Fried Chicken and Biscuits:  A Tale of Nature V. Nurture

November 18, 2021

Fried Chicken and Biscuits:  A Tale of Nature V. Nurture

I can’t remember the first time I ever ate fried chicken and biscuits.  As a southerner, I gotta say, it’s likely there was no first time.  I was probably just born with a taste for it already in encoded in my DNA.  That’s a thing, right?  Like the way wolves come pre-wired to stalk a moose, instead of entering the world craving arugula. I’m pretty sure my science is sound here, folks. I’m an actor, after all, which means I’ve auditioned for a lot of scientists. The thing is, fried chicken and biscuits feels so much a part of my life, it’s like I can’t remember a time before it. Like when you’ve been married a long time, or you have kids.  There was no time before marriage.  That was a different person. With brown hair.  There was no time before kids.  I’ve been stepping on legos at 4am since the big bang.  That’s what fried chicken and biscuits is for me: the big bang of food.


I do have an early memory of eating cold fried chicken for my 4th birthday.  If I peer into the magic globe I can see well dressed kids with cake on their faces and He-Man themed paper plates piled high with fried chicken cooked the day before.  I can see myself insisting on getting the thighs.  No legs for me. I was a big kid now. Legs were for babies, novices. 

Recently, I brought this up to my mother, and she asked, “you mean the birthday where you tried to feed the chimpanzee?”

“Huh? What are you talking about I never had a chimpanzee at my birthday,” I said.  

“Yes you did. And you tried to feed it chocolate cake,” she said.

This was troubling on many levels, and raised several important questions concerning everything from animal welfare to child safety, but more than anything it was telling.  Cold fried chicken left a bigger imprint on my mind than a cake-eating chimp.
Petty
(The 6" Petty Knife)
I think many Americans might have a similar relationship to fried chicken.  Maybe you never buried memories of borderline animal abuse with crispy birds, but for most Americans fried chicken is a frequent indulgence. It is our most popular prepared food.  We eat 8 billion chickens a year, and in 2019, 178 million Americans ate some kind of fried chicken.  We’re most likely to buy it from a supermarket, and statistically a majority of us have in the just the last two weeks.  Nearly a quarter of all restaurants have some version of fried chicken on their menu.  It is everywhere.  But as naturally happens with things consigned to ubiquity, much of it is bad.  The vast majority of fried chicken that Americans eat is frozen.  Maybe you unzip little frozen nuggets from a bag to feed your kids when you’re just not feeling the pots and pans.  Maybe you get chicken strips in the drive-thru.  Maybe you have a quick fried chicken sandwich.  All of those are frozen, and few are good. 
Petty
True fried chicken is never frozen. The best is made with very small, two to three pound birds.  I like to brine it in nothing more than some salt water and honey, and I fry it in seasoned oil, that is, fresh oil with a few tablespoons of older frying oil.  I only make it couple of times a year because I feel like fried chicken should feel as special as something like Beef Wellington.  And who would disagree with that?  It’s just as impressive, tastes way better, and costs about $150 less.  And though Beef Wellington has puff pastry, with fried chicken and biscuits you get, well, biscuits.

As for biscuits, there’s no one good type.  A biscuit can be tall and flaky.  It can be short and fluffy.  But unlike fried chicken which tastes just fine cold, a biscuit should always be fresh and always be hot.  A cold biscuit is just sad.  I feel bad for it.  It’s like a deflated soufflé or me when I didn’t get chosen for kickball: it’s not living up to destiny.  I like to make my biscuits square because I’m left with no scraps and I have the added bonus of textural variety with the crispy corners.  Combine these hot, fresh biscuits, crispy, tender fried chicken and a drizzle of honey, and you’ve got yourself a special occasion explosion of flavor.  More big bang for your buck than any fancy roast could ever give.

Fried Chicken and Biscuits 

Serves 4 
For the Chicken:

  • 1 chicken cut into six pieces pieces (2 breasts, 2 legs, 2 thighs).  Alternatively you may use 6-8 bone-in, skin-on thighs.
    • 2 cups of flour
    • 1 pint of buttermilk
    • 1 quart of water
    • 3 Tbs of salt
    • 2 Tbs of honey
    • 1 tsp of pepper
    • 1tsp of paprika
    • oil for frying

     

    For the Biscuits:

    (Don’t hate me, but get a scale for your baking.  Your leavened breads and quick breads, like biscuits, will be so much more consistent.)

    • 300g of All Purpose flour
    • 115g (~1 stick) of butter
    • 235g of buttermilk
    • 6g of salt
    • 5g of baking soda
    • 15g of baking powder

     

    Steps:

    1. 1. Brine the Chicken: Combine the quart of water, 3tbs of salt and 3tbs of honey in a large mixing bowl.
    2. 2. Whisk until the salt is dissolved.
    3. 3. Add the chicken, and place in fridge for at least 2 hours.
    4. 4. Prep the biscuits:
      1. 1. In a mixing bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.
      2. 2. Slice the butter into pats, and toss in the flour.
      3. 3. Using your fingers, break up the butter until it’s about the size of a dime or so.
      4. 4. Add the buttermilk.
      5. 5. Using a large spoon or a rubber spatula, stir and fold until no dry bits remain.
      6. 6. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead 4-5 times.  Don’t over do it.  Just a few kneads.
      7. 7. Roll the dough out into a rectangle that is about 3/4” thick.  
      8. 8. Using a sharp knife, cut the biscuit dough into squares.
      9. 9. Transfer the squares to a parchment lined baking sheet and place in the fridge, for up to 24 hours, until ready to bake.
      10. 10. Alternatively you can place the baking sheet and biscuits in the freezer, then, once frozen, bag the biscuits, baking one or two at a time whenever you want them.
    5. 5.About 45 minutes before mealtime, preheat your oven to 450ºF.
    6. 6. Make the fried chicken:
      1. 1.In a large skillet or dutch oven, add enough oil until it’s about 1 1/2” to 2” deep.
      2. 2. Over medium high heat, bring the oil to 360ºF.
      3. 3. Meanwhile, set up your fry station.
        1. 1. Add the buttermilk to one mixing bowl.
        2. 2. Add the flour, paprika and pepper to another mixing bowl.
        3. 3. Drain the chicken from the brine and place the chicken pieces on a baking sheet.
      4. 4. When oil is up to temperature, coat the chicken pieces in flour, then the buttermilk and back in the flour, shaking or draining off excess each time.  
      5. 5. Place the chicken pieces into the oil, skin side down.  Fry on the first side for about 6 minutes.  Flip and continue frying for an additional 6-8 minutes.*  
      6. 6. Keep an eye on the oil temperature, making sure it doesn’t get too hot or too cool.
      7. 7. Remove the fried chicken from the oil and place on a cooling rack or paper towel-lined plate.
    7. 7. *Finish the biscuits.
      1. 1. When you flip the chicken over to fry on the second side, place the biscuits in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or up to 15 minutes if the dough has been frozen.
      2. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.
    8. To serve.
      1. Give each person some chicken and biscuits, and if they want, drizzle some honey over everything.


    John Tufts is an award-winning actor and author.  In addition to being paid to travel the world to wear tights and fight with swords, he has also written a book about the food of Shakespeare’s England called Fat Rascals: Dining at Shakespeare’s Table.  His book is available at john-tufts.com/fatrascalsbook.  His food history web series, “Eatso-Facto,” currently airs on YouTube.  You can follow him on Instagram at @johnnymtufts.  He lives in New York.





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