Ad Hoc Buttermilk Fried Chicken: An Un-Simple Recipe

If I were stranded on a deserted island and could only bring one cookbook with me, it would be Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home. The laboriously delicious recipes, informative how-to sections, and endearingly goofy action shots of Thomas in the kitchen make it the most special cookbook I own. To sum it up, I pretty much have a massive culinary crush on Thomas Keller. I won’t even get into the macarons from Bouchon Bakery.

Admittedly, I have read the entire cookbook through and through about fifty times, but have only actually made a handful of his recipes. It’s just not an everyday cookbook. All of the recipes have multiple steps and are intended to please a crowd. These are special recipes for gatherings with family and friends.

The actual Ad Hoc restaurant is located in Yountville, CA–which has become one of my favorite little towns in wine country. Ad Hoc is known for their buttermilk fried chicken which is supposed to be life changing. I have been eying the recipe for the longest time, and was inspired by a post from Alice at A Mama, Baby and Shar-Pei in the Kitchen to bite the bullet and give it a try. I decided to make this for my family during the last night of my visit in the Bay Area and it definitely got the Brisbo family seal of approval!

What makes this fried chicken special (and time consuming) is the 12 hour soak in an aromatic brine of parsley, lemon, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Disclaimer: this recipe is far from simple, but it’s the best fried chicken I have ever made. My best advice is to read the directions thoroughly before starting!

Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Recipe from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home

Special equipment: Candy or oil thermometer and meat thermometer

  • Two 2 1/2- to 3-pound chickens

For the Brine:

  • 5 lemons, halved
  • 12 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch (4 ounces) flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 bunch (1 ounce) thyme
  • 1/2 cup clover honey
  • 1 head garlic, halved through the equator
  • 1/4 cup black peppercorns
  • 2 cups (10 ounces) Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • 2 gallons water

For the Coating:

  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Ground fleur de sel or fine sea salt
  • Rosemary and thyme sprigs for garnish

For Dredging and Frying:

  • Peanut or canola oil for deep-frying
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Make the brine: Combine all the ingredients in a large pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and cool completely, then chill before using. The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

2. Cut each chicken into 10 pieces: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 4 breast quarters, and 2 wings. Pour the brine into a container large enough to hold the chicken pieces, add in the chicken, and refrigerate for 12 hours (no longer, or the chicken may become too salty).

3. Remove the chicken from the brine (discard the brine) and rinse under cold water, removing any herbs or spices sticking to the skin. Pat dry with paper towels, or let air-dry. Let rest at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours, or until it comes to room temperature.

4. If you have two large pots (about 6 inches deep) and a lot of oil, you can cook the dark and white meat at the same time; if not, cook the dark meat first, then turn up the heat and cook the white meat. No matter what size pot you have, the oil should not come more than one-third of the way up the sides of the pot. Fill the pot with at least 2 inches of peanut oil and heat to 320°F. Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper.

5. Meanwhile, combine all the coating ingredients in a large bowl. Transfer half the coating to a second large bowl. Pour the buttermilk into a third bowl and season with salt and pepper. Set up a dipping station: the chicken pieces, one bowl of coating, the bowl of buttermilk, the second bowl of coating, and the parchment-lined baking sheet.

6. Just before frying, dip the chicken thighs into the first bowl of coating, turning to coat and patting off the excess; dip them into the buttermilk, allowing the excess to run back into the bowl; then dip them into the second bowl of coating. Transfer to the parchment-lined pan.

7. Carefully lower the thighs into the hot oil. Adjust the heat as necessary to return the oil to the proper temperature. Fry for 2 minutes, then carefully move the chicken pieces around in the oil and continue to fry, monitoring the oil temperature and turning the pieces as necessary for even cooking, for 11 to 12 minutes, until the chicken is a deep golden brown, cooked through, and very crisp. Meanwhile, coat the chicken drumsticks and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet.

8. Transfer the cooked thighs to the cooling rack skin-side-up and let rest while you fry the remaining chicken. (Putting the pieces skin-side-up will allow excess fat to drain, whereas leaving them skin-side-down could trap some of the fat.) Make sure that the oil is at the correct temperature, and cook the chicken drumsticks. When the drumsticks are done, lean them meat-side-up against the thighs to drain, then sprinkle the chicken with fine sea salt.

9. Turn up the heat and heat the oil to 340°F. Meanwhile, coat the chicken breasts and wings. Carefully lower the chicken breasts into the hot oil and fry for 7 minutes, or until golden brown, cooked through, and crisp. Transfer to the rack, sprinkle with salt, and turn skin side up. Cook the wings for 6 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer the wings to the rack and turn off the heat.

10. Arrange the chicken on a serving platter. Add the herb sprigs to the oil (which will still be hot) and let them cook and crisp for a few seconds, then arrange them over the chicken.

The recipe calls for two 2 1/2 to 3 pound chickens which are very small and hard to find. I ended up using two four pound organic chickens and this worked just fine.

I used the same pot to make the brine and soak the chicken. After soaking the chicken overnight, I pulled it out of the brine, gave it a rinse, patted it dry, and stored it in the fridge until I was ready to fry that evening.

A deep fryer would be ideal for a job like this, but alas I had to opt for the stove top. A candy or oil thermometer will help you control the frying temperature and a meat thermometer will help you determine if the chicken is fully cooked after you pull it out of the oil.

I am trying the gluten-free thing, so I used Bob’s Red Mill GF all-purpose flour which worked like a charm. The coating definitely has a kick which I love! If you are sensitive to spicy food, cut down on the cayenne pepper.

By the time dinner rolled around, I was completely exhausted. But one bite of the fried chicken made it totally worth the effort! Usually fried white meat tastes stringy and dry. The brine in this recipe makes even the white meat taste amazing. Next time, I might just use chicken breast to make some grown up chicken tenders.