Michael Ruhlman's Rosemary-Brined, Buttermilk Fried Chicken

October 10, 2012

Test Kitchen-Approved

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
Prep time: 24 hrs 20 min
Cook time: 30 min

Ingredients

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 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
  • 6 cups Neutral, high-heat oil for deep-frying (like canola)
In This Recipe

Directions

  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."

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Reviews (78) Questions (3)

78 Reviews

Ruthie Z. November 4, 2018
I keep a kosher kitchen. Could I possibly substitute the buttermilk with almond or coconut milk?
 
pjcamp November 4, 2018
I doubt it would be nearly as satisfying. Buttermilk is acidic and that changes the structure of the chicken and tenderizes it as well as adding a tang. You might try adding one tablespoon of either lemon juice or white vinegar to your plant milk. You can do that with regular milk to approximate buttermilk. You let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes to curdle. That's more or less what happens in buttermilk except with lactic acid from the bacteria. I'd be interested in knowing if it works.<br /><br />Why is buttermilk not kosher?
 
Nan G. October 12, 2018
This recipe is great, I've made it at least 4 times.<br />Once I used leftover tea in place of the plain water for the brine.<br />It was so good that, since then I always make tea, let it cool then use it instead of water in brines.<br />It adds a delicate fragrant edge to the chicken.<br />I've used Thai tea, Constant Comment and Earl Gray on various occasions.<br />
 
Carol July 25, 2018
I really like this recipe. The chicken is flavorful and wonderfully crispy. I've only made fried chicken once or twice before this time so I'm no expert but i did alright. Having a thermometer to monitor the oil temp was super helpful. I made a mountain of it for 4th of July, and the leftovers got snatched up by my guests. :)
 
bas26 May 12, 2018
This is the first time I've ever made fried chicken and it was delicious. The brine and the flavored dredging flour were well balanced and the salt was just right. I had 2 large chicken thighs so I scaled the ingredients down and had plenty of flour left over so next time I may use less. The chicken came out perfectly and I saved some for the next day. I reheated it in a 200 degree oven for about 30 minutes and it came out very crisp and not overdone. This recipe is a winner! I'm wondering how I didn't come across it until now.
 
sdschorr March 4, 2018
For fellow "make it ahead" fanatics, this recipe is great. For a 630 dinner, I put out my rinsed/dried chicken around 3 to come to room temp. Around 430 I began the process of dredging (I fried more chicken than this recipe calls for, but generally I recommend you make 1.5x the flour mixture as you lose some to the buttermilk clumping). I was ready to fry around 5, and finished by 530 (each batch took about 4/5 mins). I put the chicken in 350 oven (use a rack over a cookie sheet to keep it crisp) a bit before 6 and pulled it out 630ish. This gave me plenty of time to clean up and remove all evidence of frying. I served it w/Martha Stewart macaroni and cheese (make it earlier in the day), a Lee Brothers recipe for collard greens w/ smoked turkey leg rather than pork (make it 3 hours ahead) and a vinegar-y Cole slaw w/red and green cabbage, red onions and scallions (make ahead and dress 30-45 mins before serving, using seasoned rice wine vinegar/oo). Did I mention the chicken is one of the best fried I've ever had? Sweet potato pie is a nice finish!
 
Paul F. January 24, 2018
Can't wait to try this fried chicken recipe. Because it really look's very Good. And I would like to share it with my friend's. Thank you Food 52.com
 
MARK M. April 17, 2017
I place my chicken in a bag with olive oil and spices for a few hours, then I brine in buttermilk and egg, no salt, overnight. The next day let your chicken drain on a rack while you prepare your dredge. Use a sleeve of Ritz cracker in your dredge; it adds flavor and extra crispiness to your bird. I only dredge once; I find that the crust, while good, is simply too thick for me. Dredging once gives the crust a tempura like crispiness that makes you want to eat every single piece of chicken in the plate! At this time I heat my oil. I use a stock pot instead of a skillet; same amount or a bit more oil, but no splatter and it acts like a deep fryer. To me, waiting to heat the oil until now gives the single dredge the perfect allotment of time to bind to the chicken. Ten minutes in the oil and you are talking some SERIOUS genius; ENJOY :)
 
Dave T. February 9, 2017
Better to brine in a glass container than a plastic bag, especially with the lemon juice.
 
Gmarkb July 2, 2016
Will the chicken hold in a warm oven for 4 hours or is that too long?
 
pjcamp May 30, 2016
Why anyone would brine chicken in anything other than buttermilk baffles me. What I'd do is let the aromatics cool, then dump them and the salt and chicken into buttermilk and let it work overnight.
 
Prettybunny May 20, 2016
I have been using the Marcus Samuelsson recipe for yardbird--or at this point I guess my memory of it--but the genius recipes are always good, and I loved the straightforward flavors of this one. I did incorporate his idea of using some semolina flour, which can never hurt the texture. I substituted a third. Also somewhere in the comments there was a question about using coconut milk instead of buttermilk--he uses a combination and the chicken soaks in it overnight. I think with the baking soda and added semolina flour the texture would be fine. Good recipe. Relatively quick and easy and made it several hours ahead. Reheated beautifully. One guest took some home and reported it stayed crisp even after microwave reheating the following day.
 
Emily April 12, 2016
How long do I fry if I'm just making chicken tenders? Is 5 mins per side reasonable?
 
SarahBunny August 7, 2015
I made this recipe for Sunday Supper following the procedure precisely (I used a combination of drumsticks and breasts). Even though it was my first attempt at fried chicken -- heck, deep-fried ANYTHING -- it turned out beautifully. Several guests declared it the best fried chicken they'd ever eaten (and they hail from the South)! Genius recipe indeed.
 
Mary B. July 5, 2015
Thank you for all the helpful comments! I just made this today. I used a cut up chicken and the breasts were very big, so I made them into boneless chicken tenders for my kids. I did find the comment about the heat very good. 350 was too hot and the outside went very dark, but between 300-325 was the best point for me. I did use a fryer to keep a better eye on the oil temp. The leftover flour and buttermilk made an outstanding batter to make some fried pickles and fried olives.
 
gabby July 5, 2015
I made this today (brined last night) for a family BBQ. I used Bob's Red Mill gluten-free flour mix in place of AP. It was ridiculously good. I don't know what the regular crust is like in terms of delicate vs. hearty crunch, but this crust was hearty, crunchy, and delicious. (Two nephews have celiac, so I make subs when I can.)
 
Beth July 2, 2015
My chicken breasts are brining as I write this. I cut them in half because they're large. I can't wait to fry these on Saturday. <br />
 
Trena H. July 2, 2015
Beth - this is by far the best fried chicken I have every made, I'm sure you will love it. One tip is to watch the temperature of your oil. After my first batch I made the mistake of adding the chicken to the oil without checking the temperature. Enjoy!
 
Sam M. July 2, 2015
Beth, I've made this recipe and the Thomas Keller recipe (This recipe is based on it and it's very similar. He says it in his book.) at least 15 times in the last two years, and I've made every mistake possible and at the same time I've made perfect fried chicken many times. I'd say it's a good thing you cut them in half. I always do too now. And make sure you keep the oil around and over 300 as it will drop when you first put the chicken in. Constantly monitor the temp and adjust the flame accordingly. <br /><br />But timing is everything. Through trial and error, I've learned that exactly 7 min for white meat and 14 min for dark meat is perfect. It'll be juicy without over cooking. Now I've also learned to never use a chicken larger than 4 lb for this recipe. It throws off everything. <br /><br />If the oil is consistently around 300 when cooking, the batter will be a nice light brown. If you keep the oil closer to 350, it'll be a dark brown. So it's up to you which you want. And no, it doesn't effect the doneness of the chicken. The reasoning being, the surface of the chicken never gets above 212 degrees as it's the boiling temperature of water and so it doesn't effect the time you need to cook the chicken. The temp mainly effects the cooking of the crust. But if the oil temp drops below 270ish it'll start to effect your chicken since you're getting close to the boiling point of water. <br /><br />And make sure not to put more than four pieces of chicken in the pot if your using a standard 8qt pot that is filled 1/3 with oil. Too much chicken lowers the oil temperature too much and it may not recover quick enough unless you have a very good expensive stove.<br /><br />And putting it in a 200 deg oven (I know it's lower than the recipe) for 15 minutes or more really helps.
 
irishchef July 2, 2015
There is a major point that was left out here. If the chicken legs, thighs and breasts are big you won't be able to cook them all the way in the fryer because they will burn. They will have to be finished in the oven. A chicken less than 3 pounds is about all you can fry in thWatermelon Salad with Cotija, Jicama, and Lime<br /><br />Watermelon Salad with Cotija, Jicama, Lime Larger photo<br />South of the border spin on watermelon salad! With fresh watermelon, jicama, cilantro, and cotija cheese.<br />Individual chiles vary in their heat, so always taste before adding to a dish, and adjust amounts accordingly.<br />Prep time: 15 minutesYield: Serves 3 to 4<br />INGREDIENTS<br />1/4 cup chopped red onion<br />1/4 cup lime juice (2-3 limes, depending on how big and juicy the limes are)<br />4 cups watermelon, rind removed, seeded and cubed into 1-inch pieces<br />1/4 cup crumbled cotija cheese<br />1/2 to 1 cup chopped peeled jicama<br />1/2 serrano chili pepper (or a quarter jalapeño), stem removed, seeded, minced<br />1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped<br />Pinch of cumin, to taste<br />METHOD<br />1 Soak the chopped red onion in the lime juice while you are prepping the other ingredients, about 10 minutes.<br />2 Gently combine all ingredients into a large serving bowl.<br />Serve immediately. Salad will get soggy if kept overnight<br />Large chicken legs thighs and breasts will not cook all the way in 350 degree oil. They will have to be finished in the oven. A chicken less than 3 pounds is about the most you can use. And 3 pounds is stretching it. A little cornstarch mixed in the flour makes for crisper chicken also.
 
irishchef July 2, 2015
I don't know how that watermelon salad got on there. Sorry!
 
Idalu November 19, 2016
😂😂😂 I was wondering the same.
 
PASHUN P. June 14, 2015
Everything looks Delicious! Can't wait to try some of these recipes.
 
Susan May 24, 2015
I made a chicken finger variation on these last night - used the same marinade recipe on strips of chicken breast meat, used the same flour mixture for dredging (plus some garlic powder as others have mentioned), then same buttermilk coat, but then dredged in panko and fried as directed and they were pretty amazing - nice adult twist on something my kids would also eat. And faster than bone in chicken.
 
mcs3000 July 6, 2014
Yes, pls!