Friday, September 23, 2011

Recipe: Gluten Free Fried Chicken

Fried chicken in a cast iron dutch oven

Fried chicken is a fine thing. It's been around for centuries, but didn't really come of age until the 1700's when cast iron cookware became available to the masses by virtue of the industrial revolution (Yay capitalism!).

Lately, fried chicken has gotten a bad name. I attribute most of this bad press to the money-grubbing numbskulls who bought out Colonel Sanders in 1964.

Fried chicken can't be rushed. It should be moist but not greasy. It should be full of savory chicken flavor and not loaded with synthetic chemicals. Most importantly, it can't be made from chickens that have been force-fed chicken manure, arsenic, and dead chicken mince (why does this even need to be said?). For this reason, use organic chicken. Organic chicken is the cheapest of all organic meats... and is even cheaper when bought whole.

This recipe is pretty easy and results in some damn fine dutch oven fried chicken. It serves 4, and takes about 1 1/2 hours.

A butchered whole organic chicken
My preference is to buy a whole chicken and butcher it into skin-on and bone-in pieces, but you could of course use fryer parts (breasts, thighs, drumsticks).

It is best to brine your chicken for 24 hours, but if you don't have time for that, you can still make this recipe (add one extra tablespoon of salt to the marinade).

As always, you can use wheat flour in place of the gluten free flour, and things will work out fine.

Ingredients
  • 1 whole 4-5 pound organic chicken (or equivalent pieces)
  • salt and water for brine
  • 2 quarts canola oil for frying

For the Marinade:
  • 4 cups buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons table salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • dash ground thyme
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
For the Breading:
For the Egg Mixture:
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup marinade (once the chicken is out)
Procedure
Brine the chicken (whole, or in pieces) for 24 hours. The brine should consist of 1 cup kosher salt (or 1/2 cup table salt) to 1 gallon of water. After 24 hours, remove the chicken from the brine, and pat dry with a paper towel.

Butcher the whole chicken into drumsticks, wings, bone-in breasts, and bone-in thighs. Cut the breast pieces in half the short way to make smaller pieces (which cook through more quickly).

Mix up the marinade, and add the chicken pieces. Marinate for 30 minutes.

Use a candy thermometer to measure the oil
Begin heating your oil in a 5 quart cast iron dutch oven. As the oil heats, mix up the breading and the egg mixture.

When the chicken has marinated for 30 minutes and the oil has reached 350 degrees F, remove 1 cup of the marinade and stir it into your egg mixture.

Prepare the chicken pieces by tossing them in the egg mixture, and then breading them thoroughly in the breading mixture.

Place them gently into the hot oil. Add 4-5 pieces to the dutch oven, but don't over-crowd the pan.

You may need to turn up the heat if the oil temperature comes down below 300 degrees F. Keep monitoring the oil temperature, and don't let it get much hotter than 350 degrees F.

Fried chicken ready to be turned
As the chicken fries, you'll need to turn it a few times to ensure even browning.

Larger pieces will take 20-25 minutes to cook through, smaller ones 10-15 minutes. Measure the pieces as they cook with an instant read meat thermometer to ensure you get it right.

Remove the fried chicken pieces from the oil when the thickest (coldest) part of the meat reads 160 degrees F. Lay the pieces on a bed of paper towels, and cover them with foil to rest. As the pieces rest, they'll come up to 165 degrees F.

Continue breading and frying pieces until it's all cooked! Serve immediately for hot fried chicken, or put them in the fridge for a cold fried chicken picnic.

Fried chicken with potato salad and bleu cheese salad
Needless to say, fried chicken goes great with potato salad, cole slaw, and fresh corn on the cob.

You can cool down, strain, and then freeze the canola oil for re-use. You can also re-use it in other chicken dishes, or in dishes with lots of flavor (where the taste of fried chicken will blend in).

Be sure to clean up thoroughly with bleach or vinegar any raw chicken juice. Salmonella isn't as big an issue with organic chicken, but it's still a risk.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Article: Backyard Chickens Chapter 4

Our backyard chicken run, with the multicolored coop visible through the door
Wow. So much has changed since my last update in Backyard Chickens Chapter 3. Back then we had just put the chickens outside after their indoor growth period in early spring. We had a smaller coop, and a smaller chicken yard.

Here's how it all breaks down nowadays:

Egg production

One of our first eggs
We get 3-4 eggs a day at the moment, but that's only because only 3 or 4 hens have started laying. We expect we'll get 6-8 eggs per day in the summer, and a bit less during the winter.

The eggs started small, but got bigger after a week or so. They're really tasty! The chickens somehow know to go into the nesting boxes to lay them.

Will Cash predicted it. About 10 days ago, in the morning before I left for work, he assured me that we'd have an egg that day. He was right! That boy is in tune with the universe for sure.

The passive solar chicken coop

Passive solar chicken coop to catch winter sun
Our chicken coop is a modified play house that our babysitter and her fiancee brought us from south Denver.

The floorspace of the play house is roughly 4 feet by 3 feet, and it is about 3 feet tall. It is WAY overbuilt, and practically airtight with caulking, paint and such. This is good, as I've read that chickens hate drafts in the winter.

To make sure we have enough room for 6 hens, I put on an addition that's 4 feet wide, about 30 inches deep, and about 5 feet tall.

The added-onto chicken coop has a passive solar design: the taller addition has a 12-inch overhang to shield the coop from summer sun, but will easily let in the lower-angle winter sun.

Our plan is to not heat the coop in the winter, but to insulate it and hopefully let the passive solar chicken coop do its thing.

Chicken bedding

For bedding inside the coop, we began with pine shavings like we used in the early days, but quickly shifted to straw.

Straw composts much more quickly, and the chickens seem to prefer it now that they are older. Wood products also take nitrogen from the soil if they have not fully composted, so even partially composted straw bedding can be used on the garden for mulch or compost sooner than pine shavings.

Willa and Eliza dusting themselves clean
Composting
We compost all our chicken bedding (from inside the coop), and also rake the predator-proof chicken yard from time to time for more straw/manure.

We put it all in a composting bin for several months to temper the high nitrogen content of the chicken manure. We then spread it on our garden beds as mulch, and let the worms do their work of pulling it deeper into the soil.

Chicken feed
We use organic chicken feed. We can get it at a local feed store, Lafayette Feed & Grain, and they also have lots of great advice about bedding, care, and other chicken-raising odds and ends.

Predators
We had a hawk come by for a visit a few days ago while the chickens were out in the garden. Will saved three of them, and the other three had enough sense to get under cover. The hawk was literally perched on top of the post of the chicken yard. Guess we'll have to be careful about letting the chickens out into the garden!

More updates coming soon. If you've got a question, please leave a comment!