A seemingly normal fried chicken leg, right? Not much to look at when it comes right down to it, but this fried chicken is different. It's not overcooked as fried chicken can often be, and is in fact possessed of an unusually soft texture and weirdly "chickeny" flavor. How? Sous vide, my friends, sous vide...
Despite what fancy pants chefs - with their immersion circulators and physics lab vacuum rigs - may tell you, sous vide is basically boil in the bag, glorified. Except that you don't boil, you cook the meat for an extended period of time at whatever temperature is desired for "doneness." It's a technique that's been common in Europe for decades, but is only recently making inroads in North America. It's easy, if time consuming. Here's how it works with chicken:
Put said chicken into a plastic bag. It's worth noting here that the bag should, if possible, be free of PVC and plasticizers. I added 2 lemon slices, 2 Tbsp of butter, a couple bay leaves, a few sprigs of thyme, some chopped onion and several cloves of garlic. Next, use a straw to suck out all of the air, then double knot the bag for an airtight seal. Place all of this into another bag and again suck air and double knot:
I used Glad oven bags, which worked fine. I would advise against Ziploc bags, though, as they're far from airtight. Once your chicken is bagged (and yes, you should probably put each piece in its own separate bag set-up), place it into a stock pot of heated water. You won't get 100% of the air out of those bags, by the way, which means they'll float. You also don't want them to make contact with the bottom of the pot. I put a ramekin in the bottom of the pot, placed a small colander on it, put the chicken in the colander, and kept it submerged with a brick, keeping the top of the bag above water:
The temperature of the water will depend on whether you're using dark or white meat. For dark, you want to keep the temperature right around 170F, while white meat needs to be kept at 145-150F. If you're using white and dark meat, well sorry, but you're gonna need separate pots. Let the chicken hang out and be sure to check on the temperature frequently. Once it's been in there for about four hours, fish it out, remove it from its bag, rinse off the lemon and aromatics and dry it as completely as possible with paper towels. Heat up a couple Tbsp of butter and oil in a saute pan until almost smoking, and place the chicken in for just long enough to brown the skin. Again, remove and pat dry. Now you're ready to dredge it:
When it comes to cooking, I'm not one to subscribe to orthodoxy. But in the case of southern food, I'm generally willing to make an exception and acquiesce to tradition, which manifested itself here in a couple of ways. First, a girl from "Hotlanta" (everything they say about girls from the south is true, btw) recently told me that real fried chicken is done bone-in (!!!) and with the skin on. Okay, I'll buy that. Second, I used a pretty conventional dredge: dip the chicken in buttermilk, then coat it with seasoned flour (3 C flour and 1 tsp each of cayenne, paprika, salt and ground pepper). Do this two or three times, knocking off any excess flour and allowing the chicken to dry on some sort of rack for about 15 minutes after each dredging:
Next, we fry. Put enough oil of your choice (I used a combination of canola and peanut) to submerge the chicken halfway into a skillet and heat to about 350F. Fry the chicken parts just until a golden crust forms, a couple minutes on each side. Keep in mind here that the chicken is already cooked. You're only forming crust and heating the chicken up:
And that's about it. So was the extra effort of going the sous vide route worth it? Probably not. This was better than fried chicken I've had in the past, but only by a matter of degree. Sous vide is really a technique best suited to those tougher cuts of beef and pork which would otherwise require a braise. Of course, the journey being the destination and all, this was definitely worth a try.