Friday, August 29, 2014

The Fried Chicken Battle of 2014: Momofuku vs. Bon Appétit

Last year, the husbun and I started compiling a list of restaurants that served the best fried chicken in the DMV. Bonus points were given if it was served with a waffle. It is a culinary weakness of his that needs to be satiated from time to time. In the number one slot stood "Eat Bar," an American gastropub located in Arlington, VA. He was so impressed with their rendition that he ordered it twice in one sitting. 

Then one day, much to his horror, they stopped serving fried chicken and waffles. The waitress said it had to do with the waffle iron. I could hear the depressing movie music playing in Mike's head as he stared blankly at the menu, the wind stolen from his fried-chicken-eating sails. 

This would not do. This would not do at all.

We took matters into our own hands and started looking over recipes. For years, I have had my eye on Momofuku's version. It was like no other fried chicken that I had ever read! For starters, there's no breading on the bird- does that even count as fried chicken? It is steamed first, then fried, and served with a side of vinaigrette. I kept pushing away the idea because we don't own a frier. This was the ammunition that I needed to suck it up and fry up some bird!

Just as I was about to put the grocery list together, a new Bon Appétit magazine came in the mail and lo, what was on the front cover? A tantalizing picture of fried chicken covered in spices and red with desire. Well, that's the hot sauce slathered on top but we'll get to that later.

It appeared that we were at a cross road: fancy fried chicken from Momofuku or traditional American from Bon Appétit? We decided that we'd push the burden onto our friends. It was time for a Fried Chicken Battle to see "whose cuisine reigns supreme." 

Making two different kinds of fried chicken for one sitting turned out to be not as traumatic as we anticipated. Mike and I thoroughly read the recipes over and it was clear that the key to success was timing.

Momofuku's chicken needs to brine for 1 to no more than 6 hours. It is then steamed for 40 minutes and needs to cool down completely, preferably over night.  Plus, before you can fry, the chicken needs to rest outside of the fridge for another 30 minutes to get back to room temperature. By doing the brine and steaming the day before, you will save yourself a significant chunk of time on game day. I also highly recommend making the Octo Vinagrette the day before because chopping the garlic and ginger can be time consuming.

While all that noise was going on, we found that Bon Appétit's "Nashville-Style Hot Chicken" is more straightforward. This chicken needs rest in salt and pepper for at least 3 hours before being fried. So, while the Momofuku chicken cooled over night in the fridge, we let the Nashville bird marinate alongside it. We prepped the flour and dipping batter so it would be ready to go at a moment's notice.

With the foundation laid the night before, all we had to do was heat the oil and dip. For a clean taste, we used grapeseed and peanut oil. I couldn't tell the difference between these two in terms of their effect on the bird. My brother generously loaned us his fryer to ensure there was no cross contamination in flavor; the other was cooked in a good ol' fashioned pot and thermometer.

The end results were both outstanding. These recipes couldn't be more different in terms of texture and flavor. Momfuku's vinaigrette made my taste buds rejoice while the hot crispy crust of Bon Appétit's made angels sing.

We put it to the vote and the winner was.... (insert drum roll)

Bon Appétit's Nashville-Style Hot Chicken

This is a crowd of fire eaters; everybody at the table loves spicy food and the Nashville-Style had the right amount of heat to be flavorful but not overpowering.  Serve with pickles and toasted white bread for an American classic. Personally, however, I voted for Momofuku because man oh man, that vinaigrette!

So grab some friends, an old fold out table, a cheap table cloth, and put these recipes to the test. They're easy to make and completely worth the time and effort.

Special thanks to my all-star sous-chef and husbun for holding it down as always. There was a moment where I got crazy eyes but he kept things in perspective.  

Momofuku's Fried Chicken recipe can be found in their self-titled cook book, Momofuku, as well as online. Bon Appétit's Nashville-Style Hot Chicken can be found in their June 2014 edition as well as on their site.