Sous vide and frying may seem like an oxymoron, but the combination of the two techniques makes for some outstanding fried chicken.
First the chicken is brined for 6 to 10 hours, which allows it to absorb a great deal of flavor. At the same time, the brine works its magical alchemy and moisturizes and tenderizes the meat. Next the chicken is cooked sous vide and allowed to air dry. The final frying step takes just a few minutes because the chicken is already perfectly cooked.
With this combination method, much less oil is absorbed by the meat, and the chicken turns out wonderfully crisp, without a hint of greasiness.
The recipe can be made over several days, leaving the final fry to just before serving time. We give the chicken a double dipping of batter, but if you prefer less coating, simply flour the meat, dip it in buttermilk, and then dip it a second time in flour for a lighter crust.
The cooking times given here are for a 3-pound chicken; larger birds will take more time to cook. If you have a temperature probe, by all means use it. The probe helps determine when the thighs are cooked, as these take the longest time.
Chef Matt Zadorozny, who contributed his fabulous Malted Milk Shake Ice Cream recipe to this site, uses a buttermilk brine instead of my version below. He combines 6 cups of buttermilk, ¼ cup kosher salt, the grated zest of 2 lemons, and a healthy dose of Frank’s Hot Sauce. Marinate the chicken pieces for 6 hours, then proceed with the recipe at step 3. Whichever brine you use, the chicken will be simply marvelous!
Remember, there are three separate stages to this recipe: brining, cooking sous vide and air drying, and the final frying. The first two can be a done a couple of days before you plan to serve the chicken. The frying stage takes just 30 minutes or so, but plan accordingly.
For the brine
For the coating
- For the brine, combine all of the ingredients in a large pot and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Cool completely and then transfer the brine to a container that is large enough to hold all of the chicken pieces. Refrigerate the brine until it is completely cold.
- Add the chicken pieces to the brine, making sure they are all completely submerged. Cover the container and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 10 hours. (Longer brining will make the chicken very salty.)
- Remove the chicken pieces from the brine and discard the brine. Rinse the chicken thoroughly under cold running water. Pat dry with a clean kitchen towel or with paper towels.
- Vacuum seal the 4 breast pieces in one bag, the legs and wings in another, and the thighs in a third bag. The chicken can be vacuum sealed 1 day in advance of cooking. Refrigerate until you are ready to cook the chicken.
- Preheat the water bath to 146°F (63°C).
- Cook the bags with the chicken breasts and the legs and wings for 1½ hours and remove them from the water bath. Raise the temperature of the water bath to 152°F (67°C) and continue cooking the thighs for an additional 45 minutes.
- Open the bags and place the chicken pieces on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet to cool and air dry for 1 hour. If you are not planning to fry the chicken after this step, refrigerate the meat, covered. The cooked and air-dried chicken can be stored for up to 2 days before frying.
- For the coating, combine all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk to blend. Pour the buttermilk into a second bowl.
- To fry the chicken, pour the oil into a deep skillet or pot to a depth of at least 2 inches. The amount of oil needed will depend on the diameter of your pan. Take care that the oil does not come up more than a third of the height of the pot, or it could boil over when you add the chicken. Heat the oil to 375°F (191°C); a thermometer is essential for a crisp crust and even browning.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper and set aside. While the oil is heating, coat the chicken pieces as follows: dip 1 piece in the buttermilk, letting excess drip off. Transfer to the bowl of seasoned flour and coat, shaking off the excess. Place the chicken on the prepared baking sheet to rest while you coat the other pieces, one at a time. After all of the pieces have had an initial coating, repeat the process, starting with the first piece of chicken.
- Once the oil has reached temperature, start frying the chicken, cooking just 2 or 3 pieces at a time, and regulating the heat to maintain the oil at 365°F to 375°F. When the chicken is brown and crispy, 3 to 5 minutes, transfer it to a wire rack. Repeat with the remaining chicken. You can keep the fried chicken hot and crisp on a baking sheet in a 375°F (191°C) conventional oven while you are cooking the remaining pieces. Serve hot.
Note: If you don’t want to cut the chicken into pieces yourself, ask the butcher to do it for you. For this recipe you need 2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings, and 4 pieces of chicken breast (each chicken breast half is cut in half to create a total of 4 pieces). Trim the chicken pieces of excess skin and fat before cooking.