Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner: JBF Award Winner Sean Brock Schools Us on Fried ChickenTasting Table
October 26, 2015
"When you're a chef in the South, fried chicken is your responsibility," says Sean Brock, acclaimed chef of Husk, McCrady's, and Minero, solemnly. And for the James Beard Award–winning chef and proud rural Virginian, that burden means burying your head deep in old recipes, cooking with every fat you can think of, and eating lots and lots of fried bird, naturally. "I was born this way," he says with a laugh. "Growing up in the South, you go to KFC and all the mom-and-pop places along the roadside. Honestly, it's my obsession."
It's our obsession too, so we asked for Brock's tips on how to master fried chicken at home after browsing the very intense, very delicious-sounding recipe in his recent JBF Award–winning cookbook, Heritage (Artisan). Here's what Brock had to say:
1. Vary your dredging flours. Brock uses more than all-purpose flour for his crust. "Mine's got a little cornmeal, which is how my mom makes it." This adds texture but says more about Brock himself. "I wanted to come up with something unique to me and my personality."
2. Let your chicken rest. "One of the biggest mistakes is the breading falling off," Brock says. This happens when the chicken isn't patted dry after brining. His solution? "Let the chicken sit in the flour as long as possible," he tells us. "The longer, the better."
3. Don't rely on only one oil. For the recipe he makes at home, Brock uses five—yes, five— different fats for frying. "They all balance each other," he explains. "Bacon adds smoke, country ham adds funk, chicken echoes chicken, butter browns at the end, and lard is the standard thing to fry chicken in."
4. Stick with your trusty cast-iron skillet. "I like the way the texture turns out when the chicken sits at the bottom of the black skillet," Brock says. "It gets really, really crunchy." Plus, there's a more primal component to it that Brock loves: "You have to bend over it and watch it. You're listening, you're smelling, you're using all your senses. It's fun to cook that way."
For more on fried chicken, including recipes, techniques, and sides, click here.