Thursday, November 17, 2011

Small luxuries

Domaine Huet Vouvray P├ętillant Brut
With its subtle perfume, refreshing acidity and delicate carbonation, a truly mirthful quaff best enjoyed amongst the most charming of friends.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Scotch Roundup: October

Last month, I was lucky enough to attend a Bruichladdich tasting arranged by Joe at Federal W&S.  This tasting was an especially memorable treat as we were led by Jim McEwan, the noted master distiller of Bruichladdich.  Formerly of Bowmore, Jim partnered with some investors a little over ten years ago to buy the defunct Bruichladdich distillery and restore its antique stills to functional form.  Ever since then, he has been meticulously producing small-batch scotches that have garnered significant acclaim.  As he spoke about the whiskies, his passion for the art was absolutely evident, and this passion was apparent in the glass as well.

Bruichladdich Laddie Ten
Tasting notes:
  • Laddie Ten
    Honey, ocean breeze, lemon taffy
    P: Peaches, Midori, oaky vanilla, honey on light toast
    All the barley that goes into this whisky comes from Islay itself, and the spirit is aged in bourbon and sherry casks
  • Bruichladdich 21
    Dried figs, candied orange peels, dates, pralines
    P: Raisins in abundance, honey nut cheerios, walnuts
    Aged in oloroso sherry casks, recommended without water
  • Black Art 2
    Black cherry, pomegranate, drying paint
    P: Cherries, amaretto, malted grains, kirsch, strawberries
    Jim would not share how this whisky was aged, but I would venture to guess Bordeaux wine casks
  • Port Charlotte PC6
    N: Throwing wet hay on a fire, drying herbs in a farmhouse, jamon, vanilla, toffee, sweet cream
    P: Burnt toast, vanilla creme wafers, tart apples, sichuan peppercorn, salted preserved lemon
    Second in the PC series, aged in madeira casks, worth comparing to the PC8
Bruichladdich 21
Additionally, the Organic 2003 was tasted by the group, but I did not get any.  I definitely do feel fortunate that we were among the first people in the US to get a taste of the new Laddie Ten, which is the bottling of scotch under the Bruichladdich name made entirely by the new owners.  My understanding is that the majority of the Bruichladdich on the market now is spirit distilled by the old owners, such as the 21 year.  For some hyperbolic and imaginative prose, it is worth checking out Jim's tasting notes, available on the Bruichladdich website.

Black Art 2

Monday, November 7, 2011

Refining Protocol

As a Southern in such Northern climes, I occasionally have gustatory cravings that are hard to satisfy.  Sweet tea, biscuits and gravy, barbecue, fried chicken.  Granted, a few restaurants here and there are satisfactory, but they are certainly few and far between (emphasis on "far").  Thereupon, I resolved to find a remedy in my own kitchen.  I have long made sweet tea at home, but the other items would prove more challenging.  Alas, barbecue requires an outdoor space wherein a smoker can be utilized for hours at a time, and I have no such space.  Thankfully, my friend Dan would rig up his charcoal grill as a smoker for barbecuing purposes every now and again to excellent effect.  Thus, as I was recently struck by a rather powerful yen for fried chicken, I decided to embark upon this new project.

Understand, Southern though I may be, I have never needed to fry chicken at home, nor did I have a grandmother who could teach me the secrets of frying chicken (albeit, I am indebted to my grandmother for other such culinary arcana).  On the other hand, it has become a family tradition of frying a turkey at least once a year for Thanksgiving, and often once over the Christmas holiday as well.  Therefore, frying fowl was nothing new to me, but I did want to try and refine my chicken frying methods as much as possible.

Having brined the family fried turkey on many occasions, I knew that brining was important in producing a succulent end product.  I read on a couple of occasions that the chicken should be brined for no more than 12 hours or else the meat would become too salty.  However, practically speaking, if I wanted fried chicken for dinner, then I would have to wake up at 4 am or so to start the brining.  Simply put, an incredible inconvenience.  On the other hand, other recipes have suggested using salted buttermilk to brine, and yet others describe a method of brining first in salted water, then transferring to buttermilk.  Additionally, the importance of having dry chicken to fry became apparent as all recipes either suggested air drying or patting dry with paper towels.  Having only so much space in my fridge and a desire for only so much chicken, I decided to pick 3 methods to test.

1) Brine for 20 hours, then air dry for 2 hours;
2) Brine for 12 hours, rest for 8 hours in buttermilk, then air dry for 2 hours;
3) Brine for 12 hours, pour over boiling water*, and then air dry for 10 hours;

[*The method of pouring boiling water over the chicken before air drying comes from the traditional method of making Peking duck whereby the whole duck is submerged in a pot of boiling water for a mere moment for a day of air drying.  The logic behind this treatment is that the boiling water will tighten the skin and quickly render some of the subcutaneous fat to allow for a crispier skin.]

Clockwise from right: (2), (1), (3)

For now, there are several variables that I decided to keep constant.  I used only chicken thighs with bone in and skin on.  The last 2 hours of air drying was done as room temperature to allow the cold chicken to warm up before frying.  The oil temperature was to be kept as close to 330˚F as possible, and the frying oil used was corn oil.  The frying was done in a cast iron dutch oven that contained oil about 2 inches deep.  I could fry 3 pieces at a time with my setup.  For my first experiment, the brine was closely mimicking the brine recipe from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home cookbook.

Frying chicken

The one that immediately stood out was condition (3), which was a bit drier than the other two.  Conditions (1) and (2) seemed to me to be equally moist.  However, condition (1) was certainly saltier and had taken on more of the flavors of the herbs and spices present in the brine.  There may have been a slight glimmer that (2) had a bit more of a buttermilk tang.  To me, though, the brine I used was almost too fragrant compared the the fried chicken to which I am accustomed.  I saved one piece of each to be eaten several hours later after the chicken had cooled down to room temperature.  My observations were largely the same.

The last variable before frying was how to dredge: 1) No dredging; 2) Buttermilk, then flour; 3) Flour, buttermilk, flour.

No dredging
Buttermilk, then flour

Flour, buttermilk, flour
The results of the three dredging treatments came out thus.  Visually, there was a quite noticeable difference in the three methods.  The first yielded crackling skin much like what I am used to on a fried turkey or a Peking duck; it was delicious when eaten immediately, but became more leathery as the chicken cooled.  The second method yielded an extremely thin and crispy coating that almost had a texture of very thin potato crisps, but it also did not stay this way by the next day.  The last method resulted in a noticeably thicker, audibly crunchy crust, which did stay crunchy through the next day.  Thus, I decided to stick with the latter method of coating the dried chicken in flour, then dipping in buttermilk before flouring again.

As a result, I decided to go with the method of brining first, then transferring to buttermilk with the double flour dredge.  A human trial of a second batch of chicken made with this preferred method was brought to a potluck where it was well-received.  Notably, I did not try the salted buttermilk method, and there is certainly room for more tinkering.

The Aftermath

My recipe follows below: