1 (3- to 3 1/2-pound) chicken
6 quarts cold water
1 1/2 cups kosher salt
4 cups buttermilk
3 cups bleached cake flour
1 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Colman’s dry mustard
1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 to 10 cups frying oil (canola, peanut, or vegetable oil)
1 cup canola or peanut oil
2 cups bleached cake flour
2 cups diced onions
2 cups diced celery
2 cups diced green bell peppers
2 cups thinly sliced okra
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons gumbo filé
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 (28-ounce) can peeled whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 quarts chicken stock (store-bought is fine), heated
1 pound smoked sausage, such as andouille or kielbasa (optional), cut into 1/4-inch-thick pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup long-grain rice (Steven likes to use Carolina Gold)
2 cups water or chicken stock (store-bought is fine)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Thinly sliced green onions for garnish
- Prepare the chicken for frying: Remove the breast and dark meat from the bone (or ask your butcher to do this for you). (The wings are left on the bone and fried with the rest of the chicken as a chef’s snack.) In a large container with a lid, combine the water and kosher salt and whisk until the salt is dissolved. Carefully add the chicken pieces to the brine, cover, and refrigerate 8 to 12 hours (no longer than 12). Remove the chicken from the brine.
- Rinse the container you used and pour in the buttermilk. Add the chicken, turning to coat the pieces. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours (no longer than 12).
- Make the gumbo (you can prepare the gumbo the day before and refrigerate; reheat before frying the chicken): Make sure you have everything chopped and sliced before you start. Combine the oil and flour in a deep 15-inch cast iron skillet over high heat and cook until the roux until it is the color of caramel or milk chocolate. Whisk or stir it constantly (this is always important to do when making a roux, but particularly so here, with it being cooked over high heat); Steven switches between a whisk and spatula because a whisk can’t reach the edge of the pan and a spatula can–the goal is to agitate all the parts of the roux and to keep it moving. When the color is right, remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the onions, celery, bell peppers, okra, and a few tablespoons of kosher salt. Return the skillet to medium-high heat and cook 3 to 5 minutes, whisking constantly. Add the garlic, gumbo filé, cayenne, black pepper, thyme, and bay leaves, and cook 2 more minutes, whisking all the while. Stir in the tomatoes and stock and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the sausage if using during the last 10 minutes of cooking. Taste for seasoning.
- Make the rice: Melt the butter in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until it turns opaque. Add the water and kosher salt and stir to combine. When the liquid begins to simmer, turn the heat down to its lowest setting and cover. Check after 15 minutes for doneness. Fluff with a fork, then allow to cool.
- Fry the chicken: Combine the flour, cornstarch, sea salt, black pepper, mustard, paprika, and cayenne and whisk until combined. When ready to fry, heat 2 inches of oil in a 15-inch cast iron skillet over high heat to 325°, checking the temperature with an oil thermometer. As you are frying, adjust the heat under the skillet to keep it at a steady 325°.
- Squeeze off as much buttermilk as you can from the chicken pieces (but don’t pat them dry; they need to be slightly wet going into the flour), then dredge them in the flour mixture. Without crowding the skillet, slowly lower each piece into the hot oil. Fry off the pieces until they are golden brown on all sides and cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes, depending on their size; the dark meat might take a little longer than the white. Drain on a wire rack or paper towels. Serve the chicken within two hours of frying.
- For each serving, place a mound of rice in a deep bowl using an ice cream scoop to form a round mold. Ladle the hot gumbo over the rice, then slice the boneless fried chicken pieces and place on top. Garnish with green onions. Serve the wings on the side as an extra snack or eat them while you are simmering your gumbo.
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This dish is a marriage between two iconic Southern flavors, living in permanent honeymoon mode together. “I’ve seen some versions where the chicken is fried ahead of time and then pulled from the bones and stirred into the gumbo, crispy skin and all, which is delicious but causes the skin to get soggy in the broth,” say Steven Satterfield, chef and co-owner of Miller Union in Atlanta. This version preserves the crunch of the fried chicken by using boneless, skin-on chicken and adding it at the last minute, cut into bite-size pieces and set atop the gumbo. If you buy a whole chicken, you can roast the bones and make your own chicken stock for the gumbo. “I served this dish at the Music To Your Mouth Festival in Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina and it was the talk of the town that day,” says Steven. Serve it with a tall glass of iced tea or a cold beer. Note that because of the brining process, you need to start this a day ahead of when you plan to serve it.