Ain’t no ‘thang but Chicken & Champagne

Rebecca Lang puts a new twist on a Southern classic with this fresh pairing, perfect for dockside entertaining

Rebecca Lang is an author, cooking instructor, television personality, and ninth-generation Southerner living in Athens. Look for Rebecca’s new book, Fried Chicken, wherever books are sold.
Rebecca Lang is an author, cooking instructor, television personality, and ninth-generation Southerner living in Athens. Look for Rebecca’s new book, Fried Chicken, wherever books are sold.

Photographed by Dennis McDaniel

Almost everyone that has spent more than a few days in the South, has an instant connection to fried chicken. This relationship may be thanks to a lifelong yearning for the crispy bird that was served by grandmothers years ago. Or it could be a remembrance of the comfort each bite brought in a time of need. No matter the reason fried chicken holds a special place to so many, I thank the Lord it lives on.

The gospel bird of the South has affected my life in ways that would take days to begin to count. Sundays at my grandmother’s house were sacred, not only because of the Sabbath, but also because of the bird. She fried chicken like many women her age, with no recipe, no fear, and a frilly apron to cover her Sunday skirt. Even early on, I was amazed that something so wonderful would emerge from a black skillet half-filled with nearly clear bubbling liquid. She fried her chicken because we loved it, we were hungry, and she loved us.

I now fry chicken for my family for the exact same reasons. I still like it on Sundays, but I adore it on Friday nights with a glass of Champagne. If a glass has bubbles in it, it’s automatically a friend of mine. Because of the palate cleansing property of Champagne, it’s ideal to pair with something rich and heavy, like fried chicken. Each bite of chicken tastes just as good as the first.

Generations ago, frying was the fastest way to cook and not heat house like turning on the oven. It became a staple on Southern tables in the toughest of times and continues to hold its own among each and every new cooking fad. There are few things that have not wavered over time, as this is one.

Fried chicken was a staple in many places around the world long before the South took ownership of it. China, India, parts of Africa, and countries of the Middle East were just a few that had traditions of frying yard birds. The wide range of techniques and flavors is almost endless.

No matter the technique you prefer, an unforgettable gathering is created when an array of fried chicken meets Champagne and good friends.


Beer-Battered Chicken Sandwich

Nearly everyone loves a fried chicken sandwich. This version does not disappoint. Choose a malty ale, such as Bell’s Best Brown or a good seasonal beer from your favorite local brewery. A rich, caramel-kissed brew helps the flavors to hold up all the way through frying. This batter is light and airy, similar to tempura. Using two cups of beer leaves you some extra in the bottle, not a bad problem to have–just drink it! Serves 6

Dock Chicken1

  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 white onion, sliced
  • 2 cups ice
  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Peanut oil, for frying
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups brown ale beer
  • Lime Slaw (recipe follows), for serving
  • 6 sesame seed buns

In a medium saucepan, combine the kosher salt, sugar, and water over medium-low heat until salt dissolves. Remove from the heat and stir in the onion and the ice. Place the chicken in a large zip-top bag. Once the brine has cooled and the ice has melted, pour over the chicken, seal the bag, and refrigerate for 5 to 6 hours.

In a deep fryer or large, deep stockpot, heat 3 inches of peanut oil over high heat to 335˚F. Prepare two rimmed baking sheets with a wire rack on each pan.

Remove the chicken from the brine, drain, and discard the brine.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cayenne pepper, salt, and beer.

Dip all of the chicken pieces in the batter and transfer to one of the prepared baking sheets to allow the excess batter to drip. Depending on the size of your fryer, you may need to fry in two batches. Carefully place the chicken in the hot oil and fry for 10 to 13 minutes, or until golden brown and juices run clear. Maintain a frying temperature of 320˚F to 325˚F. Drain the chicken on the clean wire rack.

Top the fried chicken with the slaw and serve in the sesame seed buns.

Lime SlawChicken sandwich1

  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 6 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced into thin strips
  • 2/3 cup shredded carrot
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, sugar, lime zest, salt, and pepper. Add the cabbage, onion, carrot, and parsley to the bowl and toss to coat with the dressing. Serve immediately.


 Tangy Fried Chicken with Dijon

Coating the chicken with a generous layer of Dijon mustard yields tender meat and an appealing wavy and textured exterior. Herbes de Provence delivers just a hint of floral fun in each bite. The thicker the Dijon, the better it will adhere to the chicken, so splurge a little and buy the good stuff.  Serves 4 to 6

Dock Chicken15

  • 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 chicken (about 3 pounds, 12 ounces), cut into 8 pieces (see page 7)
  • Canola oil, for frying
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the mustard, herbes de Provence, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper.

Rub the mustard mixture all over each piece of chicken and let sit onDock Chicken13 a rimmed baking sheet at room temperature for 30 minutes

In a large heavy skillet, heat 1 1/2 inches of canola oil over medium heat to 340˚F. Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet.

In a shallow bowl, whisk together the flour and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Working with half of the chicken at a time, dredge the pieces in the flour mixture, shaking off the excess.

Carefully place the chicken in the hot oil. Fry, turning often, for 18 to 24 minutes, or until brown and juices run clear. Maintain a frying temperature of 320˚F. Drain the chicken on a wire rack. Repeat with the remaining pieces.


 

Chicken Tacos1

Mexican Lime Fried Chicken Tacos

Packed with spices and lime, a bite of this chicken is the next best thing to crossing the border for a meal. Each crispy piece screams to become the coveted perfect taco. The batter fries up to be lusciously dark and crunchy. A burst of heat from fresh jalapeños, zip from cilantro, and sweetness from honey add the perfect finish. Serves 6

  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
  • 3 green onions, green and white parts, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 pounds chicken tenders (about 12 tenders)
  • Peanut oil, for frying
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 (5-ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
  • Shredded purple cabbage, for serving
  • Crumbled Cotija, for serving
  • Lime wedges, for serving
  • Sour cream, for serving
  • Salsa, for serving
  • Hot sauce, such as Tabasco, for serving

To make the marinade, in a bowl, whisk together the lime juice, honey, chipotle peppers, green onions, 2 teaspoons of the chile powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Place the chicken in a large zip-top bag, pour the marinade over it, seal the bag, rub to coat the chicken, and refrigerate for 3 hours. Remove the chicken from the marinade and discard the marinade.

In a deep fryer or large, deep stockpot, heat 3 inches of peanut oil over high heat to 350˚F. Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet.

In a shallow bowl, whisk together 1 cup of the flour, 1 teaspoon of the cumin, 1 teaspoon of the coriander, the remaining 1 teaspoon of chili powder, and 2 teaspoons of the salt. In a second bowl, whisk together the evaporated milk, egg, and adobo sauce, and in a third bowl, the remaining 3 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of coriander, and 1 teaspoon of cumin, and the white pepper and oregano. Dredge each chicken tender in the first flour mixture, dip in the evaporated milk mixture, and dredge in the second flour mixture. Depending on the size of your fryer, you may need to fry in two batches. Once all of the tenders have been coated, carefully place them in the hot oil. Fry for 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown and juices run clear. Maintain a frying temperature of 330˚F to 340˚F at all times. Drain the chicken on the wire rack.

Place one tender on each corn tortilla and top with cabbage and cotija. Serve with lime wedges, sour cream, salsa, and hot sauce.

Recipes adapted from Fried Chicken

(Ten Speed Press, 2015) by Rebecca Lang.