Editors' Picks

Michael Ruhlman's Rosemary-Brined, Buttermilk Fried Chicken

October 10, 2012

Every week -- often with your help -- FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Fried chicken you just can't mess up.

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More often than not, if you are like me, you probably want fried chicken for dinner.

But fried chicken seems like trouble, doesn't it? You'd sooner wait for a road trip to Mississippi than get frying yourself. And what if -- once you commit to frying your own -- its crust is soggy, its meat forgettable?

Well, just stop it. Here, thanks to Michael Ruhlman, is a fried chicken that will not fail you, that is speedy enough to fit into your busy, tired, chicken-deprived lifestyle, and that is more than worth what little trouble it asks of you. 

ruhlman's twenty  michael ruhlman

Ruhlman learned many (but not all) of his best fried chicken tricks while working on Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home -- and streamlined them, as is his way, in his own book Ruhlman's Twenty. Food52er vivanat tipped me off to the ease and the payoff of this recipe, and now I'm a convert. You will be too.

For starters, he uses just the thighs, legs and wings (to many, the good parts). Breaking down whole chickens has virtues, but you don't need to do that here. 

He brines the chicken, which is key to keeping meat flavorful and moist, and he does it well. Shauna Ahern, of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, once told me, "His ratios are perfect. Whenever [my husband] Danny made a brine, he called me from the restaurant to read him Ruhlman's."

pot  slicing onions

Not just perfect, but shockingly quick to throw together. I tend to get all zen and methodical in the kitchen, and dramatically underestimate how long it will take me to get from point A to point B. Many Genius Recipe testing sessions end at 1am. My sous chefs hate me. And still, despite myself, it took me 15 minutes to go from chicken in grocery bag to chicken brining in the fridge.  

How does this brine get so flavorful, so quickly?

brine onions

Namely, how do four cloves of garlic and a whole sliced onion go into a pot with one teaspoon of oil over medium-high heat, and quickly sweat into a soft puddle, without browning (or burning)? I didn't think it could be right, but I followed Ruhlman's directions, to the letter. 

I was forgetting about all that salt (it is a brine, after all). It instantly goes to work on the onions, drawing out their moisture, which pools in the bottom of the pot and helps it all swiftly cook down in its own juices. Then you toss in rosemary branches and finish it off with water and lemon. Boil, ice bath, throw your chicken in it. Wonder why it's not 1am.

brine  brine

The recipe calls for brining overnight, but I've also done it for much less time, and it's still good. Once, when pulling this chicken out of its briny bath, my brother pointed out that this was the most delicious-smelling raw chicken he'd ever encountered. It's frankly a little jarring -- for good reason, raw poultry doesn't smell irresistible. You'll just have to control yourself.

Brining behind you, tempting raw chicken messing with your mind, it's time for dredging and frying. This crust is one of those stand-on-its-own, thick, shaggy, crunchy affairs. Ruhlman credits the Ad Hoc kitchen with showing him the ideal seasoned flour-buttermilk-seasoned flour coating, but he trims down the ingredient list, focusing on what's important: lots of pepper, paprika, and cayenne -- and baking powder, for extra lift and crispiness. 

It's the kind of crust that you'd normally want to steal off other people's drumsticks and leave them the meat lingering on the bone. But remember that brine! As intoxicating as it smelled before cooking, it smells -- and tastes -- even more richly of rosemary and lemon, the salt having pulled it deep into the flesh.

frying chicken

The meat is so juicy, the crust so proudly crusty, you can fry it ahead and re-crisp in the oven when company arrives, which will give you plenty of time to wipe down the stove, shower, and pour yourself an early glass of wine. (Have you ever tried to deep-fry chicken while guests are standing around getting drunk? They ask an awful lot of questions.)

Best keep them away till the big reveal -- and what a reveal it will be.

Michael Ruhlman's Rosemary-Brined, Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Adapted very slightly from Ruhlman's Twenty (Chronicle Books, 2011)

Serves 6 to 8


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)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by Karen Mordechai


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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Terri
  • Mindy Stone
    Mindy Stone
  • Carol Higgins
    Carol Higgins
  • mamajo
  • Teri Mo
    Teri Mo
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Terri May 25, 2018
I prefer skinless chicken with the bone. Will this recipe still work without the skin?
Kristen M. May 25, 2018
Technically it should, but the outermost layer of meat will be less protected from overcooking, so it might end up dry.
Mindy S. August 17, 2016
OH..almost forgot...I used homemade gluten free flour mix I make. Couldn't tell the difference. Worked like a charm.
Mindy S. August 17, 2016
AMAZING fried chicken! Only problem is the temp 350 turned my first 3 items almost black. Turned down eat to 300 and that made the chicken look a whole lot better. I used a digital thermometer to gauge internal temp since my pieces were rather large. 165 is the temp for doneness. Drying out the chicken all day using paper towels helped make this chicken so crisp! The brine could be tasted in the meat...rosemary! I used fresh lard for frying in. This made such a difference in not having that sluggish over-full feeling that fried food can produce.Everyone LOVED my darkly fried but so tasty chicken! thanks a million!
Carol H. January 26, 2014
What I don't understand is, doesn't brining add a lot of salt to the chicken? And isn't it healthier to oven bake than to fry in oil? My favorite chicken part method is to dip pieces in beaten egg and dredge in whole wheat flour, then dip in buttermilk or ranch dressing and dredge in crushed corn flakes or bbq potato chips and bake in the oven. Mmmmmmmm, goooood.
mamajo January 26, 2014
I tried the brine only and roasted the chicken. Fabulous! My husband normally does not like roasted chicken. Since then, I have used this brine recipe on beef and pork, too. Since each type of meat has it own distinct flavor, it is GREAT! This Christmas, we even tried it for our Black Angus sirloin tip roast. Everyone loved it with fingerling roasted potato alongside in the pan juices. YUM!
Teri M. April 27, 2013
I have the best luck when I follow my family's original recipe technique. As the Crisco is melting and heating up, pat the chicken, dredge it in the flour mix, then let is sit for about 20 minutes. Dredge it again in the flour mix. Shake off any excess flour, and put it right in the oil. The moisture that comes out of the chicken naturally is all you need to bind the flour to the bird.
LeBec F. April 1, 2013
This just did nothing for me. Leftovers are languishing in the frig. Yes it is moist and yes it is thick crispy crust. But I am not a plain food girl and I want FLAVOR. More than just chicken flavor. I'm sticking with my fantastic soy sauce/lemon juice/sliced ginger/salt marinade, and i'll try the ruhlman crust on it.
p.s. rosemary- the most overdone herb in the pantry.Bah, Humbug!
Randi October 21, 2012
I would love to make this, but am newly required to eat gluten-free. Would rice flour be the best substitute for the AP flour? I am quite new to gf cooking and unsure of good substitutions.
Kristen M. October 22, 2012
Hi Randi -- I'll re-post my answer from the recipe page here so others can see it (and weigh in too!):

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.com/blog/2011/02/gluten-free-fried-chicken.html

You might also want to try asking the Food52 Hotline: http://food52.com/hotline
vivanat November 15, 2012
Hi Randi, I am gluten free as well. My flour blend is usually some variation of the one mentioned here: http://glutenfreegirl.com/gluten-free-holiday-baking-2010/
When I made this recipe for my friends, they were shocked to hear that they were eating gluten free fried chicken. I haven't tried 100% rice flour yet but my guess is that you'd be fine!
I_Fortuna January 28, 2014
Hi Randi _ hope you get this. I just read today a recipe a woman uses for crusting chicken. It is crushed up fried pork rinds. She is on low carb but this is also gluten free. Season it with the spices recommended here and also use the buttermilk I think. I also believe that almond meal or almond flour would be great subs for wheat flour. I often put it in my breads to boost nutrition. Did you know that 1 in about 150 people are wheat sensitive? I often use wheat flour no knead recipes with a 14 to 16 hour proofing (fermentation). This breaks down the gluten to make it more digestible and allow the body to absorb the minerals and vitamins gluten foods usually block. Anyway, I hope you try the pork skins (chicharrons) to crust your chicken. : )
Mindy S. August 17, 2016
fyi...I made this using a homemade gluten free flour mix I found online to make. COULDN'T TELL THE DIFFERENCE. :)
RoseOnNet October 15, 2012
Once cooked and refriged, what temperature should you reheat the next day and for how long?
Kristen M. October 17, 2012
Ruhlman reheats and recrisps at 250F -- I'd stick them in the oven (uncovered) 1-2 hours before you want to serve, since it will only make the meat more tender and the crust more crisp.
AusTex October 15, 2012
Soaking the chicken in buttermilk with salt and spices added overnight (I do it for 24 hours) has yielded better results for me. The salt does its thing but the lactic acid in the buttermilk (I believe) helps the meat texture and flavor as well. If you want to cut down on the fat, brown your chicken in the pan and finish in the oven.
HersheyLola October 22, 2012
So, you don't brine; simply soak in buttermilk and spices? Also, how long and what temp did you bake chx in oven? Thanks.
AusTex October 23, 2012
I take the buttermilk add salt, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, mix it up put the chicken in, 24 hours is best but 8 hours can do it. After browning in oil 1/2 inch depth I finish off in the oven at 400 degrees until done which depends but for me is about 12 minutes or thereabouts. The first time I used a thermometer to check and thereafter I stay around that time.
Sally A. October 14, 2012
You do NOT have to go through all that for really good (Southern) fried chicken...Soak the pieces to be fried in salted water to pull out the blood.
Eggs and buttermilk stirred..then dredge in a mix of flour, salt, pepper, paprika and a bit of rosemary....The real trick is to have your oil super hot and put in each piece, when lightly brown turn down the heat,when it reaches that dark rich golden brown take out of the oil..place on a brown paper bag with a paper towel on it (the best way to absorb the oil) let cool a bit serve..That is the real deal.
Gmarkb October 14, 2012
I served this chicken last dinner for a dinner party along with a big pile of buttery mashed potatoes and a shredded Brussels sprout salad. Big hit, the chicken was moist very flavorful with just a hint of the rosemary from the brine. Per the recipe, I fried the chicken before guests arrived, and held the chicken in a 250 oven for almost two hours before serving. That helped the chicken get extra tender, drained some excess oil and crisped up the skin. Great recipe.
Booba J. October 11, 2012
This looks mouthwatering. But I must admit I tend to still prefer the breast. Any tips on adjusting for white meat? More cooking time....etc?

Kristen M. October 12, 2012
Check out thirschfeld's tip for the breast below -- very cool idea. Otherwise, I like to just cut them in half but keep them on the bone so they're not too awkward and get more crust. They'll actually take less time than the dark meat that way, so just watch them and check the internal temperature if you can -- aiming for 165F. If you can't, do the old slice-into-one-and-peek.
lastnightsdinner October 10, 2012
Ha! Fried chicken on the brain must be going around these days - this is going On The List!
EmilyC October 10, 2012
The brine recipe + dredging method = double genius! I fully intend to try the fried chicken, but in the meantime, I'm stealing the brine for grilled chicken and pork. I've always thrown raw onions and garlic into my brine, but this technique makes so much more sense.
Kristen M. October 10, 2012
I felt like I was watching a magic show the first time I cooked down those onions. I wish I could dump 3 tablespoons of salt on everything I'm sauteing, but that's probably a bad idea.
Gmarkb October 10, 2012
Do I understand correctly that the finished pieces will hold in a 250 degree oven for up to two hours before serving?
Kristen M. October 10, 2012
Hi there -- we just discussed on the Hotline, but I'll post the answer here too so others can see it!

Ruhlman says you can either hold in a low oven for a couple hours or cool, then re-crisp them: "If holding for more than two hours, would cool and fridge uncovered then reheat and recrisp. Fab the next day as well."
gluttonforlife October 10, 2012
Sounds amazing but I'm not sure anything can tempt me away from Edna Lewis' country-ham-infused-lard-fried chicken...
Kristen M. October 10, 2012
This just went on my bucket list.
thirschfeld October 10, 2012
I assure you while I love the brined and fried this is amazing and when I come across good lard it is a go to recipe. I often fry rabbit and when I do I always use peanut oil with a slice of pancetta that I let render into it.
Kitchen B. October 10, 2012
Yes, yes, yes. I'm ready for the weekend......with some HFC - home fried Chicken
Kristen M. October 10, 2012
thirschfeld October 10, 2012
It is a great recipe and it is genius. There is a restaurant here that is known for its fried chicken. They have been serving it for god only knows how long, 40 years maybe, and they cut double lobed breast crosswise instead of along the cartilage. They cut it into 3 or 4 strips and, usually I don't like the breasts fried either, they stay moist and cook at about the same rate as the rest of the chicken. I have also found if you want a crispier crust try cup4cup flour, the cornstarch adds a nice crunch.
Kristen M. October 10, 2012
Such genius tips. I secretly like white meat too, so this is great news.