Memo to Myself: To Do the Dumb Things That I Gotta Do
Okay, I love Chick-Fil-A, and despite Willam’s excellent music video, do not feel comfy giving them my custom.
Mea culpa: if there were a Chick-Fil-A within driving distance, I might be tempted, especially as it’s my husband’s favorite fast food. They are sexist, racist, homophobic, and churchy, and I love none of those things. But the light, sweet-and-savory breading, fried in peanut oil, and infused with chicken flavor…it gets me right here (thumps fist in region of solar plexus.)
Flashback: my mother’s mother, she of the Good Basic Food, used to make something similar, but infinitely better. After my step-grandfather (her third husband) had his heart attack and bypass surgery in the late 1970s, Granny did her best to find delicious, low-fat, low-salt recipes. (Back then, boys and girls, we had no interwebs for that sort of thing.) One alternative to fried chicken involved seasoned Krusteaz pancake mix used as a dredge. No egg-milk dip was involved. The naked chicken, unsoaked, with this light flouring, was cooked in a dry electric skillet, at very low temperature, for ages.
The chicken fat sweated out and combined with the flour to make a quasi-breading type crust that was utterly delicious. It was crunchy and very chickeny, and the flesh was still very juicy. There was no oil flavor; only chicken. The pancake mix has a lot of sugar, and it caramelizes beautifully; the seasonings (paprika, garlic, onion, celery salt, pepper, and a smidge of poultry seasoning) complement the chicken and work with the sweet; and the rising agents in the pancake mix foof up with chicken moisture (if I didn’t lose you with my technical jargon, there) to make a little flour turn into a decent amount of breading. Best of all, it didn’t make you want to ignore the chicken and just eat the skin — my usual problem with poultry.
Digression: Chick-Fil-A deals in breasts. (Don’t get me started!) Chicken breasts; talk about approach / avoidance conflict! The least flavorful part of the bird, more meat than I want in one sitting…and yet: more acreage of skin and breading than any other piece. If sufficiently cooked, it’s usually dry. Fried chicken is not poached chicken, let’s put it that way, and if I love the breading at CFA, I certainly don’t love the meat. It’s often stringy, and while it doesn’t taste like fast-food chicken, it still has an industrial quality that is probably unavoidable when dealing with a major chain. There is no denying that even the simplest food turns voodoo under these conditions, since the hallmark of any retail chain is a product that will be reliably identical no matter where you go. Motel 6 to THX to Starbucks, you know exactly what you’re getting.
So! I stumbled upon a copycat recipe for Chick-Fil-A at www.hilahcooking.com (which I warmly recommend; Hilah is delightful and knows her onions) that involved a quick brine (30-60 minutes) in pickle juice. No pickle flavor is imparted in the brief douse. And I’m sure the recipe turns out well…as written.
I did not do it as written.
For one thing, I set up the chopped chicken in a zip-bag full of pickle juice a few hours before Honey was due to come home. HOURS.
Then I realized that I had used a “zesty” pickle juice rich in chunks of garlic and dill.
Then I cleaned house, using ferocious chemicals that gave me a massive headache. Honey came home, took one look at the clean house and headachy girl, and whisked me off to a very nice restaurant dinner.
The next day, slightly more than 24 hours after tossing the chicken in the pickle juice, we popped a bottle of wine, cranked the tunes, and checked the chicken.
The meat had white tinges from “cooking” in the acid, and even after draining, was pungent with dill and garlic and allspice and…it was dill pickle chicken!
I had altered the breading recipe, too, and it was fine. We fried the pieces, and the pounded-flat breast quarters, and they were freakin’ delicious! The meat was incredibly tender and juicy from the overnight brining. I’m sure the same magic could be worked without the dill pickle-y overlay, and I’ll probably try it today. This was nothing like the fried chicken of my youth (buttermilk soaked, heavily breaded), or Granny’s baked Krusteaz chicken, and nothing like Chick-Fil-A.
But I love dill pickles so much that I have often made the dill pickle soup from Trianon. And I love this chicken.
Everyone else would prefer Hilah’s version, I’m sure. Here’s the direct link: http://hilahcooking.com/chick-fil-a-copycat/