Wednesday, April 8

Beer-battered Chicken

I might have mentioned at some point that I love frying things, particularly chicken. And since I still had four chicken thighs left over after cacciatore last week, I thought I'd put a little somethin' somethin' to the test.

You see, I have long pooh-poohed the concept of batter-fried chicken. It's just not a practical method of frying; the chicken takes so long to cook in the oil that the batter just burns to a crisp. No, if you want to batter-fry chicken, it had better be boneless and cut up into little pieces if it's got a hope of achieving a balance between golden-brown and cooked all the way through. Right?

Wrong. The solution, my friends, is to par-cook the chicken. I know, it's a fairly obvious idea, something I should have been able to come up with on my own. But the thing is, why would I have bothered? I did well enough with my standard breading procedures for the concept to not cross my mind.

But I'm always open to new ideas, and since it had been ages since I had beer-battered anything, I figured I'd try something out.

The spare chicken had been sitting in the fridge in a brine for a few days. I figured that since I was cold-storing it anyway, it might as well be acquiring some extra flavor while I decided what to do with it.

The brine was nothing new. Salt, peppercorns, a little rosemary, some parsley, all dissolved in the dreaded Clamweiser. Don't you judge me, I gotta get rid of it somehow.

After extracting the chicken, I gave some thought as to how I wanted to par-cook it. All the recipes I had read online made it seem like poaching was the way to go, but I had my reservations. Poaching was well and good, but would it really add any significant flavor to my brined chicken thighs?

In the end, I settled on roasting them. There was a lot of flavor to be made here - salting, peppering, and garlic powdering the outside would create a nice, well-seasoned crust. Not to mention the wonders of the Maillard reaction. Much to my surprise (and chagrin), the lengthy brining backfired on me. So much moisture had flooded the chickenflesh that it all gooshed out when the chicken hit the pan. Rather than the almost-crispy crust I usually get from a nice pre-roast pan-sear, I was left with pallid, rubbery skin when I turned them over.

Oh, well. It still got some nice color in the oven.

Next up was the batter. I figured I'd keep it simple. Just some flour, a little baking soda, a pinch of salt, and, of course, beer. In this case, Magic Hat's lovely flagship, a bottle of #9.

As with most of my cooking, there really wasn't much measuring going on. I was thinking I'd go for a nice pancake batter consistency, but it had been so long since I had made pancakes that I forgot what that was like. Come to think of it, I haven't had pancakes in so long that I can't remember what they're like. Great. Now I want pancakes.

Where was I? Oh, yes, the batter. It was thick enough to achieve a good coat for the chicken, so while it was resting in the fridge next to the chicken, I preheated the fryer.

At the beep-beep-beep, the chickens got a little dip in the batter...

And into the fryer they went.

At once, I knew something was wrong. The chicken dropped to the bottom of the basket and stayed there. I shook the basket a little. No movement. I poked at the chicken with the tongs. No movement. I rather suddenly realized that I had made a rookie mistake when it comes to batter-frying things. Always swish the battered material around for a bit before releasing it into the oil, or that batter'll wrap itself around whatever it lands on and not let go. The end result was a patch of exposed chicken on the initial two specimens.

(sigh) Well, if at first you don't succeed, fry, fry again, right? Right. Second run came out a lot better.

Ain't it cute? Like a big poof of fried chicken. Definitely a stern contrast to the crunchy crusts that the various dredge processes net.

Like a poof it looked, and like a poof it tasted. Crisp, but with a certain leavened give that the baking soda and beer afforded it. The inside was juicy as all get-out, especially since I had managed to overcook the chicken just a tidge in the roasting stage. And very beery in flavor. As predicted, roasting the chicken beforehand brought an explosion of toasty goodness to the table, too. All in all, I'd say the experiment was a success, though as an alternative method of frying, it's not my favorite. But it's definitely something to try again, something to take another couple of swings at to iron out the problems.

It was only later, whilst I was snacking on dessert, that I realized I probably should have kept the batter around just a little while longer...

Ah, well. C'est la vie. Next time.

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