What’s in your refrigerator at any given time says a lot about you. In this series,GQ reached out to famous chefs with a deceptively simple, if revealing, question: What do you cook when you’re by yourself and no one’s watching?
Before he was everyone’s favorite judge on Chopped, Marcus Samuelsson was already knocking out the hits. While other 23-year-olds were still finding their footing in the world, the Ethiopian-born, self-professed sneakerhead was already the executive chef at Aquavit, complete with a three-star rating from the New York Times. He has since won two James Beard Foundation awards, written two books, and has 10 restaurants under his watch, including: three in Sweden (where he was raised), plus Harlem’s Streetbird and Red Rooster. His fans include names like the Obamas and the Clintons; Bill was rumored to be dining at Red Rooster the day we photographed him.
Samuelsson chalks up his success to the way he approaches hospitality. “Very often my home cooking could be the beginning of a dish we end up having in the restaurant,” he says. Samuelsson describes his home kitchen as “low tech, but high fun” and interactive—ideal for his style of entertaining. “My wife is Ethiopian and she might make a traditional dish at home and it could lead to something we end up offering on our brunch menu. It starts as a simple idea that I make a little bit different.”
And one dish he experiments with at both work and home? Fried chicken.
Marcus Samuelsson: “My comfort food has evolved over time. Growing up was it was meatballs and mashed potatoes. That was my Swedish youth. But now I live in Harlem and cooking fried chicken is a big part of our menu so I feel at home with it. Our restaurants look like a home in many ways; that’s why I don’t see a distinction between how I cook at home and the restaurant. I want the vibe to be like a living room. It’s all about comfort and making people feel at home. I want my restaurant to feel inclusive. I want to cook delicious food and I want it to feel like an extension of my living room.
“Ripping fried chicken and dipping it in a really great hot sauce makes me think, okay, I’m home. When you add pickles and vinegar to that crackling meat it really mixes well with the flavors of the chicken. A vinegar based hot sauce with some roasted chiles is never a bad idea. Bone in chicken, dark meat—depending on the vibe I will have mashed potatoes or mashed peas.
“Whether it’s a night with my wife or if we have friends over, I will start with some roasted barley and peanuts, some Ethiopian honey wine that my family makes, and get you ready for the fried chicken. It’s a good night at home.”
FOR THE RAINBOW SLAW
¼ head red cabbage
¼ head Napa cabbage
2 thin carrots, peeled
1 red onion, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
Segments and juice of 1 grapefruit
Segments and juice of 1 orange
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon cottage cheese
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon raisins
FOR THE FRIED CHICKEN
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 cups water
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
16 fresh sage leaves, torn
2 cups buttermilk
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon chile powder
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup semolina flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Peanut oil, for frying
1 garlic bulb
Lemon wedges, for garnish
MAKE THE RAINBOW SLAW
1. Preheat a gas grill to medium-high. Brush the cabbages, carrots, and onion with the olive oil and then grill, turning a few times for even cooking. You’re looking to soften the vegetables and to get some good grill marks. The Napa cabbage should take about 5 minutes; the rest, about 10 minutes. (You can also do this indoors on a grill pan.)
2. When the vegetables are cool enough to handle, shred the cabbages and chop the carrots and onion.
3. Mix the grapefruit segments and juice, orange segments and juice, lemon juice, cottage cheese, mayonnaise, and raisins in a large bowl. Add the cabbage, carrots, and onion and toss. Season to taste with chile powder, celery salt, and salt. Cover and refrigerate.
MAKE THE FRIED CHICKEN
4. Dissolve the salt in the water in a large bowl. Add the chicken, cover, and refrigerate for 1½ hours.
5. Remove the chicken from the brine, carefully separate the skin from the flesh, and place the torn sage leaves underneath the skin. Pat the skin back down.
6. Discard the brine and, in the same bowl, combine the buttermilk, Tabasco, black pepper, chile powder, and ½ teaspoon of the celery salt. Add the chicken, making sure it’s covered with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, or as long as overnight.
7. Take the chicken out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before you’re ready to fry. In a shallow bowl, whisk the flours, cornstarch, and remaining ½ teaspoon celery salt.
8. Fill an 8-quart pot half full with peanut oil and heat it to 340°F. Slice off and discard the top quarter of the garlic bulb; put the large piece in the hot oil. When the garlic is a rich golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes, remove it and drain it on a rack.
9. Wipe the excess marinade off the chicken and roll in the flour mixture; shake off the excess. Fry the chicken for 10 minutes, turning occasionally. Transfer to a rack set over a baking sheet and let it rest for 15 minutes.
10. Heat the oil to 360°F and fry the chicken again, until the crust is a deep golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes.
11. Serve the chicken with lemon wedges and rainbow slaw and the garlic.
“Double the recipe if you’re serving a crowd or if you want leftovers. There’s nothing better than leftover fried chicken. Eat it cold, turn it into a salad, or make Chicken and Gravy.”