[R&K's foodporn series features great dishes and storytelling from around America and beyond. Other dispatches in the series: technicolor tacos at Tito's in LA, In-and-Out's Double-Double Animal Style, or chicken liver in Louisville. Those and more on our Plates of the Union page.]
In many ways, the New South still looks a lot like the Old South. There are still strip malls and strip clubs, Baptist churches and gun shops, legions of people friendly enough to make you blush every time you step into a gas station. And there is still fried chicken.
You’ll find it where it’s always been, of course—at the meat-and-threes and soul-food shacks that keep places like Athens and Birmingham moving. Increasingly in this brave new world of comfort-food fetishization, you’ll also find fried chicken at restaurants with a chefy pedigree. This bird falls decidedly into the latter camp, the brainchild of diabolical genius Sean Brock, a guy uniquely capable of making food that would please both Michelin inspectors and your skillet-packing grandmama. He’s a bridge builder, a man whose mission is to bring Southern food into the future by connecting it to its past.
This chicken is a perfect example of Brock’s breadth: For the purists, there is a buttermilk bath and a cast-iron pan filled with fat for frying, but Brock has a few tricks up his sleave to blast this bird into another stratosphere. To ensure the chicken is moist and seasoned to the bone, there is an overnight soak in sweet tea. To provide a more formidable crust, there is a blend of soft biscuit flour and crunchy cornmeal. And to ensure you pledge your undying loyalty to Brock and his legions of bad-ass line cooks, there is a heart-thumping convergence of four fats used to crisp up the chicken: lard, rendered chicken fat, melted Benton’s bacon fat, and rendered country ham scraps. At the last minute, Brock floats in an island of butter, which melts into the mix and gives this chicken a brilliant sheen.
You won’t find this chicken on the menu at Husk. Brock makes it for his buddies out of the prep kitchen behind the restaurant. On a recent Sunday morning, a group of off-duty cooks camped out in the parking lot, beating back their hangovers with bottles of hard cider, waiting for a chance to burn their lips on this beautiful bird.