Epiphanies often come at odd times. This one arrived while testing cocktail recipes for a cookbook a few years ago, as I gathered ingredients to make the Pistachio Fizz from Charleston, South Carolina’s Prohibition bar. The drink is bartender Jim McCourt’s riff on the classic Ramos Gin Fizz, famous for its towering raft of foam. He calls it “a real bicep burner” for the four minutes of vigorous shaking it requires. I call it inspiration for great fried chicken. No, I don’t mean chicken that tastes like a gin fizz, but rather how the same ingredients in the cocktail can come together to make something entirely different and equally delicious.
Let’s start with the gin. Beyond its heady effects when drunk, alcohol has this nifty ability to bond with both water and fat. Added to the brine for the chicken, it drives water-soluble and fat-soluble flavors into the cells of the meat for a more flavorful bird. As for the drink’s citrus and cream, here citric acid from lemon juice makes the cream in the brine behave more like traditional buttermilk that breaks down the collagen in the meat to help tenderize it. Egg white, which amps up the drink’s body and richness, gives the batter more cling but is lighter than a whole egg for a delicate, crispy crust. And the club soda creates airy pockets in the batter as the chicken fries for an end result that’s as enticing as the drink that inspired it.
This recipe uses the double-fry method. First, the brined chicken pieces are battered and par-fried at a lower temperature and removed to rest, allowing moisture to evaporate from the hot chicken skin. (Think of it like blotting a steak dry to get a good sear.) The chicken then gets fried a second time at a higher temp until it’s cooked through and golden brown. This process delivers extra-crunchy fried chicken.
Note: You can cool the chicken completely after the first fry, refrigerate it, and then bring it to room temperature before doing the final fry the next day. It’s a great way to get a jump start on cooking, especially for a party.