Monday, February 4, 2008

February 4: Firecracker Chicken

There's just something about fried chicken. It is both decadent and homey; a real salt of the earth meal that satisfies and gratifies.

I have not been a fan of "Cook's Country," the home cookin' red-headed stepchild of serious cooking magazine Cook's Illustrated. But in August of 2006, this recipe appeared. It uses the America's Test Kitchen practice of making a recipe until it's perfect, which is something I appreciate. And it's fried chicken, and it's spicy. Two things I am just crazy about.

I made this probably a year ago. It is an astounding amount of work, and totally, one thousand percent worth it. Seek out the fresh habanero chile the recipe calls for. You've probably heard of its legendary heat. This is not as scorching as it sounds--I even made a note to myself to add one more pepper next time I make this.

The thing is, you don't want to skip any steps in this recipe. The marinade, the drying, the breading, the frying--it all contributes. The only shortcut I would take is using those pre-packaged chicken tenderloins--they are mostly uniformly shaped and sized, and might cut a little time off this project.

Serves 6.

Firecracker Chicken

Firecracker Sauce
1/2 cup sliced pickled banana peppers, chopped fine, plus 1/4 cup pickling liquid
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup yellow mustard
3 tablespoons dry mustard
2 tablespoons chili sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 habanero chile, minced
4 scallions, sliced thin

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about 2 1/2 pounds, trimmed
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 large egg whites
1 cup vegetable oil

For the sauce: whisk ingredients together in large bowl.

For the chicken: Cover chicken breasts with plastic wrap and pound lightly with meat mallet until about 1/2 inch thick.

Slice breasts in half lengthwise and transfer to large zipper-lock storage bag. Add 1/4 cup Firecracker Sauce to bag, seal, and gently squeeze bag to coat chicken with sauce. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours.

Meanwhile, in large bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking powser. Add 6 tablespoons firecracker sauce and, using hands, combine until mixture resembles coarse, wet sand.

In another bowl, whisk egg whites until foamy. Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Working with one strip at a time, dip chicken in egg whites and transfer to flour mixture, pressing lightly to adhere. Place chicken pieces on wire rack set on rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate 15 minutes (or up to 4 hours.)

Heat oven to 200 degrees. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Carefully place half of chicken strips in oil and fry until golden brown and cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to baking sheet lined with paper towels and place in warm oven. Repeat. Transfer chicken to platter, drizzle with remaining sauce, and serve.

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