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Fried Chicken, Revisited

Fried chicken is one of those dishes that you hate to love. The perfect piece is culinary heaven: juicy and moist on the inside, crispy on the outside. I tried to fry my own a few times and gave up after raw or burned chicken (or burned arms). But Chef Thomas Keller has changed all that. His Ad Hoc Fried Chicken Kit had me back at the stove with a can of oil and a candy thermometer, determined to make some tasty fried chicken at home. I'm happy to report that my platter of golden fried chicken was pretty darn tasty. It was perfectly crunchy and very juicy; here are the details.

Named after his Napa restaurant Ad Hoc, the kit comes with a brining packet (that includes bay leaves, lemon, and black peppercorns) and a coating mix (which includes paprika and cayenne pepper, but isn't very spicy). The instructions are fairly straightforward: you brine the chicken, let it come to room temperature, and then bread it with the coating mix. (You provide the chicken, buttermilk, and oil.) There were just a few minor adjustments: I used grapeseed instead of the peanut oil (my mom is allergic to peanuts), and the cooking time for the chicken breasts was double the time called for in the directions. Also, use the right pan. I made one batch with my cast iron skillet, which was perfect. But I made another batch with a wider pan and I had to use more oil, and it didn't cook as evenly. Using a candy thermometer to test the oil temperature is crucial, so don't try to wing it. And for the brining liquid, remember that there are whole peppercorns, so after you drain it you might have to pick out the stray peppercorns that become lodged in the chicken.

One final hint: plan ahead. With the brining and sitting and cooking, you're looking at 12+ hours in the kitchen, so be committed (and pick a cool day). All in all, I was very happy I gave the kit a whirl; it makes any fear of frying disappear with one bite of that tasty chicken.

The kit is only available through Williams-Sonoma; $14.95 for a bag (which makes 2 eight-piece servings or 1 giant party batch), which I think is a great value. So get frying!