Springtime brings the obvious pleasures of green grass, flowers, fresh air, eating outside, etc. But every year at my house, we also have a little house finch who builds her nest (with her significant other) next to our door. She sits there so sweetly. She sings. She drives our cat crazy! :)
We also usually struggle with Canadian geese all over our lawn… but this year our yard has been claimed by a duck couple. They walk side by side in conversation completely fearless of the real homeowners! They swim side by side on our pool cover. Such a nice change from the geese. I am assuming we will be welcoming ducklings soon. :)
Another springtime event in my world is my husband’s birthday dinner. It requires a lot of thought (on his part), a lot of cooking (on my part), and usually a lot of indulgence. This year was no exception! But, I am going to have to tell you that it was really really good.
My husband grew up in Charleston, South Carolina and has a real love for southern food. It’s just hearty and comforting – and good. :) After he decided on his wish list menu, I searched far and wide for the perfect fried chicken recipe. This Coke-brined version was adapted from Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans, Louisiana by way of John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi via the New York Times, contributed by Sam Sifton. (Credit needs to be paid when credit is due!) The Coke tenderizes the meat but also results in deep-mahogany brown, sweet, super-moist chicken. I modified the recipe to use boneless, skinless chicken thighs- of course! Delicious- and the leftovers were wonderful cold as well.
My husband’s wish list menu also included biscuits and gravy, macaroni and cheese (a side dish in the South!), caesar salad (yes- there was actually something green), and vanilla bean birthday cheesecake. (I mentioned it was an indulgent meal, right?) I made the fabulous giant biscuits I had made in the past for Fried Chicken Biscuits. Why mess with perfection? The milk gravy recipe was adapted from The Pioneer Woman.com. Yum!
This dish is the “grand finale” of my chicken thigh “festival”!! (for now, anyway…) Happy Birthday, Mr. Brookcook! :)
Yield: Serves 6 to 8
For the Coke-Brined Fried Chicken:
For the Brine:
- 5 cups Coca-Cola (I used 3 12-oz cans)
- 1 tablespoon coarse salt
- 10 sprigs fresh thyme
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
- 4 teaspoons mild hot sauce like Sriracha, Crystal, Texas Pete or Cholula
- 10 to 15 boneless skinless chicken thighs
For the Seasoned Flour:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
- 1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3 cups peanut oil
- 1 cup lard, optional, or replace with peanut oil
- Hot sauce, optional
- Make the brine: Combine cola, salt, thyme, garlic and hot sauce in a large glass bowl and stir until the salt has dissolved. Add the chicken thighs, cover and refrigerate 3 to 5 hours. (Longer will break down the meat.)
- Make the seasoned flour: In a wide, shallow bowl or pan, combine the flour, salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and cayenne.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put the peanut oil in a large heavy-bottom pot or Dutch oven over medium heat until it reaches 375 degrees on a candy thermometer. While the oil heats, remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry. (I did this in batches.)
- Dredge the thighs in the flour and shake to remove excess.
- Working in batches of 2 or 3 at a time, carefully lower thighs with tongs into the hot oil. The oil temperature will plummet when the cold chicken goes into the pan; turn up the heat and carefully monitor the temperature. Cook for approximately 3 minutes on one side, 3 minutes on the other, and then a final 2 minutes on the first side. Remove to a wire rack over a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain.
- The juices should run clear when the chicken is poked with a knife. If necessary, transfer the browned chicken to a baking sheet and bake until the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees on a instant-read thermometer. Serve hot or at room temperature with hot sauce, biscuits, and gravy, as desired.
For the Biscuits:
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more
- 3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 3/4 cups chilled buttermilk
- 1 large egg, beaten to blend
- Preheat oven to 375°. Pulse baking powder, salt, sugar, baking soda, and flour in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until the texture of coarse meal with a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining.
- Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Mix in buttermilk with a fork, then gently knead just until a shaggy dough comes together.
- Pat out dough on a lightly floured surface until 1¼” thick. Cut out biscuits with a 3” biscuit cutter, rerolling scraps once.
- Place biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush tops with egg. Bake until golden brown, 20-25 minutes (on convection) or up to 30–35 minutes.
For the Milk Gravy:
- 3 T fried chicken pan drippings
- 2-3 T all-purpose flour
- 1-2 cups milk (I used 1 percent)
- coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- In a small skillet over medium-low heat, add pan drippings and flour. Whisk immediately. It should be smooth.
- Keep stirring until the mixture begins to brown, 2-3 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan.
- Whisk in 1 cup of milk. Cook until desired thickness is achieved- adding more milk if desired.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Cut biscuits in half and pour gravy over the top to serve.
One Year Ago:
Two Years Ago: