fridge, if you must, although my grandmother never did). This keeps it crispy.
1 cup flat-leaf parsley
1 cup hamburger dill pickle chips
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
Chop everything finely and combine. Add a little pickle juice, if desired. Refrigerate.
Judy Walker/The Times-Picayune