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I'm a native New Yorker, but when we moved to Atlanta in 1974, it was from St. Louis. I didn't have anything against Missouri; I had lived in Kansas City, Missouri, for two years and loved it. But I never felt at home during the year we lived in St. Louis, so I was glad to head south.
Atlanta was a smaller city in those days and different from any place I had ever lived. Most of the women I met socially did not work outside of the home. They felt sorry for me that I had a job.
I felt sorry for them that they didn't.
But the people were welcoming, and where we lived in Buckhead was beautiful. One day during the first March I lived there, I pulled my bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle over to the side of the road near The Swan House just to sit still and take in the flowers and the foliage. It was breathtaking. When I moved to Old Town, Alexandria, arguably one of the loveliest places in America, seven and a half years later, I cried every spring for the five years I lived there.
We hadn't been living in Atlanta very long when I got a yearning to go to the beach, and we decided to spend a few days at Sea Island, one of the beautiful tidal and barrier islands off the coast of Georgia.
I had never been to the ocean in Georgia before I went to Sea Island.
I had never been south of Washington, D.C., until I drove to Atlanta to look for an apartment - but I felt completely in my own skin as I drove over the causeway and spied the Marshes of Glynn and saw a live oak tree for the first time.
I believe once you've been to the lowcountry, you always have a longing to go back.
To describe our growing up in the lowcountry of South Carolina, I would have to take you to the marsh on a spring day, flush the great blue heron from its silent occupation, scatter marsh hens as we sink to our knees in mud, open you an oyster with a pocketknife and feed it to you from the shell and say, "There. That taste. That's the taste of my childhood." I would say, "Breathe deeply," and you would breathe and remember that smell for the rest of your life, the bold, fecund aroma of the tidal marsh, exquisite and sensual, the smell of the South in heat, a smell like new milk, semen, and spilled wine, all perfumed with seawater. My soul grazes like a lamb on the beauty of indrawn tides.
Pat Conroy, Prince of Tides
Some of my happiest memories are vacations spent at Sea Island
with Carolyn and John and all the members of their family.
I rode my bike up and down every street on that tiny island, sometimes stopping outside Casa Genotta, the house that had once been home to Eugene O'Neill and his wife Carlotta (get it - Gen-Otta), imagining him sitting inside a room, which reportedly was built to mimic a ship's cabin, writing Ah, Wilderness!, with the Atlantic ocean lapping just yards away.
I am glad that I live in New York City again. I grew up here, and to me it is as home as home can be. But I was very happy to live in Atlanta for almost eight years and missed it so much when we moved to Northern Virginia that I drove myself back five times the first year after the move.
So it isn't surprising that the first recipe I made when I received my copy of Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller was his famous fried chicken.
The recipe calls for brining the chicken. I didn't do that, but I will try it the next time, not because it wasn't delicious - it was scrumptious - but because Michael Ruhlman says that's the secret of the recipe.
Instead, I did what I always to with chicken. I rubbed the chicken pieces all over with kosher salt and refrigerated them on a rack over a platter for 24 hours, turning them over once, to air dry them before I cooked them.
Thomas Keller recommends using chickens that weigh 2-1/2 to 3 pounds, which is smaller than the usual grocery store chicken, because the pieces are smaller and will cook in less time than pieces from a larger chicken. I am usually able to get D'Artagnan chicken or chicken pieces, which are small, but if you don't have access to them, your best bet for a small chicken is a farmer's market.
I used drumsticks and thighs instead of cutting up a whole chicken because I like dark meat and because that way the chicken pieces would cook in the same amount of time. (Dark meat cooks for a little longer than white meat.)
Adapted from Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller
Chicken - a whole chicken cut up into 10 pieces (2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings, 2 breasts cut in half crossways for 4 pieces) or 10 pieces of your choosing (thighs, drumsticks, breasts, etc.)
Peanut oil for deep-frying
1 quart buttermilk for dipping
6 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup garlic powder
1/4 cup onion powder
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
Maldon salt, crushed with your fingers
Mix together, and divide the mixture between two bowls.
I cut off any obvious globules of fat and trimmed a little hanging skin from the pieces of chicken. Then I dipped each piece of chicken in the seasoned flour, then in buttermilk, then in the seasoned flour again. I heated 2 inches of expeller-pressed peanut oil to 350 degrees in each of two pans, one an All-Clad 8-quart pan and one a LeCreuset 7-quart pan, and fried the chicken in the pans until it was almost mahogany brown.
Using these pans, with sides almost 6 inches high, instead of a skillet, was Thomas Keller's brilliant suggestion. The chicken fried perfectly, the oil didn't splatter all over the stove, and the pan was easy to clean up. If you try this, you must be extremely careful not to tip the pan over because the oil is very hot
Between the two pans, I actually preferred the way the chicken cooked in the All-Clad pan, and it might be worth having two of them if you want to make this often. I assume a cast-iron Dutch oven would work well too provided the sides are high enough, but I can't speak from experience.
This fried chicken was absolutely delicious - the best I ever had.
It is easy enough for a weeknight meal, especially since it doesn't make a mess all over the kitchen, and it was just as good leftover cold as it was right from the pan. I am going to make it often. It will be the star of the show next July Fourth. Dessert will be Clotilde's Orange Sponge Cake, topped with loosely whipped fresh cream.
I'm inviting Peggy. Even though she's from Charleston, I bet it will be the best fried chicken she's ever had.