This dish is a brilliant juxtaposition of rustic Southern flavors inspired by my Grand and is very similar to a dish she prepared for clients and for her family on special occasions and during the holidays. What you get in this two method cooked chicken, is a delightful version of fried chicken that is smokey and is served with the taste of the salty-sweet honey butter condiment that can be spread all over this crispy creation.
Before starting out in preparing this fantastical dish, there are a few things that should be noted:
1) In order to execute this dish you will need a cast-iron skillet. Another heavy bottom pan such as Dutch oven will work, but cast-iron is by far the best for retaining heat and getting the crust right. In a Southern kitchen, the cast iron skillet is a home cook’s best friend. and everyone should own a cast-iron skillet!
2) There will be no deep frying or oil involved. This recipe uses solid vegetable shortening, like Crisco. In the past, traditional Southern cooks used lard rendered from hogs.
3) This is a labor intensive preparation. You will have to start this dish at least two days before you intend to serve it. To get the best results the chicken will be required to brine in buttermilk, overnight. You will also need a smoker and wood chips.
For the Brine:
3 cups Buttermilk
3 Tablespoons of hot sauce, to taste
2 Tablespoons of Kosher salt
1 Tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper
2 Tablespoons paprika
For the Chicken:
1 Whole Chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces
Chicken Brine to cover
To Smoke the Chicken:
Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil
For the Chicken Dredge Coating:
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rice flour
3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 teaspoons coarse Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
To Batter and Fry the Chicken:
8 Pieces of Brined Chicken
Chicken Dredge Coating
1 quart Buttermilk
Vegetable Shortening (Crisco)
Kosher salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
1 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika
For the Honey Butter:
2 sticks unsalted butter
4 Tablespoons Honey
1/2 to 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
For Honey Butter: Let the Butter come to room temperature. Combine Butter, Honey, and Salt and whip in a mixer with the whisk attachment until the Butter is well mixed and aerated – about two minutes on medium speed.Taste the Butter, adjust the Salt and Honey to your own preferences. Store Butter in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature.
For the Buttermilk Brine: Combine above ingredients in a large ziploc plastic bag. Place the chicken pieces in brine and place in a large bowl and set in the refigerator, overnight for best results. The next day,remove the chicken from brine and dry excess moisture with a paper towels.
Prepare the smoker:
To start, there are two main ways to smoke at home: a) using either a charcoal grill, or b) an electric or conventional oven. For this recipe the oven method was used:
The first step to smoking meat in an oven is really wet soaked wood chips. Submerge your hickory, mesquite, or whatever flavor chips in water for a few hours. Once soaked, drain your wood chips through a colander, reserving some of the chip water in a container.
Adjust the lower oven rack so that it is one notch below the middle notch and closer to the bottom of the oven. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Using aluminum pan, place the soaked wood chips at the bottom of the pan, making sure some of the water creates a film at the bottom along with the chips. Be careful to only line the bottom of the pan and not stack the chips in layers as it will produce too much smoke. The right amount of wet wood chips will ensure there is an appropriate amount of smoke.
Over the wood chips place a raised metal baking rack. Make sure there is enough space between the chips and bottom of the rack for the smoke to flow freely.
Remove your chicken from the buttermilk and drain in a colander or on a rack for 10 minutes or so. Place the chicken onto the baking rack. The chicken should be placed directly over the wood chips. Make a nice tent of aluminum foil that seals the roasting pan on all sides and has room in the top for the smoke to circulate. The more tightly the foil is sealed, the more the wood flavor will penetrate the chicken.
Place the aluminum pan in the oven.Smoke for 20-25 minutes. You DO NOT want to smoke the chicken much longer than that, or the smoke flavor can become overpowering. Keep an eye on your temperature to make sure you do not actually cook the meat.During the smoking process, the water may become absorbed, drying out your chips and conversely your meat. Pour some of your reserved chip water in, re-wetting the chips and re-creating the film of water at the bottom.
Remove the chicken from the smoker. The buttermilk coating should pick up some brown coloring from the smoke. Place back into the buttermilk for 10 more minutes. Remove and drain again.While the chicken drains, heat the shortening to 350 degrees.
Dredging and Frying the Chicken:
Mix together the paprika, salt, and black pepper in a large bowl. Season the chicken liberally with salt and black pepper and set aside.
To batter the chicken, divide the Chicken Dredge into two deep containers. Pour the buttermilk into a third container.
Batter each piece of chicken one at a time. Dip a piece of chicken into the first flour container and coat lightly with Chicken Dredge. Then submerge the chicken in buttermilk. Lift the chicken out of the buttermilk, and let the excess drip slightly, and place into second Chicken Dredge container and coat chicken again. Be careful to ensure that the chicken is evenly and fully coated, but do not let the coating become too thick. Place the battered Chicken onto a rack and proceed with battering the remaining chicken. Allow the chicken to rest for 2 to 5 minutes before placing in the skillet or a Dutch oven. This gives the flour a chance to set properly.
Heat the shortening in a cast iron skillet or a Dutch oven. Once the shortening reaches 350 degrees.
If your skillet or Dutch oven is small, fry the chicken in batches. NOTE: If you place too much chicken into the liquid shortening, the temperature will drop too much and the chicken will become greasy.
Turn the oven to 250° F. Place a wire baking rack over a parchment paper lined sheet pan.
Gently add the chicken into the hot shortening – the temperature will drop. Carefully adjust the heat to keep the shortening at a constant 315-320°F. Fry the chicken until each piece reads at least 165°F at its thickest point. The drumsticks will take approximately 11-13 minutes. The breasts and thighs will fry for approximately 10 minutes. When the chicken is cooked, and golden brown, remove carefully from the shortening and place on a wire rack over a sheet pan.
When the first batch of chicken is browned, transfer the pieces to the wire rack and dust the top side of the just fried chicken with a sprinkle of salt and a sprinkle of smoked paprika. Let rest for one minute, flip the chicken and dust the other side with salt and smoked paprika.Place the rack in the oven to allow the chickent to finish cooking and stay warm while you fry the remaining pieces.
Repeat with the process with the rest of the chicken, allowing the last batch to rest for 10 minutes in the oven before serving.
Serve the chicken at room temperature with the Honey Butter on the side, to spread onto the hot fried chicken.