September 14, 2011

Front Porch Fried Chicken

I had to take a break from the doughnut pan for a quick second, because last week I was served a bucket of salt-free fried chicken.

I have a serious love for fried chicken. I think we’ve talked about it before, but in case I wasn’t clear, let me just reiterate the depth of my affection for this Southern comfort food: there are few things I love more than fried chicken. And this is not an exaggeration.

If I could only take one thing with me to a deserted island, it would be fried chicken. If I could only wear one thing for the rest of my life, it would be a jacket made of crispy, twelve-spiced skin (which I would end up eating and then I would be naked, but deliriously happy). If I could have dinner with one celebrity, it would be Colonel Sanders. And if my husband had proposed with a golden drumstick, I would have totally said yes.

But salt-free fried chicken doesn’t come along that often.

When I have a real craving, I make it at home. I let the meat soak in a salt-free buttermilk substitute for a day. I dredge it in flavored flour. I let it sizzle in hot oil. I eat it all in one, quick swoop while it’s juicy and warm. And then I fall asleep at the table.

(Here’s the recipe)

But hot oil can be messy and time consuming–you have to let it cool before saving or discarding it. And so I usually end up baking my chicken. Which is still good and crunchy, but it isn’t fried chicken, now is it?

Enter Front Porch. A restaurant in the Bernal Heights (in the Bay Area) which I’ve eaten at many times over the past few years, enjoying beautifully prepared low-sodium meals. I’ve had juicy steaks and succulent succotash, but I’ve never enjoyed the dishes they are truly famous for. The food full of soul. Mainly, the fried chicken.

Last week, though, I got a real treat. And because I had called a day ahead and emailed the team with my list of restrictions, the kitchen was actually able to save some bird for me, keeping it far away from the brine. But I thought this meant I would enjoy a nice thigh or breast, roasted with pepper and maybe some herbs. Then the plate arrived. And it was piled high with crunchy chicken fingers. I mean, a mountain of delicious meat for me to enjoy. All salt-free. All gone before my friends finished their ribs and mashed potatoes.

The lesson here? Something is changing.

Maybe it is just here, in San Francisco. But every time I eat out these days, I’m getting majorly surprised. Over the past seven years, I’ve gone from maybe eating steamed vegetables if I was lucky, to getting a plain piece of pan-fried fish, to eating pastas with salt-free sauces, to now enjoying the menu items that have put a chef or restaurant on the map.

And who knows why. Maybe it’s because more of us are out there asking for it. Maybe it’s because chefs, good ones, typically respect the power of their ingredients. Maybe it’s because the kitchen ran out of salt.

But whatever the cause, it’s a good thing. And it serves as motivation to keep going out and asking for what you need. The worst case scenario is you end up with steamed vegetables. The best case scenario is you end up with the crispiest fried chicken you’ve had in years.

Chow on.

Note: A quick word on poultry. As you may know, it is often plumped with salt water to make the meat moist (and heavier and more expensive). When buying chicken, turkey, or other foul, check the packaging or ask the butcher about the added water content (moisture content should be 0%) and if it has been plumped. Generally, a good rule of thumb is that if the meat is “air-chilled,” it has not been plumped.

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