Bite Club: How to Make Pickle-Brined Fried Chicken

Because everything tastes better when it’s fried.
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Because everything tastes better when it’s fried.
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You don’t love fried chicken because it’s chicken. You love it because it’s fried. Think about it for a second, which of the two words that make up the dish is more important? Would you rather have a poached chicken breast or a fried Pop-Tart? Chicken salad or country-fried steak? Roast chicken or a whole box of deep fried taquitos from the Costco freezer aisle?

Chicken is just a blank canvas for you to apply as much salt, fat, and hot sauce as that little voice inside your head that shames you into responsibility will allow. And brining the meat is the first step in getting all that useless chicken flavor out, and all that delicious salt, sugar, and vinegar in. You’re literally turning an animal into a pickle before frying it, and I think there’s something beautiful about that. Or it’s super fucked up. I can’t decide. Either way, let’s make some fried chicken.

First off, if you’ve never toasted whole spices before — well, that’s, you know, pretty reasonable. It’s a minute detail that’s easier to skip than it is to do. But, come on: Take Shia LeBoeuf’s advice and just do it (probably avoid most of the other stuff he says though. I don’t think Shia’s in a great place right now). Take about a tablespoon each of mustard seeds, whole peppercorns, and coriander seeds, throw them in a pan over medium heat, and toss until they smell super roast-y and fragrant.

Deglaze the pan with a cup of apple cider vinegar, then add equal parts salt and sugar, about 1/4 cup each. Stir with a wooden spoon until all the solids are dissolved, then flip off the heat, add in four cups of cold water, and whatever finishing touches seem reasonable. I threw in a few chopped garlic cloves, some bay leaves, fresh dill, and couple sliced habaneros because I want you guys to think I’m manly.

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While the brine is cooling, take eight or so pieces of bone-in, skin-on dark meat chicken parts (the only parts worth eating), pat them dry on a paper towel, and divide them among two separate gallon ziploc bags. Pour the brine over the chicken, squeeze the air out, and let it sit in the fridge for at least three hours. The bag is going to ensure every inch of surface area of your animal bits are getting brined, and there are no rogue chicken pieces floating to the top and getting left out of the party.

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Half an hour before you’re about to fry, remove the chicken from the brine, give it a rinse, and let dry on a paper towel. You want the chicken to be room temperature before frying so it will cook faster and more evenly. It will also help you avoid dying from salmonella. Because that shit’s real.

Heat a half gallon of vegetable or canola oil in a large cast iron dutch oven — but honestly, if you have a deep fryer, just roll with that — to 350 degrees. Pan-frying as opposed to deep-frying lets you get direct chicken-to-pan contact, creating little splotches of extra brown bits. Those little brown bits are called flavor. Flavor is good.

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Fill one large bowl with liberally hot-sauced buttermilk, and another bowl with liberally salted-and-peppered flour. When your oil is up to temperature, take a piece of chicken, give it a soak in the buttermilk, then dredge it in flour, making sure to coat all the nooks and crannies before dropping it in the oil for 12-14 minutes, or until the chicken gets to 165 degrees.

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Remove the chicken from the pot and let the excess oil drain on a wire cooling rack — not paper towels. If you drain on paper towels the chicken is going to steam and all that beautiful crispiness is going to wilt and die and everyone’s going to fucking hate you. Drizzle the chicken with hot sauce and honey — maybe a little finishing salt and sesame seeds if you nasty — and eat till there’s no more eating to be done.

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Still hungry? Check out the other installments of Bite Club here. 

Photos by All photos by Josh Scherer