The Food Nirvana recipe for Beer Battered Fried Chicken is very good and appropriate for most any kitchen. But what about considering the use of preliminary Sous Vide cooking of the chicken pieces prior to frying? My food science guru, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, discussed cooking chicken Sous Vide in his book, The Food Lab©, though not for frying recipes. That caused me to think about what goes wrong when people fry chicken breast halves from a raw state, namely, by the time the fried chicken breast is cooked through adequately, due to flesh thickness, the meat is dry and the crust overdone. Yet, in the distant past, Harlan Sanders developed a technique for pressure frying chicken that resulted in great fried chicken, pretty much regardless of whether it was a thigh or half a breast. Back then the fast food company, Gino's®, had exclusive use of Sander's process, and the chicken quality was superb. Later, Gino's went bankrupt, for reasons other than chicken, and we saw the startup of Kentucky Fried Chicken® business locations. Alas, I know not what happened but the quality of the fried chicken went downhill and stayed bad. I won't patronize any of those places as their chicken is dry and tough from being overcooked.
Okay, that was then and this is now. Sous Vide cooking wasn't even discovered yet. My point is that one need not use pressure frying to get succulent moist tender full size fried chicken breasts with crust done to perfection. Well, I had to prove that, so I did. Put simply, I followed Kenji's recommendations for cooking chicken pieces Sous Vide at the low temperature of 148 degrees F, but for at least one hour, to guarantee all bacteria is killed and the thick chicken breast halves are fully cooked all the way through. The special advantage, per Kenji, is that keeping the cooking temperature well below the FDA recommended 160 degrees F keeps the protein in the chicken from tightening and squeezing out a lot of water. Also, by using the Sous Vide process it is impossible to overcook the chicken.
What all of this means is that the frying time for chicken pieces cooked Sous Vide is simply that needed to create a nice crust on the outside with the beer batter. That time is roughly six minutes at 360 degrees F. You might experiment with higher oil temperatures to shorten the frying time even more, but do not exceed 375 degrees F. Some moisture is lost from the Sous Vide cooked chicken during frying, but very little, and remember none was lost during the preliminary Sous Vide cooking. The net result is that all the fried chicken pieces, regardless of size, come out perfectly crisp and very tender and moist inside. That is a win-win in every respect. Thus, I simply had to put this recipe into Food Nirvana for those advanced cooks who will use Sous Vide cooking ... even if all they use is the simple food cooler approach described by Kenji, which I describe below. In short, anybody can do this without buying any special equipment. It all comes down to whether or not the cook cares about perfection.
This recipe is simply the combination of simple Sous Vide cooking of chicken pieces followed by the recipe for beer batter fried chicken. There is nothing complicated to it. It is simple and the results are memorable. The fried chicken is absolutely perfect so I hope you try this recipe.
Here is a short version of making the chicken pieces Sous Vide. Start with fresh or thawed chicken pieces and either vacuum seal them in vacuum sealing bags, without any crowding, or use Ziploc® freezer bags and eliminate virtually all the air by sealing them with the top of each bag very close to the surface of the hot water in the Sous Vide bath. The pressure of the water on the outside of the bag, under water, pushes out the air, except for the very tiny amount that will remain when you seal the top of the bag. But note that you are not to get any water at all into the bag.
Note that as a recipe variation you might have some seasoning(s) of your choice or a light marinade in with the chicken as it is cooking via the Sous Vide process. If you want to do that simply rub the seasoning onto the raw chicken or pour the light marinade into the bag before sealing it.
Use your nice 2 to 3 gallon hard sided food cooler that you take to the beach. Fill it about 3/4 full with hot tap water. Boil about a gallon of water in a pot on your stove. Using a food thermometer, mix enough of the boiling water into the water in the cooler to achieve a temperature of 148 degrees F. Put the bagged chicken into the water and put the lid on the cooler. Check the water temperature every ten minutes and add boiling water as needed to maintain a temperature of 148 degrees F. Cook the chicken for a minimum of one hour. Actually, since it is impossible to overcook it by this process, I recommend one and one half hours if you use the cooler method, just to be certain the chicken is cooked through, in particular thick, large breast halves.
While the chicken is cooking you can make the beer batter as described below in this recipe. You can also get the frying oil hot so there is little delay from the end of the Sous Vide cooking to the starting of the frying. This means you want the oil hot and the Sous Vide chicken ready to dip into the batter you have just made. To do that, dry the outside of the Sous Vide chicken pieces as they will be very wet. That is necessary so that the dredging step in corn starch works properly. You don't want the corn starch to become gooey. You want it to be dry when you dip each chicken piece into the beer batter and then into the hot oil.
Okay, that is the full procedural introduction for making Fried Chicken Sous Vide. Try it ... believe me, you and your loved ones will be delighted with the results.
Everything from this point on in this recipe is essentially identical to the Beer Batter Fried Chicken recipe, with a few appropriate references to handling the Sous Vide cooked chicken pieces.
2 lbs. of Chicken drumsticks or thighs or wings or split breasts or any combination of those chicken parts
2 extra large eggs
8 oz. of ice cold beer (start with 8 ounces and if necessary add a bit more)
2 ounces of ice cold vodka
1 cup of flour
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger root (Or pre-minced ginger in a jar, available at Asian markets.)
1 cup (or more) of Cornstarch for dredging
2 quarts of soybean or canola oil for frying
A frying or candy thermometer
Equipment of some sort to do the Sous Vide cooking
Do the Sous Vide preparation of the raw chicken pieces first per the instructions earlier in this recipe. Do not crowd a lot of raw pieces into one or a few bags. It is smart to use more bags to assure all pieces of chicken get fully cooked.
Pre-warm your oven to 200º F. Put a paper towel covered china plate or wide shallow bowl/serving dish into the oven to later hold the fried chicken and to help keep the pieces warm after they are served.
Put the soybean oil into a wok or into a two gallon pot and heat it to 360º F on medium heat while you are preparing the batter. Check the temperature frequently during heating with an instant read thermometer. If necessary you can adjust the heat to high to get to the right temperature when you are ready to start frying, but keep an eye on the temperature so that it does not exceed 360º F. (Note that the oil can be reused multiple times in the future, until it starts to darken. It should be poured into a separate sealable container through a sieve after it has cooled. Discard everything except the clear oil, and that includes the last part of the oil from the bottom of the pot that has accumulated various kinds of gunk in it from the frying process.)
Whisk the eggs well in a two quart bowl. Chill the eggs in the bowl in the refrigerator for 15 or more minutes. Put the flour and other dry seasoning ingredients in a separate small bowl and put that into the refrigerator for 15 minutes. The idea is to have all batter ingredients really cold prior to combining them into making the batter.
Add the ginger and then the beer and the vodka slowly while whisking gently. It will foam a lot.
Add the chilled dry ingredients mixture together with the egg and beer mixture all at once and mix gently. It is not necessary or desirable to mix until the batter is smooth. Do not mix/whisk for more than about 30 seconds. Moisture variations in different flours may create the need to adjust consistency. The batter should not be thick and it should not be runny. You will know you have the right consistency when a piece of dredged chicken coated with the batter holds a coating thickness of no more than 1/16th of an inch. Less is better as the batter will puff up slightly during frying. You can adjust the consistency if required with beer if it is too thick or with flour if it is too thin. But minimize the amount of mixing time. The basic idea is that you want the batter to be entirely crisp at the end of the frying and if it is too thick from gluten formation the outside will be crisp but the inside of the batter will be doughy.
Dredge each piece of "surface dried Sous Vide cooked chicken" in a bowl of cornstarch, shake off the excess, and dip the chicken piece into the batter using tongs, making sure to coat it completely. Extract the coated piece with the tongs, let the excess batter drip off for a few seconds and then immerse the coated chicken piece directly into the heated oil that is at a temperature of 360º F. In other words, you do each piece one at a time adding each piece to the oil until you have four to six pieces in the oil. Note that the size of the pieces does not matter as you will be frying them all for exactly the same amount of time, six minutes. You will need to clean the tongs after immersing the last piece in a given batch to remove excess batter. Adjust the heat to maintain an oil temperature around 350º F.
Fry each piece for about six minutes, even large half breast pieces, just long enough for the batter to develop a nice golden color. You don't have to fry with the intent of heating the interior of the pieces of chicken ... for you already cooked it using the Sous Vide approach, so now all you are doing is frying the batter on the surface. Then extract that piece with tongs and let the hot oil drain from it for a few seconds and then place it on a paper towel. Salt the piece immediately while it still has some oil on the surface to hold the salt. Place each completed batch into a 200º F warming oven on a plate or in a bowl to maintain a desirable eating temperature while other batches are being fried. Be sure the oil temperature is monitored and adjusted as necessary so that it is at 360º F when each batch is fried.
Serve the chicken immediately. It is delicious! It is crisp on the outside and moist and tender on the inside. In other words, perfect!
If you want to eat the fried chicken pieces using a dipping sauce then you might make the dipping sauce from the sauce recipe provided at the end of the beer batter fried shrimp recipe. You might also look for Chinese and other dipping sauce recipes on the Internet. Duck sauce available by the quart in supermarkets is a very nice dipping sauce. I have even used Jamaican Green Sauce and it is delicious on the fried chicken.
Recipe Variations: Use 3/4 tsp of garlic powder and 3/4 tsp of dried oregano instead of the ginger. Use panko bread crumbs instead of corn flakes. Yummy!