DISHING WITH THE CHEF

All-American meal: fried chicken

2013-06-26T00:00:00Z 2013-07-18T10:14:52Z All-American meal: fried chickenKathleen Allen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 26, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Fried chicken and the Fourth of July. They go together like fire and works.

And when it comes to fried chicken, you can't get much better than the crunchy treat served at The Abbey every Wednesday.

The brains behind the poultry is Virginia "Ginny" Wooters, executive chef at The Abbey and its sister restaurant, Jax Kitchen.

The dish reflects her go-to cooking style.

"I always go Southern because my family was from that area," she says.

"I grew up eating fried chicken; it's comforting."

Not that the self-taught chef sticks to her roots when she's in the kitchen.

The one-time anthropology major - she dropped out of college - traveled extensively and won't swear by any cuisine style.

She just wants to cook, and the 38-year-old has been doing it professionally for 22 years.

"I don't mind the long hours or being on my feet all day," she says.

"I love the ability to be so artistic. There are so many ways to go when cooking."

Her fried chicken, however, isn't an esoteric creation - it's a good, old-fashioned dish with a crunchy outside and a moist inside.

Brining is the key to a moist chicken, she says. And leaving the bone in.

"Even if you don't brine it, leave the bone in," she advises, explaining that that'll help keep the chicken moist.

"My number one complaint about fried chicken is that it is almost always overcooked."

Wooters' chicken isn't a simple swim in the lard. it takes planning.

It's brined for 12-20 hours, then soaked in buttermilk for up to another hour.

"We use a solution of sugar, salt, water, white wine, olive oil, honey, garlic - a lot of things," Wooters says about the brine used at The Abbey.

But a simple brine would work just as well.

"For eight pieces of chicken, I would say a half gallon of water to a half cup of salt and a half cup of sugar," she says, adding the sugar counteracts the salt.

"Then you can add anything you want to the brine."

Wooters said a deep fryer is fine, but no need to run out and get one if you are without.

"My mom always pan-fried it and finished it in the oven," she says.

If that's the route you choose, fry it long enough to get crispy on the outside, then put in an oven heated to 275 for about 35 minutes.

"But always test to see if it's done," she says. Wooters uses a meat thermometer; when the internal temperature reaches 165, your meat is done.

Sure it's great right out of the pan. But it's just as good cold, she says.

"If there's any left over at the restaurant, there's a mad scramble to take some home."

Fried Chicken

Makes: 1 chicken.

Brine

• 1/2 cup sugar

• 1/2 cup salt

• 1/4 cup honey

• 1 tablespoon black peppercorns

• 1 teaspoon red chili flakes

• 1 cup white wine

• 1/2 cup olive oil

• 1 large onion, chopped

• 2 carrots, chopped

• 2 stalks celery, chopped

• 4 garlic cloves, smashed

• 4 cups water

• Handful of savory herbs such as parsley, tarragon, thyme, basil

Mix all ingredients together until sugar and salt dissolve.

Flour dredge

• 4 cups flour

• Salt and pepper to taste

• 1/4 teaspoon Colman's dry mustard

• 2 teaspoons baking powder

Mix all ingredients together.

Putting it together

• 1 whole chicken, cut into eight pieces

• About 2 cups buttermilk

• Dash of Tabasco, Tapatio or other hot sauce

• Cooking oil

Soak bone-in chicken pieces in brine overnight in a refrigerator, making sure all pieces are submerged.

After the brining, rinse the chicken thoroughly and soak in enough buttermilk, with a few dashes of the hot sauce, to cover the meat. After 45 minutes, remove the chicken from the buttermilk and let it drain.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

Pour enough oil to cover the chicken into a large frying pan or deep fryer and heat to 350 degrees. Coat the chicken in the dredge and fry in the oil until the skin is a crisp golden brown. Remove from oil and place on a sheet pan with a metal cooling rack. Put pan with chicken in the oven and bake until the internal temperature of the meat is 165 degrees, about 30 minutes, but check the temperature frequently to ensure it doesn't overcook.

Virginia "Ginny" Wooters, executive chef, Jax Kitchen and The Abbey

Where Wooters cooks

Virginia "Ginny" Wooters is the executive chef at Jax Kitchen, 7286 N. Oracle Road, 219-1235, and The Abbey (where every Wednesday is fried chicken night), 6960 E. Sunrise Drive, 299-3132.

Contact Kathleen Allen at kallen@azstarnet.com or 573-4128.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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