"Part of the appeal of fried chicken is the ritual involved in the preparation," write Naomi Hart and Gregory Llewellyn in their recently released Fried Chicken and Friends cookbook. And if you're eating in their popular Sydney restaurant Hartsyard, that ritual takes place over three days, a process of brining, cooking and marinating the bird before triple-flouring it and cooking it in the deep fryer.
If you love fried chicken but don't fancy devoting half a week to it, Hart and Llewellyn have shared their "quick-fire" recipe below. Plus two other ways to transform the humble chook into crowd-pleasing delights.
Quick-fire fried chicken
So, you don't have the time or energy to spend three days preparing your fried chicken? What's wrong with you? Just kidding. Here's a quick version of the Hartsyard process. You can't fast-track everything, though. You still need to allow at least two hours for brining, and another two hours marinating.
Brining the bird
2 tbsp granulated sea salt
1.4 kg free-range chicken, cut into 8 pieces
In a 2 litre stockpot, bring 1 litre water to a simmer. Add the salt and stir until dissolved. Remove from the heat and pour into a non-reactive container (plastic or stainless steel, not aluminium). Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until completely cold.
Submerge the chicken pieces in the cold brine. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of two hours, and a maximum of four hours.
Marinating the bird
250 ml Hartsyard hot sauce (see recipe below)
250 ml buttermilk
In a large bowl, combine the hot sauce and buttermilk. Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry thoroughly with paper towel. Place the chicken in the marinade and toss until thoroughly coated.
Cover and refrigerate for two hours.
The crumbing mix
300g (2 cups) self-raising flour
3 tbsp Old Bay Seasoning
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp mustard powder
2 tsp dried thyme
Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl until thoroughly combined. Have the mixture at hand when you're ready to fry up the chicken.
Frying the chicken
2 x 250g blocks of lard or beef suet (or even one of each)
In a cast-iron frying pan large enough to fit the chicken pieces comfortably, melt the lard over medium–low heat. When the lard starts to shimmer, increase the heat to medium.
Remove the chicken from the marinade, then roll in the crumbing mix to coat. Place back into the marinade, then the crumbing mix again, then slowly place the chicken pieces into the lard one at a time – they should start sizzling immediately.
Keeping a close eye on the pan and the browning, keep frying until the skin becomes golden on one side. Turn the chicken over and keep frying until a crust has formed and the colour is uniform. The whole frying process should take about 12 minutes.
Drain on paper towel and serve immediately.
"That's all it is?" asked Naomi, when she read the ingredients list for this sauce. "With all the compliments it gets, I half-expected it to contain essence of unicorn." Without trying to sound like w--kers, this is the item on the Hartsyard menu that receives the most praise.
200g long red fresno chillies
200g brown onions, halved
1 litre white vinegar
100g sea salt
100g garlic cloves
100g unsalted butter
250g oak food-grade woodchips (never use chunks or pellets)
On a barbecue with a lid, lay out half the chillies and half the onions, leaving enough space to house a black cast-iron pan. Place the empty cast-iron pan on the stovetop until ridiculously hot (roughly 5 minutes on full heat).
Meanwhile, in a 3 litre stockpot, combine the remaining chillies and onions, the vinegar, sea salt and garlic. Bring to a slow simmer, never allowing the mixture to boil.
When the cast-iron pan is at smelting temperature, cover the bottom with at least 1cm of oak chips. Leave until the chips start to smoulder and smoke (almost instantaneous) — they should never ignite.
Move the cast-iron pan to the barbecue very carefully, then close the barbecue lid and leave to smoke. If the chips are still smoking after a minimum of 20 minutes, let them go until they're finished; but if they're done, place the whole smoked vegetables in the simmering stockpot (which by now should have been bubbling away for 30 minutes).
Simmer for a further 30 minutes, ensuring the mixture never boils. After one hour of total cooking, remove the stockpot from the heat.
Stir in the butter, then wrap the top of the hot container with plastic wrap to form a seal. Leave at room temperature for 48 hours.
After two days, blend all the ingredients until they're smooth enough to strain through a colander. This should remove large chunks, leaving behind a fine pulp.
Transfer to sterile bottles or airtight containers and refrigerate until required; the sauce will easily keep for a week or two.
Makes about 2 litres
Chicken skin crackers
500g chicken skin (ask your butcher for this), scraped of excess fat
In a large saucepan, bring 1 litre water to the boil. Add the salt and boil until the salt has dissolved. Cool to room temperature, add another 1 litre water, then pour into a large bowl.
Discard any visible bloodline from the chicken skin. Rinse under cold running water, then place immediately into the salted water. Cover and refrigerate for no more than two hours.
Preheat the oven to 160C. Grab two baking trays of equal size. Line the first with baking paper and lay the chicken skin out flat on the paper. Cover with another sheet of baking paper and the other tray. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, checking at 15-minute intervals after the first half hour for even crispness and colour.
Transfer the skin to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Break into crackers when you're ready to serve.
The crackers are best enjoyed fresh, but will keep in an airtight container for up to three days.
The polite people call this "Southern fried rice". It gets its other name from its "dirty" colour, which comes from the ground (minced) chicken livers. This is one of those dishes for which every Southern home has its own version. The one thing that should be standard is that the cooked rice should be at least a day old, so it absorbs more flavours.
4 fresh chicken livers, trimmed of any sinew
2 tbsp canola oil
150 g minced pork
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) chicken stock (store-bought is fine)
1 small brown onion, finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely diced
8 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon ground espelette pepper or chilli powder, plus extra to serve (optional)
650g (3 1/2 cups) day-old cooked medium-grain or long-grain white or brown rice (not freshly cooked)
1 long red fresno chilli, stem removed, then thinly sliced, seeds and all
4 spring onions thinly sliced, including the green bits
Puree the chicken livers in a small bowl, using a hand-held stick blender.
Meanwhile, in a flameproof casserole dish, heat the canola oil over medium heat to just before smoking point (the oil is shimmering, no bubbles = 200C).
Add the pork and puréed chicken livers and stir until combined. Continue to cook until the meat begins to brown. Be patient – do not constantly stir, as the more brown the meat is, the more flavourful it will be. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and continue cooking until the mixture is thoroughly browned and granular in texture.
Pour in half the stock, then continue cooking until it has evaporated. Now add the onion, celery, garlic and espelette pepper, stirring constantly over medium–high heat for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to caramelise.
Add the rice and remaining stock, then cover and simmer for 4–5 minutes, until the liquid has evaporated.
Stir the rice, from bottom to top, adding the chilli and spring onion; these should remain fresh and crunchy.
Season to taste; add extra espelette pepper if desired. Turn out into a bowl and devour.
Recipes from Fried Chicken and Friends: The Hartsyard Family Cookbook, by Gregory Llewelyn and Naomi Hart, published by Murdoch Books, $49.99.