Chicken. We all cook it, but sometimes rely too much on one part. Give the other bits a chance! Every day this week, we’re sharing the definitively best recipes for chicken, part by part. So far, we’ve talked about the whole bird, the breast, and the thigh. Today: the drumstick.
Photo credit: Donna Turner Ruhlman
Fried chicken is an endeavor. It involves very hot oil that must be consistently monitored using an awkwardly shaped thermometer. It often requires overnight preparation; whether you prefer a liquid brine or a salt rub, the meat should sit in it for eight to 24 hours. Not to mention it coats you and everything in your kitchen—and, depending on the size of it, your entire house—in a scent so thick you can swipe it off of your walls with a fingertip. That’s a good thing for whetting appetites, but it works against that post-shower clean feeling when, the next morning, it’s still lurking in every molecule that makes up those walls.
But we still make fried chicken, because it’s crunchy, and salty, and juicy, and all of those other things human beings like. We sit at our desks thinking about how good it’s going to be when we fix it tonight, having blocked out the bad parts of the process just like we did that summer we were still using training wheels and everyone else in the neighborhood left us in their big-kid bike dust.
So tonight, we’ll be making Michael Ruhlman’s buttermilk fried chicken. He’s the food writer who worked on Ad Hoc At Home, a cookbook from the chef behind another very famous fried chicken recipe, Thomas Keller. Ruhlman’s version imbues the meat with garlic and rosemary and gives the skin a crispy, peppery crust. And although his recipe also applies to thighs and wings, the reason we like it for drumsticks is twofold. First, drumsticks come with built-in handles, making them the ultimate party snack. Secondly, said handles don’t have meat on them, meaning you get to finish the snack by nibbling strictly on fried bits of skin.
That alone makes it worth the effort.
Rosemary-Brined, Buttermilk Fried Chicken
by Michael Ruhlman, “Ruhlman’s Twenty,” Chronicle Books
Serves 6 to 8
1 small onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, smashed with the flat side of a knife
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
5 or 6 branches rosemary, each 4 to 5 inches long
4 ½ cups
1 lemon, quartered
8 chicken legs, drumsticks and thighs separated
8 chicken wings, wing tips removed
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons fine sea salt
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 cups buttermilk
Oil for deep-frying
Make the brine: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons salt after the onion and garlic have cooked for 30 seconds or so. Add the rosemary and cook to heat it, 30 seconds or so. Add the water and lemon, squeezing the juice from the wedges into the water and removing any seeds. Bring the water to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and allow the brine to cool. Refrigerate until chilled.
Place all the chicken pieces in a large, sturdy plastic bag. Set the bag in a large bowl for support. Pour the cooled brine and aromatics into the bag. Seal the bag so that you remove as much air as possible and the chicken is submerged in the brine. Refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours, agitating the bag occasionally to redistribute the brine and the chicken.
Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse under cold water, pat dry, and set on a rack or on paper towels. The chicken can be refrigerated for up to 3 days before you cook it, or it can be cooked immediately. Ideally, it should be refrigerated, uncovered, for a day to dry out the skin, but usually I can’t wait to start cooking it.
Combine the flour, black pepper, paprika, sea salt, cayenne, and baking powder in a bowl. Whisk to distribute the ingredients. Divide this mixture between two bowls. Pour the buttermilk into a third bowl. Set a rack on a baking sheet/tray. Dredge the chicken in the flour, shake off the excess, and set the dusted pieces on the rack. Dip the pieces in the buttermilk, then dredge them aggressively in the second bowl of flour and return them to the
Heat oil in a pan for deep-frying to 350°F. Add as many chicken pieces as you can without crowding the pan. Cook the chicken, turning the pieces occasionally, until they are cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes depending on their size. Remove to a clean rack and allow them to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.