David Chang's "Naked" Fried Chicken - or - I Might Have a Problem


That's the first step, right? Admitting you have a problem? So I'm admitting that I have a problem only in that I can't seem to get enough fried chicken these days. I'm obsessed with it. Perhaps it's that summer is over and I'm not ready. Nothing smacks more of summer, to me, than a decent platter of fried chicken.

Ed Lee (Smoke & Pickles) put it this way, "If you're a connoisseur of good food, then by definition you must also love fried chicken." (for an excellent visual depicting Ed's obsession, click here) I often feel so connected, soul-to-soul, with these culinary mentors of mine. David Chang (Momofuku) admits his weakness thusly, "I love, love, love, love, love fried chicken. I order it like a side dish at restaurants or when I get takeout. I will eat the worst fried chicken and love it."

And so as I was thumbing through my much-used and well-worn copy of Momofuku I stumbled upon David's Fried Chicken recipe. How had I missed it? I honestly couldn't remember reading about it, but then his pork belly buns and ramen recipe are solid go-to's anytime I crack open the book. Somehow, this glorious fried chicken recipe had slipped past me unseen.

Until now.

This is such an unusual take on a fried chicken but so incredibly spot-on. I'll share David's thoughts with you directly from the cookbook:

"We came up with this dish at the new Noodle Bar, once we had moved up the block. We tried different methods. Buttermilk soaking - the traditional southern way - was okay, but it didn't amplify the natural flavor of the chicken, which took a long time to cook in the fryer. Kevin and Scott experimented with some batters and coatings, all of which were tasty,  but none of which was right.

"We were using a crazy expensive and delicious chicken - the breed name is poulet rouge - and I wanted to strip away as much much excess flavoring as possible. That's when we settled on this method: steam the chicken first, just until it's cooked, then use the fryer just to crisp and brown the outside."

Wait a minute, what? No buttermilk brining? No dipping and/or double-dipping in heavily-seasoned flour? David Chang wanted me to fry a completely "naked" bird ... and I was ALL OVER IT.

There are two key factors that make this an amazing fried chicken and I would advise you deviate from neither. Firstly, get yourself the best-tasting bird you possibly can. What makes a chicken tasty? You already know this: free range, organic, hormone-free. I was lucky enough to have visited Proper Meats + Provisions butcher last weekend and scored a lovely little 3-pound bird from a farm right here in Arizona (you can read about Proper right here - I'm blogging about it today!). Secondly, do not forgo the amazing Octo Vinaigrette - "an interesting flip-flop of a traditional vinaigrette" loaded with garlic, ginger, chile, vinegar, soy, and grapeseed and sesame oils. It puts this fried chicken over the top, but honestly, I would slather it on anything not nailed down.

I might possibly even suck it from David Chang's very own toes ... I feel I owe that to him for changing my life forever with this recipe. It will join my growing list of favorites. Luckily the weekend is here and I'm settling in to investigate fried chicken in Ed Lee's Smoke and Pickles. The 12-step program can wait.

It's been all about chicken all the time around here lately, so if you've missed any of my recent chicken posts, you can view my favorites here:

David Chang's Fried Chicken - from the Momofuku Cookbook

Serves 2-4

Ingredients - Chicken

4 cups lukewarm water

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup kosher salt

One 3- to 3 1/2-pound chicken, cut into 4 pieces (2 legs, 2 breast halves with wings attached)

4 cups grapeseed or other neutral cooking oil (or deep fryer)

Octo Vinaigrette (recipe below)

1. Combine the water, sugar and salt in a large container with a lid or a large freezer bag, and stir until the sugar and salt dissolve. Add the chicken to brine, cover or seal, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and no more than 6.

2. Set up a steamer on the stove. Drain the chicken and discard the brine. Put the chicken in the steamer basket (if you are using a stacking Chinese-style bamboo steamer, put the legs on the bottom level and the breasts on the top). turn the heat to medium and set the lid of the steamer ever so slightly ajar. Steam the chicken for 40 minutes, then remove it from the steamer and put it on a cooling rack to cool. Chill it in the refrigerator, preferably on the rack and uncovered, for at least 2 hours or overnight.

3. Take the chicken out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before you fry it.

4. In a deep skillet (or in a deep fryer), heat enough oil for the chicken to be submerged to 375-degrees. Fry the chicken in batches, turning once, until the skin is deep brown and crispy, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

5. Cut the chicken into a few pieces: cut the wing from the breast, cut the breast in half, cut through the knee to separate the thigh from the drumstick. Put in a large bowl, toss with the vinaigrette, and serve hot.

Ingredients - Vinaigrette

Note: When preparing the garlic and ginger for this recipe, make sure to take your time and work your knife skills: small, even pieces of garlic and ginger (not the mush that a garlic press or ginger grater creates) really make a difference. Big bits of raw garlic can have an acrid sting; chunks of ginger will deliver a too-spicy blast and can be unpleasantly fibrous.

2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

2 tablespoons chopped and peeled fresh ginger

1 fresh bird's eye chile, seeded and chopped

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1/4 cup usukuchi (light soy sauce)

2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil

1/4 teaspoon Asian sesame oil

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the garlic, ginger, chile, vinegar, soy, grapessed oil, sesame oil, sugar, and a few turns of black pepper in a lidded container and shake well to mix. This will keep in the fridge for 4 to 5 days and is good on everything.