Like my last post, this special and indulgent feast was also included in Food and Wine Magazine’s “40 Best-Ever Recipes” issue celebrating the 40th anniversary of their publication. I made it for the second year in a row to celebrate my husband’s birthday! 🙂
The recipes were adapted from The Gift of Southern Cooking by Scott Peacock, the then chef at Watershed in Decatur, Georgia, and co-author Edna Lewis, the legendary Southern cook, his mentor and close friend. I modified the cooking techniques and substituted sunflower oil for lard. Last year, I made Lewis’ wonderful biscuits from this full menu, but, this year I served the chicken and gravy with sourdough biscuits.
The chicken is double-brined, first in salt water and then in buttermilk, and then fried in a cast iron skillet filled with oil (or lard), butter, and bacon fat. It was very tender and juicy. The creamy and rich gravy is reminiscent of Italian vodka sauce. Pretty delicious. 😉
We ate the chicken, gravy, and biscuits with macaroni and cheese (my favorite version), and iceberg wedge salad on the side. My husband’s birthday meal is not complete without his favorite Vanilla Bean Birthday Cheesecake for dessert. ❤
For the Fried Chicken & Tomato Gravy:
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 2 quarts cold water
- One 3 1/2 to 5 pound chicken, cut into 8 to 10 pieces (I cut each chicken breast in half)
- 3 cups buttermilk
- 1 1/2 cups (6 3/8 oz, 180.7g) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons potato starch (optional) (I included it)
- fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound lard or solid vegetable shortening, for frying (I substituted 2 cups of sunflower oil)
- 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
- 1/4 pound sliced bacon (I used 4 thick slices)
- 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 cups drained canned diced tomatoes (from three 14-ounce cans)
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 1/2 cups milk (I used whole milk)
To Make the Fried Chicken:
- In a large bowl, dissolve the kosher salt in the cold water. Add the chicken pieces; cover and refrigerate for 4 hours. Drain.
- Put the chicken in a large bowl, add the buttermilk and turn the pieces to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours. (The chicken can be refrigerated overnight at this point, if desired.)
- In a gallon-size zip-lock bag, combine the flour, cornstarch, potato starch, 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and shake.
- Set aside 1/2 cup of the flour mixture for the gravy.
- Lift the chicken out of the buttermilk, wipe off any excess and set the pieces on a wire rack; let dry for 5 minutes.
- Add the chicken, a few pieces at a time, to the flour mixture in the bag; shake to coat.
- Dry the rack. Shake off any excess flour and return the chicken to the rack.
- Meanwhile, in a large cast-iron skillet, melt the lard (I used sunflower oil) and butter over medium heat. (I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet.)
- Add the bacon and cook over moderate heat until crisp, about 5 minutes; reserve the bacon for another use. (I crumbled the bacon over our wedge salads.)
- Add the chicken, in batches, and cook over moderate heat, basting and turning, until golden, crisp and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Lower the heat if necessary. (I kept the cooking oil temperature between 300 and 340 degrees. I also completed cooking the larger pieces (especially the breast pieces) in the oven at 300 degrees, until they reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees.)
- Set the chicken on a clean wire rack to drain.
To Make the Gravy:
- Transfer 1/4 cup of the chicken cooking fat to a large saucepan.
- Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes. (I chopped the onion and garlic in a food processor.)
- Add the reserved 1/2 cup of seasoned flour and cook, whisking, for 2 minutes.
- Add the drained tomatoes and thyme and stir constantly until blended.
- Whisk in the cream and milk until the sauce is smooth.
- Season with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened and no floury taste remains, about 10 minutes.
- Transfer the fried chicken to a platter.
- Pour the tomato gravy into a gravy boat and serve with the chicken.
For the Biscuits:
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons single-acting baking powder or double-acting baking powder (see Note)
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup cold lard or vegetable shortening, cut into pieces (I used bacon fat)
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
To Make the Biscuits:
- Preheat the oven to 450°.
- In a bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- Using your fingers or a pastry blender, work in the lard just until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
- Stir in the buttermilk just until moistened.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead 2 or 3 times.
- Roll out or pat the dough 1/2 inch thick.
- Using a 2-inch round cutter, stamp out biscuits as close together as possible. Transfer the biscuits to a baking sheet.
- Pat the dough scraps together, reroll and cut out the remaining biscuits; do not overwork the dough.
- Pierce the top of each biscuit 3 times with a fork and brush with the butter.
- Bake the biscuits for 12 to 14 minutes, or until risen and golden. Serve at once.
Note: The unbaked biscuits can be frozen in a single layer, then kept frozen in an airtight container for up to 1 month. Thaw before baking.