Buttermilk~Brined Fried Chicken, Mashed Potatoes & Gravy

Buttermilk~Brined Fried Chicken  |  Mashed Potatoes + Gravy  |  Peas

Intro Collage

I know, I know…it has been a while.  You may think that I abandoned this little space in an attempt to conquer my Christmas lists in a timely, organized fashion and, when all the shopping, baking, and wrapping was complete, return here, cup of tea in hand, to sit, relax and enjoy a little dinner conversation with you.  Well, although that sounds like a lovely scenario it could not be further from the truth.  There is nothing timely or organized about my life at this moment and it all started with this fried chicken…this wonderful, crispy, golden, salty FRIED chicken.

The key word here is FRIED.  You know, the process of heating {to the ridiculously high temperature of 350°F} a large amount of oil in a pot on the stovetop and then submerging food into that pot so the hot oil can spray a fine mist of grease which will cover absolutely every surface in your kitchen cook the contents of said pot to crispy, golden perfection.  Well, yes and yes…that is exactly what happened and, although I had every intention of sharing this AMAZING fried chicken with you the morning after our feast, I was consumed with a need to remove the thin layer of oil residue which seemed to settle into every nook and cranny of my kitchen.  It wasn’t obvious at first,  everything seemed to have escaped the “storm”, save the stove, of course.  But, cleaning the stove led to cleaning the nearby counters, which led to cleaning the cabinets over {and under} the counters and, if you are cleaning the outside of the cabinets you might as well clean the inside while you are at it.  You get the picture.  My project, which began promptly after dropping the children off at school Thursday morning grew to epic proportion and when the children returned home that afternoon they entered a war zone.  The contents of all the cabinets in piles all over the kitchen and all the glass light fixtures removed to the dishwasher for a thorough cleaning…I was obsessed.  Three days later, a completely re~organized kitchen {and pantry} sparkled.  Saturday night we enjoyed pizza delivery for dinner as I basked in the glow of my “new” kitchen.  Was the fried chicken solely responsible for what is now known as “The Kitchen Cleaning Incident of 2013″?  No, not really, it simply nudged me into tackling a long overdue project and the chicken itself was EPIC…definitely the BEST fried chicken we have ever eaten!

The recipes for both the fried chicken and the gravy were ever~so~slightly adapted from Boulevard, The Cookbook by Nancy Oakes and Pamela Mazzola {Ten Speed Press, 2005}, basically tweaking the amounts of salt and a few other spices to personal preferences.  The menu for this dinner, as it appears in the book, includes mashed potatoes and cream biscuits.  I used my favorite mashed potatoes recipe and opted to serve peas so as to interject a bit of green onto what would have been a very “white” plate.

The fried chicken begins with cornish game hens instead of full~sized chickens…


Although hard to tell from the picture, these “little chickens” are considerably smaller than their full~sized cousins and, in my opinion, possess more flavor.  Once the backbones are removed and the hens are cut up,the resulting small chicken parts make it easier to fry larger batches…


The brine is a simple buttermilk mixture spiked with fresh lemon, thyme, mustard salt and pepper…


The hen pieces bathe in the brine for a minimum of 4 hours or up to 12 hours.  I started this process the night before I wanted to serve the fried chicken.  The brine takes minutes to prepare and the chicken {in the brine} was placed into the refrigerator where it sat for roughly 8 hours overnight…

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With regard to overall timing/preparation, overnight brining is helpful as, once the hen pieces are removed from the brine and then dredged in a flour mixture, they must sit in the refrigerator, once again, for at least 1 hour or up to 6 hours.  The longer the better as surface moisture will evaporate from the dredged meat over time in the cold refrigerator helping to achieve a good crunch factor when fried.  We found that this flour mixture, flavored with dry mustard, salt and sweet paprika, gave the finished meat incredible flavor while the buttermilk brine insured moist, tender meat…

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A note here regarding ingredient amounts which appear in the following recipe.  The recipe, as written in Boulevard, calls for 2 cornish game hens which will serve 4 {roughly half a hen per person}.  We love cold fried chicken so I prepared 4 hens to ensure adequate leftovers for lunches and doubled the recipes for both the brine as well as the flour coating accordingly.  Also note the use of self-rising flour which accounts for the lightness of the fried coating on the finished meat.

Buttermilk~Brined Fried Chicken
Serves 8
A moist, tender fried chicken with a crunchy coating flavored with mustard, salt and paprika.
Buttermilk Brined Game Hens
  1. 4 Cornish game hens
  2. 2 quarts buttermilk
  3. 1/2 cup kosher salt
  4. 6 tablespoons freshly~squeezed lemon juice
  5. 4 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
  6. 4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  7. 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  8. Canola, safflower, or peanut oil for frying
Flour Coating
  1. 8 cups self~rising flour
  2. 4 tablespoons dry mustard
  3. 4 teaspoons kosher salt
  4. 4 teaspoons Hungarian sweet paprika
To Brine the Game Hens
  1. Remove the backbones and reserve for the gravy. Cut the hens into pieces: drumsticks, thighs, breasts, and wings.
  2. In a large bowl, stir the buttermilk, salt, lemon juice, thyme, mustard, and pepper and then immerse the hen pieces. Cover and refrigerate a minimum of 4 hours or up to 12 hours.
To Dredge the Hens
  1. Whisk the flour coating ingredients together in a bowl. Place a wire rack on each of 2 rimmed baking sheets, making sure there is enough space to accommodate all of the hen pieces without touching.
  2. Working with 1 piece at a time, remove the hens from the brine, leaving a generous amount of the brine on each piece as it goes into the flour mixture. Place the coated hen pieces on the racks being careful not to let the pieces touch. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 6 hours {the longer the better}.
To Fry the Game Hens
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F and have a baking sheet lined with a brown paper grocery bag ready near the stovetop where you will be frying.
  2. Put enough oil into a large deep skillet or dutch oven so that the oil comes halfway up the sides and heat the oil until it registers 350 degrees F on a deep~fry thermometer. Carefully add enough hen pieces to fit comfortably without crowding. Increase the heat to bring it back up to 350 degrees F as quickly as possible, then continue to regulate the heat to maintain a constant 350 degrees F temperature.
  3. Fry for 4~5 minutes per side, using tongs to turn pieces and to remove them when they are golden brown. {I used a deep dutch oven so there was more than enough oil to completely submerge each hen piece, eliminating the need to flip the pieces for cooking...the hen pieces were fully cooked and golden brown after 6~7 minutes in the oil}
  4. Put the finished hen pieces on the lined baking sheet to drain and keep warm in the oven while you fry the remaining pieces.
Adapted from Boulevard, The Cookbook, by Nancy Oakes & Pamela Mazzola
Adapted from Boulevard, The Cookbook, by Nancy Oakes & Pamela Mazzola
THE DINNER CONCIERGE http://thedinnerconcierge.com/
By now I am sure you have realized that, aside from frying the hen pieces, there is a very little amount of “hands on” time in preparing the hens for the fryer.    With 4 ~12 hours in the brine followed by another 1~6 hours of refrigeration after dredging, you have plenty of time to prepare the gravy and any other side dishes you plan to serve.  

My experience in making gravy up to now has been working with pan drippings rendered from roasted meats and vegetables, adding a bit of stock and thickening to a desired consistency with a roux.  Those precious pan drippings are what add the deep, rich flavor {and color} to gravy but this particular “from scratch” gravy gets an incredible depth of flavor from roasting the removed hen backs as well as some additional chicken wings.  This combination of poultry pieces, when oven~roasted, become a beautiful golden brown and contribute that meaty, “pan drippings” flavor to the final gravy…

Chicken Parts Collage

The remaining ingredients, as well as the preparation of this gravy, are quite simple but there is one ingredient, the quality of which will greatly impact the final result:  chicken stock.  Homemade Chicken Stock is always preferable and the original recipe calls for Dark Chicken Stock…a darker, richer stock made by roasting chicken pieces then simmering them in a lighter, traditional chicken stock.  I started making this Dark Chicken Stock a couple of years ago from a recipe found in Boulevard, The Cookbook and it has become the stock I use most frequently in many of my soups and sauces.  At this time of year, especially, I always try and have a supply in the freezer at the ready.  If homemade stock is not an option for you, use the best quality prepared stock or stock base {such as Better Than Bouillon} that you can find.

Gravy Collage

The final gravy is dark, rich and silky smooth and the perfect topping for our favorite mashed potatoes.

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Chicken Gravy
A deep, rich gravy perfect for topping poultry and potatoes.
  1. 1 pound chicken wings
  2. Reserved backbones from game hens
  3. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  4. 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  5. 1 carrot, coarsely chopped
  6. 4 cups, Dark Chicken Stock
  7. 4 thyme sprigs
  8. 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  9. 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  10. Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and put the chicken wings and reserved backbones on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, turning once, for 30~40 minutes, or until golden brown.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium~high heat. Add the onion and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 7 minutes, or until softened and beginning to brown. Using tongs, transfer the chicken wings and hen backs to the saucepan with the vegetables, discarding any fat left on the baking sheet. Add the chicken stock and the thyme and bring to a simmer, skimming the foam that develops on the top a few times. Cook until reduced by one~third and then carefully strain the stock through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl.
  3. While the stock is cooking, melt the butter in another large saucepan over medium heat and whisk in the flour until smooth and cook, stirring constantly, for about 8 minutes, or until the raw taste is gone from the flour. Add the strained stock to the butter~flour mixture in the saucepan, whisking continuously to prevent lumps. Simmer for 10 minutes and season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm until ready to serve.
Adapted from Boulevard, The Cookbook by Nancy Oakes & Pamela Mazzola
Adapted from Boulevard, The Cookbook by Nancy Oakes & Pamela Mazzola
THE DINNER CONCIERGE http://thedinnerconcierge.com/
K Initial

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