Gas Station Fried Chicken | Hot Chicken Recipe by Aaron Turner | Hardie Grant Books
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Gas Station Fried Chicken

21 Aug 2020 | Aaron Turner

If you love hot chicken like Aaron Turner, then you will completely understand his lyrical descriptions of eating spicy wings in The Hot Chicken Project. This book is an ode to hot chicken, but also to Nashville, and the American south where this dish really took flight, Aaron shares his experiences and recipes tried and tested.

I want to show you something. I’m taking a trip, heading south to Nashville—a revisit of sorts, an unfinished love story.hot chicken project aaron turner

I need to know if it’s still there, that love and obsession that led my life in such a different direction. Something that changed the direction of not only my life, but, in some ways, the fortunes of this sleepy southern city.

I’ve been away too long and feel compelled to return, to pay my respects to the makers, the cooks, the workers and families. To make sure what I do back home is doing all of this justice.

But before I go on, I gotta ask, and I’ve wondered about this for some time, is now a good time to talk about Mrs Childress? Was it hers, the recipe? The secret eleven herbs and spices. Were they stolen?

I can’t quite shake the feeling they were. But perhaps that’s a conversation best saved for later.

There’s a gas station on the outskirts of town. It’s one of those neon-lit twenty-eight-bowser hellholes selling little but keychains, cigarettes and lukewarm beer—a stop on the interstate for the tired and overworked drivers.

It sells fried chicken, of sorts—a brand of golden chicken franchised to places like this. It’s the model the Colonel set out to achieve all those years ago, when he crisscrossed the country armed with his secret herbs and spices, cooking it for people in the hopes they would agree to sell it at their gas stations and restaurants all over America, taking a nickel in turn for every joint sold.

I used to be able to convince myself after a few too many of those lukewarm beers that it was good. I would, half-drunk, even spruik its deliciousness to anyone who would listen, taking the occasional detour to indulge in a piece or two. I guess if you’ve been on the road long enough you can convince yourself of anything, really.

HENDERSONVILLE

You’d drive right past it if you didn’t know—if you weren’t given the inside scoop. We’ve been on the road for long enough  and I’m guessing we’re in need of some chicken. It’s a one-man show out here, everything made by the hand of this East Nashville native who found his way into the life of slingin’ yardbird, serving down-south southern fried in a strip mall off Walton Ferry Road.

His chicken is some of the best in the business. He's a cook’s cook—a believer that it all starts with the base, the spices and the flour, and if you ain’t fucking with that you stand a chance of cooking some good chicken. A believer that there ain’t nothing truer than word of mouth to spread the gospel of what he is doing out here.

I promise that his cuts speak for themselves—a piece of southern fried with proper mac ’n’ cheese and braised green beans cooked long and slow will have you transcending. The wings—mildly spiced—things of beauty, and, with slaw and hickory-smoked baked beans, the perfect antidote to a long drive.

It’s just a quick stop here before we hit Nashville, where our story really begins.

Gas Station Fried Chicken 

hot chicken project gas station chicken recipeWhen breaking down your chicken here, separate the dark meat into legs and thighs and cut the white meat in two, leaving the wings and the breast plate attached. The crust coating the chicken should be soft with just a little crunch and the chicken warm or at room temperature when serving.

INGREDIENTS

Serves 4–6

250 g (9 oz/¾ cup) rock salt

2.5 litres (85 fl oz/10 cups) warm water

1 × 1.2 kg (2 lb 10 oz) chicken, broken down into 8 parts

500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) cottonseed or grapeseed oil

400 ml (13½ fl oz/12/3 cups) canola oil

Coating

300 g (10½ oz/2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour

125 g (4½ 1 cup) cornmeal polenta

1 tablespoon table salt

1 tablespoon celery salt

2 tablespoons ground black pepper

2 tablespoons dried oregano

METHOD

Add the rock salt to the water in a large bowl and stir to dissolve. Lower the chicken pieces into the brine and leave for 3 hours.

Meanwhile, for the coating, mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl.

Remove the chicken pieces from the brine and transfer to a suitable container, pour over the coating mixture and push down to pack tightly, covering the surface of the chicken. Cover and leave in the fridge overnight.

The next day, remove the chicken from the fridge and leave for 2 hours to come to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 100ºC (210ºF).

Heat the cottonseed and canola oils in a large heavy-based skillet or saucepan to 180ºC (350ºF).

Gently lower the chicken pieces into the hot oil, maintaining the temperature as best you can, and fry until a golden crust starts to form around the chicken pieces, about 6 minutes. (At this stage the chicken won’t be cooked through.)

Remove from the hot oil, transfer to an oven tray and bake in the oven for 40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Season and leave to sit on the bench for 20 minutes before serving.


the hot chicken project 3D cover
This is an edited extract from The Hot Chicken Project by Aaron Turner
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