Game On: Chicken

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Chefs are leading the charge to showcase spirited poultry entrées this season.

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Chef Shane Whiddon prepares Colt & Alison’s Poulet Rouge chicken.

By Neal Webster Turnage

A roasted chicken entrée appears on menus across all gastronomic scales. The bird has a history as a staple in all cuisines for good reason, according to Shane Whiddon, chef de cuisine at The Lodge’s Colt & Alison at Sea Island. It’s a fail-safe staple, a crowd pleaser that speaks through a diversity of palates and cultures. This season, other familiar—and not-so-familiar—chicken preparations are poised to take leading roles over roasting. Taste buds will be surprised as they become acquainted with the latest chicken dishes.

Tempting diners most during the spring and summer months at Sea Island are multiple masterpieces that have a genesis in the highest-quality poultry. A determination to bring Sea Island guests a taste of “chicken from the good old days” led Whiddon to Joyce Farms, a small family farm in North Carolina that began raising and selling its chickens in 1962. Focusing on Old World breeds, the farm supplies chickens according to Label Rouge, an artisan label established and approved by French authorities in 1965 with standards that select hardy breeds for their meat quality and slow growth. In order to qualify for such recognition, the chickens must be produced using free-range methods and cannot be used for culinary purposes until 81 to 110 days old—twice as long as the industry standard.

Colt & Alison serves Joyce’s Poulet Rouge chicken, a red farm chicken of North Carolina’s Piedmont region with a long breast and legs, pronounced chicken flavor and firm meat. “Colt & Alison’s spring Poulet Rouge begins with a perfectly roasted breast of Poulet Rouge that’s accompanied by a chive potato purée, glazed vegetables, pickled radish relish and spring herbs,” Whiddon explains.

Whiddon isn’t opposed to a jaunty summertime take on a picnic classic, the chicken sandwich, either. His only-in-the-South favorite: a buffalo chicken sandwich that features a sour pickle-brined, fried chicken breast with ranch, hot sauce and bread, all homemade. “Add some [spicy] Georgia Heat cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy, sliced tomato and homemade pickles, and you have a masterpiece,” Whiddon says.

Buffalo chicken sandwich with homemade pickles from the Men’s Locker Room at Sea Island
Buffalo chicken sandwich with homemade pickles from the Men’s Locker Room at Sea Island

Chef Alex Harrell of New Orleans’ Sylvain restaurant also stimulates chicken-based entrées with playful ingredients. “I take the familiar favorite and add another traditional Southern ingredient: bourbon,” he says. “The bourbon brine makes the chicken moist and flavorful. It’s a perfect dish for your summer get-togethers.” It produces a new, if not indigenous, take on fried chicken.

“Chicken’s simplicity and mild flavor make it a vehicle for so many different types of cuisine and flavor profiles, which only contributes to its perennial popularity,” Whiddon adds, noting that chicken is also a testament to the South’s ever-inventive culinary spirit. “Chicken was easy to raise—and it produces more food than it consumes. … When you look at many ‘Southern’ items, you’ll notice a common thread: making something spectacular out of what’s available.”

Bourbon-brined Fried Chicken from aleX harrell, chef at sylvain in new orleans

i-6t86h5cBRINE:
½ cup bourbon
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 cups cold water
1 lemon, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled
and crushed
4 sprigs of rosemary

SEASONED FLOUR:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup corn meal
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika

CHICKEN:
1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 cups cold buttermilk

Method: Combine all ingredients for the brine and stir to mix well. In a separate bowl, mix all ingredients for the seasoned flour together.
Add chicken to the brine and refrigerate for 6 hours. Remove chicken from the brine and discard liquid. Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Dip chicken into the buttermilk then dredge with seasoned flour. Shake off excess flour and fry in peanut or canola oil at 325 degrees until brown and cooked to 155 degrees internal temperature for white meat and 165 degrees internal temperature for dark meat.

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