I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and were able to share a meal with people you care about. This time last year, we were in the midst of Covid and Rachel was nine months pregnant. Yesterday, we had six friends over, everyone brought something to share, we all ate a little bit too much and then finished it off with pie. Yesterday felt like a return to traditions that we had once taken for granted.
With that said... my least favorite Thanksgiving tradition is turkey. If turkey was good, we'd eat it more than once a year. I've met very few people who actually like turkey. Or, if they do, they prefer it in sandwich form the day after Thanksgiving. Forty million turkeys get eaten every November, not so much because people like the taste, but because of tradition.
If you're committed to the big bird, please watch this video. Let it plant a seed in your mind that may sprout over the next 364 days. It's Grant Achatz, shortly after being recognized as the best chef in America, talking about how and why most people screw up their turkeys, and how to do it better.
One thing I'm thankful for is that, ten years ago, Rachel let me adopt fried chicken as our family's Thanksgiving tradition. I love fried chicken. Unlike turkey, I actually order fried chicken throughout the year. Frying chicken at home is messy, dangerous, and labor intensive, which makes it the perfect substitute for a once-a-year tradition rooted in an over-involved preparation of poultry
I use the recipe from my battered copy of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home, which starts off with TK saying, "if there's a better fried chicken, I haven't tasted it."
It's a buttermilk fried chicken with a breading that's flavored with garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, and paprika. The recipe calls for soaking the chicken overnight in a lemon-honey brine. We typically buy two whole chickens, break them down the night before, and use the bones to make stock and gravy.
There's a few challenges with the process of frying raw chicken while your kitchen is full of guests:
- The breading process requires a lot of handling of raw chicken over a lot of counter space.
- It's hard to tell if the chicken is cooked through when frying. In years past, I've definitely served chicken that was GBD on the outside and pink on the inside.
- Dropping cold chicken into hot oil lowers the temp of the oil by a lot, which leads to inconsistent fry times and soggy chicken.
- It takes 10-15 minutes to fry a batch of raw chicken. Two whole chickens produce 20 pieces, and I can only fit five pieces at a time in our Le Creuset. That's an hour of active cooking while guests mill about the kitchen.
With all due respect to TK, the last two Thanksgivings, I've experimented with sous viding the chicken before dropping it in the oil. The idea is to pre-cook the chicken most of the way, and then finish it off in the fryer. This year I took it to 145, which I think was too high. The brine saved the day -- the chicken didn't taste overcooked -- but it wasn't as juicy as in years past. Next year I think I'll go 125-130, and trust the oil to bring it the rest of the way.
On the upside, I had no concerns about raw chicken, the oil stayed hot during frying, and each batch only took five minutes to brown. Also, the chicken was delicious.
Of course, the food wasn't the important part of the day. I enjoy the multi-day process and the excuse to spend a whole lot more effort preparing a single meal than makes sense any other time of year. But the real prize was spending an afternoon, indoors, eating with friends – especially after a year when we couldn't.