March has arrived, and with it the season of Lent. Gone are the mad days of imbibing known as Mardi Gras. Instead, we suddenly find a large number of humans are eating (and drinking) less. But as with all seasons, it will come to an end and those tired of endless nights spent eating fish and drinking water will enjoy the heady days of wine and fried foods once again.
In anticipation of this, one of our wait-staff has been working long hours to perfect the household fried chicken recipe, all in anticipation of the annual fried chicken cook-off. It’s not an official event exactly. More a large and growing gathering of friends who all claim to have the secret to the perfect fried chicken.
There are certain qualities that all perfect fried chicken must share: meat that is juicy but not overly greasy and a crispy skin that is neither too thin ( and therefore allows the meat to become dried during the frying) or too thick (and creates a wet, doughy mess that only a dog would love).
Beyond that, fried chicken recipes can be as simply flavored as a little salt and pepper to far more complicated or exotic flavors. We know a certain chef who uses saffron in the mix, which is lovely and tasty and probably more than most people want to spend on their fried chicken. The beauty of chicken is that it lends itself so well to just about any type of herb or spice you prefer.
Of course, the next question is what wine to pair with that fried chicken. This would seem like a straightforward question and answer. After all, wine and chicken is a classic combination. Most people go with the ingredient matching technique – if your ingredients lean towards Italian, for example, go with an Italian wine, preferably white. But frying adds another piece to the puzzle. Done right, it seals in juices (and grease). To help counter that heavy feel, you need something with a little acidity, something with a little punch. Think lemons and citrus and bright, perky flavors.
The obvious choice here is a chardonnay. Most chards are strong enough to stand up to the grease without smothering the flavor. Unoaked chardonnays work particularly well here as do lightly oaked chards. Try to avoid anything that’s heavily oaked – it tends to increase that heavy feel of the grease and often conceals the flavor in the crispy crust.
Another strong contender here is a good vouvray, especially if your chicken tends toward the spicy side. Vouvrays are sweeter wines rather than citrusy, but the texture and flavor of fried chicken can serve as the perfect counterbalance. Imagine your favorite fruit given a bit of spicy oomph. And don’t be afraid to pass the hot sauce!
Alas, fruitiness does not, as we’ve learned, guarantee a good pairing with fried chicken. Riesling rarely blends well with the fryer, and can often overpower even the spiciest mixes. Your best bet is a Kabinett-style Riesling, which has a more fruit-forward style than the traditional dry Rieslings.
Wines that tend towards the mineral end, like sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio are also a tough sell here. There’s just not enough fruit to really match the juicy, meaty crispness of a perfect chicken leg.
Strangely, champagne and other carbonated wines also fair well in this challenge. Champagne (and other sparkling wine) has that hard-to-find balance of fruity sweetness and acidity that good fried chicken calls for. Just make sure you don’t grab a bottle that’s too dry or your chicken will never speak to you again.