Michael Ruhlman's Rosemary-Brined, Buttermilk Fried Chicken

By • October 10, 2012 • 48 Comments


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Author Notes: This is a fried chicken recipe you just can't mess up. Michael Ruhlman uses a speedy rosemary lemon brine, which is key to keeping the chicken flavorful and moist. Because of this (and its ultra-crispy buttermilk battered crust), the chicken will hold well in a warm oven for a couple hours before guests arrive, giving you plenty of time to wipe down the stove, shower, and pour yourself an early glass of wine. Adapted very slightly from Ruhlman's Twenty (Chronicle Books, 2011)Genius Recipes

Serves 6 to 8

Brine

  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed with the flat side of a knife
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 5 or 6 branches rosemary, each 4 to 5 inches long
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 1 lemon, halved

Fried Chicken

  • 8 chicken legs, drumsticks and thighs separated
  • 8 chicken wings, wing tips removed
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • Neutral, high-heat oil for deep-frying (like canola)
  1. Make the brine: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add kosher salt after the onion and garlic have cooked for 30 seconds or so. Add the rosemary and cook to heat it, 30 seconds or so. Add the water and lemon, squeezing the juice into the water and removing any seeds. Bring the water to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and allow the brine to cool. Refrigerate until chilled. To speed this process up, chill over an ice bath, stirring.
  2. Place all the chicken pieces in a large, sturdy plastic bag. Set the bag in a large bowl for support. Pour the cooled brine and aromatics into the bag. Seal the bag so that you remove as much air as possible and the chicken is submerged in the brine. Refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours, agitating the bag occasionally to redistribute the brine and the chicken.
  3. Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse under cold water, pat dry, and set on a rack or on paper towels. The chicken can be refrigerated for up to 3 days before you cook it, or it can be cooked immediately. Ideally, it should be refrigerated, uncovered, for a day to dry out the skin, but usually I can't wait to start cooking it.
  4. Combine the flour, black pepper, paprika, sea salt, cayenne, and baking powder in a bowl. Whisk to distribute the ingredients. Divide this mixture between two bowls.
  5. Pour the buttermilk into a third bowl. Set a rack on a baking sheet/tray. Dredge the chicken in the flour, shake off the excess, and set the dusted pieces on the rack. Dip the pieces in the buttermilk, then dredge them aggressively in the second bowl of flour and return them to the rack.
  6. Heat oil in a pan for deep-frying to 350°F/180°C. Add as many chicken pieces as you can without crowding the pan. Cook the chicken, turning the pieces occasionally, until they are cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes depending on their size. Remove to a clean rack and allow them to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. For legs, thighs and wings, Ruhlman says, "I like to finish them in a 250˚ F/120˚ C. oven, to make sure they’re super tender and to further crisp them. This lets me serve it whenever I want, no last minute frying if guests are invited."

Comments (48) Questions (2)

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about 1 month ago Emma 82

This was amazing. Served it with a walnut and apple salad and used the leftovers in wraps. So flavoursome. Will definitely make again!

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3 months ago Patrick

The tenderness and flavor of the chicken was amazing. The crispiness was something I haven't seen, even in restaurants. I will be doing this again. Thank you!!!

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5 months ago Trena

This is the best fried chicken I've ever eaten. I followed the directions except I added one Tablespoon each powdered garlic and onion. Delicious!

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6 months ago Scootdone

How long would you need to fry bone-in chicken breasts? Could the breasts be finished in the oven as well, or would they dry out?

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6 months ago Sam M.

Frying the bone-in breasts for 7-8 minutes (11-13 min for dark meat) will give you perfectly cooked juicy meat without drying it out. Just make sure you don't over crowd the pot so the oil temperature doesn't drop too much. You don't need to finish it in the oven, but you can keep it warm in a 200 degree oven until you're ready to serve it. It actually makes a bit crispier if you do that.

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6 months ago beejay45

Most of the times I've used this recipe, I've cut up a whole chicken, so, yes to bone-in breasts. I fry the biggest pieces first, basically just getting that good crispy golden coating on them, then into the oven as described. By the time I've gotten down to the small stuff, like wings and ribs, I only *need* to leave the pieces in the oven for maybe another half hour for everything to be done to a safe temp and ready to eat, although it can hold longer, if necessary. I haven't had any drying issues, except the one time I forgot the leftovers in the oven and they got a little dry after about three hours. But that's to be expected. I know he doesn't include breasts in his recipe, but they've worked fine for me, and I've used this recipe at least half a dozen times.

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6 months ago sarah taylor

does this recipe work if the skins are off?

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6 months ago beejay45

Without all the nooks and crannies and the rough surface of the skin, it will be much harder to get anything like a good crust --- repeated floor-buttermilk-flour...rinse and repeat and repeat and so on. And the crust won't stick -- first bite and the whole thing will probably break off and crumble Really, if you're going for the crust and deep frying, the skin isn't going to throw your calories/fats off by much of anything, and it will get you that gorgeous, crunchy coating.

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6 months ago zodiacza

wonderful recipe! brine is very good. one criticism only. the flour recipe is too salty. one tbsp of salt is enough.

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8 months ago Sam M.

I made this recipe because I loved Thomas Keller's recipe in Ad Hoc (the best fried chicken I'd ever had). Michael Ruhlman points out that he worked with Thomas Keller on that recipe, but he likes his own recipe more. Well, he isn't that humble about it. He says it is the best fried chicken ever, but Keller says the same about his own recipe.

The Thomas Keller recipe was so good (made it twice) that I had to give this one a shot. So I did and it turned out good, but I didn't like it as much as Keller's. Keller's brine gives the chicken a very pronounced citrus and bay leave flavor while this recipe gives the chicken a pronounced rosemary flavor. This recipe is crispier, but the crust was looser and fell off easily compared to the other recipe. The crust is more flavorful in the Keller recipe as it has lots of onion and garlic powder in it. The chicken is juicy in both recipe.

My verdict -- I prefer the Thomas Keller recipe over this recipe. However, my Southern wife liked this recipe as much as the other. She really liked the rosemary flavor and the more crispy batter even though it fell off the chicken easier.

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9 months ago atxdori

I made this last night and we loved the recipe. My only comment is that I regretted not draining the chicken on paper towels after frying--the thicker breading was a bit oily for us. We transferred directly to a rack and finished in the oven. I also threw some rosemary in at the end of frying each batch--crispy rosemary never hurt anything.

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10 months ago beejay45

I just made this, with numerous shortcuts because we were starving and didn't want to wait -- did you know you can use a blow dryer on a cool setting to dry the chicken skin? And I didn't brine, but I'm not much for the brining anyway. I played a little fast and loose with the seasoning, but only a little because Ruhlman's pretty right on with out tastes. I, too, finished it in the oven (on a rack set in a sheet pan, at about 275F).

And the verdict? Beautiful crispy, crunch! Juicy, so juicy chicken. And, and this is a bonus, there was a lot of rendered fat in the bottom of the pan after I took the chicken out of the oven. All round win!

This technique is a total keeper. Thanks, Michael Ruhlman for laying it out so clearly and thanks Kristen for highlighting it for those of us who own Twenty and haven't read it. Yes, I am hanging my head in shame.

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about 1 month ago roger browne

So you used a completely different recipe - list it somewhere else...

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about 1 month ago beejay45

Welcome to the community, roger browne! Nice to see a new "face." When you've been here a little longer, you'll see that one of the best things about Food52 is how everyone is free to riff on the recipe, as given, to tailor it to their tastes and the contents of their pantry. ;)

This article is really all technique. The seasonings aren't so important. I think you'll see, too, that the brining/not brining decision will not affect the crispy, gorgeous crust one way or the other. Whatever you like, though, this technique Michael Ruhlman has distilled from a variety of classic fried chicken recipes is a total keeper.

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10 months ago makan

Made this for Father's Day and it's now going to be a tradition! Fantastic recipe. Moist and flavourful chicken with an incredibly crispy crust. Due to time, I fried all pieces until golden brown then finished them in the oven. Came out perfect!

Meg_b_f52

11 months ago meganvt01

Best fried chicken. Ever.

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11 months ago BurgeoningBaker

Can coconut milk be substituted for buttermilk in this recipe due to Kosher diets?

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10 months ago beejay45

Just off the top of my head, I'd guess that you wouldn't get the nice crispy crust. I believe the acidity of the buttermilk combined with the baking powder in the flour not only makes for crispy, but also gives some "rise" to the coating so it's not just a flour coating. I think the coconut milk would give flavor, but not he expansion and crunch. But did you try it? How did it come out?

Also, someone mentioned Popeye's. If this could be as excellent as theirs, I will be a very, very happy woman. Our closest Popeye's is almost an hour away. After living on the East Coast where there were dozens in my area, I am feeling distinctly deprived. I hope Ruhlman has found the key, and I can't wait to try this out. Chicken in the fridge ready to be cut up!

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11 months ago Pittsburgher

If you use self-rising flour, be sure to remember that it contains salt as well as baking powder, and adjust salt accordingly. My Granny's-recipe fried chicken has an obscene amount of salt but it's always amazing. Just b sure to take your BP Meds if that's an issue for you or guests!!!

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12 months ago Christine Geery

This may be a silly question, but how deep should the oil be in the pan?

Miglore

12 months ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Senior Editor of Food52

The oil should be deep enough to fully submerge the chicken (but remember once the chicken is added, the oil level will go up). For a general refresher on deep-frying, check out this article: http://food52.com/blog...

Hope you like it!

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about 1 year ago Banana#5

Just made this for my family and they loved it!

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about 1 year ago EmilyArgh

This was as good as promised. Wow!!

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over 1 year ago Bethcooks

Amazing. Followed this recipe to the letter and my family was so happy! Thank you!!

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over 1 year ago Ambitious

This was AMAZING! I made it for some guests and they were in heaven!

Since I made about 5 pounds of chicken, I didn't have time to cook all of them before my guests came. So I crisped them and finished it in the oven at 200 degrees for 2 hours. It was perfection - it made the skin crunchy and so so so delicious. I paired it with biscuits, bacon brussels sprouts, coleslaw and a simple salad. Thank you again for this wonderful recipe.

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over 1 year ago mamajo

I tried this recipe as a roasted chicken for Sunday dinner and we thought it was the BEST chicken we had EVER eaten! Amazing flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture. I used the brining recipe,left in frig overnight and after putting the chicken in a roasting pan,peppered it and stuffed the inside with the rosemary and onion from the brine. Cooked at 425 degrees until reached temp of 160 in thigh. Let rest and had sides of red garlic potatoes and creamed fresh peas. I might have time to fry it next time but I don't think anyone will complain if I roast it again. Love the brine recipe. I am actually going to do my Thanksgiving turkey this way!!!

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over 1 year ago Scarla

Made this yesterday, and my family all agreed it was the best fried chicken ever. The brining gave the meat so much flavor and a silky texture, and the crust was shatteringly crisp -- I had to restrain myself from picking it off the remaining pieces! Perfect with mashed potatoes, cole slaw and cat's head biscuits. This recipe's a keeper! Empirical proof of how good it is: my picky 14 year old requested I pack the leftovers for lunch today!

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over 1 year ago 4376ab

This truly is a great recipe. Michael Ruhlman does it again - follow the directions and you will be in chicken heaven. The only misprint is "serves 6-8". HA! More like 2-3 maybe. Expect some wrasseling to see who gets the last piece.

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over 1 year ago J Dave

The SO and I made this yesterday for Sunday dinner....it is truly one of the best chicken recipes that i have ever made. And I just had the little bit of leftovers for lunch today and I think it was just as good. I highly recommend this recipe!

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over 1 year ago beurrista

fried chicken is one of my husband's favorite foods. in fact, he's picking some up from popeye's as we speak... i can't wait to try this recipe for him!

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over 1 year ago GordonW

Does the coating need any salt?

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over 1 year ago Pittsburgher

Step #4 references adding sea salt with flour and spices, but I don't see a quantity listed.

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over 1 year ago GordonW

I looked up another copy of Ruhlman's recipe and it called for 2T fine sea salt. Looks like a simple typo.

Miglore

over 1 year ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Senior Editor of Food52

GordonW -- thank you! Yes, a typo -- should be fixed now.

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over 1 year ago GordonW

np :)

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over 1 year ago Randi

This sounds so delicious. Is it possible to make this gluten-free? I am new to gluten-free cooking, and I don't know much about substitutions yet.

Miglore

over 1 year ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Senior Editor of Food52

I'm sorry, I don't have experience frying chicken with gluten-free flours (although I've dredged other things in gf rice flour or cornmeal and they fry up nice and crispy). This blend of rice flour and potato or tapioca starch looks promising: http://simplygluten-free...

You might also want to try asking the Food52 Hotline: http://food52.com/hotline

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over 1 year ago Pat in SoCal

Why do you need two bowls of the flour mixture?

Miglore

over 1 year ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Senior Editor of Food52

You could keep all the flour mixture in one big bowl if you like, as long as you dredge in flour, then buttermilk, then flour again. Two bowls helps keep you organized, and keeps the flour cleaner.

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about 1 year ago LE BEC FIN

i was hoping someone would mention this! and since you're only needing to dissolve a few T of salt, you could just boil 1/2-1 cup water to dissolve the salt. And then add very cold water for the rest.(What was he THINKing?!!!)

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over 1 year ago Aimless

Rather than ice bath to chill the brine, I suppose one could add half the water, bring to simmer as directed, then add the balance of the water in the form of ice...always looking for easy and simple.

Miglore

over 1 year ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Senior Editor of Food52

Yes, you could! Smart thinking.

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over 1 year ago suzsuz

I have made this recipe with one change. Rather than cook completely in the oil, I fry the chicken for about four to five minutes and finish it in a 350 degree oven for thirty minutes or until cooked through. By doing so I don't have to manage the oil temperature for as long.

Miglore

over 1 year ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Senior Editor of Food52

Great tip.

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about 1 year ago LE BEC FIN

suz, i am sooo happy to hear of that successful technique. I'm DOIN' it! p.s. do you or anyone know why he's using the bak powder? since the buttermilk is just a coating agent, i can't imagine it has to do with that. maybe it makes the flour stay crisp after frying?

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12 months ago Stacy H

Baking Powder makes the coating crispy. If you fry chicken with just all purpose flour, it will be hard but not really crispy/crunchy like it should be. You could also use self-rising flour, which already has the baking powder added (not as much as the recipe calls for though). It took me many bad batches of fried chicken and many hours of research on the internet to figure this out. The Ad Hoc fried chicken recipe (and many other fried chicken recipes) says AP flour, but I always add baking powder now that I figured out why it always tasted off and not as crispy as fast food fried chicken. Hope this saved you hours of research!

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12 months ago LE BEC FIN

stacy, your research will def be useful when I make other fried foods,so thank you very much. But I just was not impressed w/ the flavor of this chicken and won't be making it again.

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over 1 year ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

This really looks and sounds delicious, I am always looking a fried chicken recipe that produces a flavorful chicken with a crisp crust, Going to make this definitely.