I’ve been craving fried chicken for weeks. The problem is, I know that a proper fried chicken involves buttermilk, and I didn’t know where to get buttermilk in Paris.
Sure, I could have used the usual trick of mixing a spoonful of vinegar into milk, but that’s really just an acidity adjustment. I wanted the actual flavor of cultured buttermilk. I was bemoaning my fried chicken-less state to a friend when she mentioned that some crepe places sell a drink called lait ribot, which tastes a lot like buttermilk.
I had known about lait ribot and seen it on some menus, and I knew that it was cultured, soured milk, but I don’t know why I didn’t connect it to what Americans call buttermilk. Well suffice it to say I immediately went to my fromagerie and asked if they carried lait ribot, to which the nice lady handed me a liter with a “… vous connaissez lait ribot?” I guess it’s an acquired taste here, too.
The problem with fried chicken is that usually, I want it now, but good fried chicken takes a day or so of prep. You let it sit in an herby, oniony brine that saturates the chicken, flavoring it all the way through and ensuring that the cooked meat will be perfectly seasoned and juicy.
Ruhlman’s brine is so simple and so effective — I’ve never had a more tender piece of chicken in my life, and it took so little effort that I’m tempted to use it on every piece of poultry I bring home. The breading here is exactly what you want from fried chicken, with baking powder that reacts with the buttermilk to create that fluffy, crackly lift and paprika and cayenne for a low buzz of spice. And of course, it’s excellent cold as well as hot out of the fryer.