From Celebration to Suze (and points in between), then to Sissy’s Southern Kitchen & Bar, Jeffery Hobbs’ kitchen travels have taken him across numerous cuisines, among them Greek, French and Italian. Now, at Sissy’s Southern Kitchen – Lisa Garza’s new restaurant on Henderson – Hobbs is dealing with a cuisine a little closer to home: traditional fare from the Southern US. And among the many dishes that includes, fried chicken is perhaps the most recognizable.
We sat down with Jeffery to discuss his perspective on fried chicken; what makes it appealing, what exactly a pressure fryer is, and whether he’d share his (non-pressure fryer) recipe with us. Happily for us, he obliged.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Jeffery. From your experience, what’s the appeal of fried chicken? Why do so many people seem to love it?
From a broad perspective, the appeal of fried chicken to me is that it’s crispy. I think most cultures have this affinity for that crunch. I don’t know how to say it exactly, but it’s a satisfying thing.
With that said, though, that crunch is even better when contrasted with the saltiness and the tenderness of the chicken. It’s really important to brine the chicken and get the flavor into the chicken itself.
What does brining accomplish that makes it such an important part of the process?
The texture of chicken really sets itself up to being brined; it’s just that the way that their muscles are. Brining chicken is very important for a number of reasons. It pulls out a lot of the excess moisture (that would otherwise be a detriment in the frying process) and even adds all different types of flavors to the brine. The way we brine our chicken here is with an equilibrium brine. Which means that once the process is complete, the salt solution percentage is the same outside the chicken as it is inside. So we can let it sit in there for 24 hours without it being oversalted, which means that whatever we put in there, flavor-wise, is going to get all the way to the bone. So that’s a huge factor.
So we’re guessing that after the brine comes the breading. What are some different approaches you’ve seen?
Well, there’s whatever you want – bread, cracker crust, we actually use straight-up flour, though we do add a little baking powder to the mix to help lighten it some. Not very much; a miniscule amount as far as baking powder goes – if you put too much in there, it kind of blows out and then your crust is gone. But along with that, we also use a mixture of herbs and spices.
Eleven of them?
(Laughs) No, not 11 of them. Not quite that many. But, because of the spices we have in there, it’s pertinent that we can cook at a lower temperature and cook it faster so that way we don’t burn, we don’t overcook those spices to where it tastes burned. You can take it too far. At some point the flavor profile gets up to here and then it drops off. So that’s definitely a benefit to a pressure frying – we can fry it at a lower temperature for a less amount of time.
You mentioned pressure frying – what does that mean, exactly?
Pressure frying was actually developed for the Colonel back in the late ’40s or early ’50s. A lot of it had to do with the age; Kentucky Fried Chicken was harvesting birds at older ages, so it was tougher meat. They were already brining the chicken, but then they were cooking it and still not getting the results that they wanted. They already knew, though, that pressure cooking increases the temperature at which water will boil, which means that they were actually able to dissolve connective tissues much easier without extracting what moisture is left in there. So, you have something that’s tenderized by dissolving connective tissue and you’re not blowing out the moisture. Frying under pressure also decreases the amount of oil that is absorbed into the crust, and it also cooks faster because you’re able to get the temperature to a certain point a lot faster.
So what is it about frying that accomplishes this textural transformation?
It has to do with the fact that frying is actually a dry heat method. It’s not like you’re boiling something with water. You know that old adage, boil in oil? It’s kind of a misnomer. When you’re frying with the oils at such a temperature – if you put a piece of chicken into a 350 degree oven and put a piece of chicken into a 350 degree oil – the stuff in the oil is going to cook a lot faster because the oil is a much more efficient conductive source than air is. You’re going to crisp up the outside a lot faster. At high heat, the less time something spends at temperature to cook, the better the product is – unless you’re cooking at a very low heat method like ribs and that sort of thing. But if you take two unbrined pieces of chicken, and roast one in the oven on 350 degrees, and then fry the other one in a fryer at 350, the one that is cooked in the fryer is going to be juicier than the one cooked in the oven because it is cooked faster.
So, considering there aren’t many of us with pressure fryers in our own homes, is there an amateur-friendly recipe you might be able to share with us for some homemade fried chicken?