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FRONT BURNER: Chicken worth the oil problem

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Photographs by Kelly Brant

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Fried chicken is one of those foods I usually leave to the experts. And by experts I mean cooks with vented range hoods in their kitchens and ample ways to reuse/recycle cooking oil.

My kitchen, though decidedly more modern than my 100-year old house's original, lacks a ventilation system. So fried anything often results in my whole house taking on a funky fried-food odor for several days. But even when I can get away with simply opening a window, I'm still left with the problem of what to do with all that grease.

Most of the time it's easy enough to cool, strain and rebottle it. As long the oil is stored in a dark, cool place it should be fine for at least a couple more uses.

But even with several uses, it will eventually reach the end of its usefulness.

So what to do with it then?

I've heard stories of people converting diesel engine cars to run on used vegetable oil, but I don't drive a car with a diesel engine and I don't know anyone who has done it. So giving it a second life as auto fuel isn't in the cards.

Leaving it to cool on the stove and forgetting to put the dog gate in the kitchen doorway and thus allowing your extra-tall, 165- pound dog to wander into the kitchen is not recommended.

And pouring it down the sink is not an option.

According to Little Rock Water Reclamation (formerly Little Rock Wastewater) grease and oil buildup in sewer lines is responsible for 70 percent to 80 percent of dry-weather overflows. And in many places pouring cooking grease or oil down the drain is against the law.

Little Rock Waste Reclamation Authority's Can The Grease program advocates letting the grease cool, then pouring it into a can lined with a heat-resistant bag. When the bag is full, simply tie it off and place it in with your regular garbage for curbside pickup. Many cities in Arkansas have similar programs. If you live in an area where garbage pickup is not available, your county could offer cooking oil disposal services.

This recipe is an amalgam I came up with based on the ingredients I had on hand. The soaking mixture is from Ashley English's Southern From Scratch (Roost Books, $35) and the coating is from Turnip Greens & Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices Up the Southern Kitchen by Eddie Hernandez with Susan Puckett (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30).

Extra-Crispy Buttermilk Fried Chicken

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

4 teaspoons smoked salt, divided use

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sriracha or other hot sauce to taste

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 1/2 pounds chicken pieces (I prefer boneless breasts and thighs, so that's what I used)

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup masa harina (instant corn flour)

1/4 cup cornstarch

Vegetable oil, for frying

In a bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, Worcestershire sauce, 2 teaspoons of the salt, the paprika, sriracha, garlic powder and black pepper.

If chicken breasts are very thick, cut them in half horizontally to create thinner pieces. Submerge the chicken pieces in the buttermilk mixture, turning to coat. Cover and refrigerate 4 to 12 hours.

In a food processor or blender, pulse the panko until it has the texture of coarse meal. Add the flour, masa harina, cornstarch and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Whirl briefly to combine.

Place mixture in a wide shallow dish.

Fill a deep iron skillet or Dutch oven with 1 1/2 to 2 inches of oil and heat to 350 to 375 degrees. Heat oven to 250 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels and place a wire rack over the paper towels.

Working with 1 piece at a time, remove chicken from buttermilk mixture, letting the excess drip back into the bowl. Coat chicken pieces on both sides in panko mixture. Add to hot oil, cooking as many as will fit uncrowded, and fry about 4 to 6 minutes per side or until chicken is golden brown and internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Cooking time can vary depending on size and thickness. Bone-in pieces will take considerably longer to cook. Place cooked chicken pieces on a rack and keep warm in the oven while you cook the remaining pieces.

Makes about 6 servings.

Food on 05/16/2018

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