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Ad Hoc at Home Hardcover – November 6, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2009: You don't often see the name Thomas Keller mixed with words like "accessible" or "home cook," but with Ad Hoc at Home, the award-winning chef presents a collection of recipes destined for the center of the table at casual family gatherings. Don't throw away your whole notion of "quick and easy," though, as this is still a casual cookbook filtered through the genius mind of the man behind The French Laundry Cookbook, but the sense of whimsy and the pure joy of Keller doing his version of comfort food proves irresistible. The inspiration for his restaurant Ad Hoc was the simple family meals created and served by the staff at his restaurants. As he says in the introduction, "here is food meant to be served from big bowls and platters passed hand to hand at the table." And with dishes like Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, who's going to argue with that? --Brad Thomas Parsons

From Ad Hoc at Home: Buttermilk Fried Chicken

If there's a better fried chicken, I haven't tasted it. First, and critically, the chicken is brined for 12 hours in a herb-lemon brine, which seasons the meat and helps it stay juicy. The flour is seasoned with garlic and onion powders, paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper. The chicken is dredged in the seasoned flour, dipped in buttermilk, and then dredged again in the flour. The crust becomes almost feathered and is very crisp. Fried chicken is a great American tradition that’s fallen out of favor. A taste of this, and you will want it back in your weekly routine. --Thomas Keller

(Serves 4-6)

  • Two 2 1/2- to 3-pound chickens (see Note on Chicken Size)
  • Chicken Brine (recipe follows), cold

  • For Dredging and Frying
  • Peanut or canola oil for deep-frying
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Coating
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Ground fleur de sel or fine sea salt
  • Rosemary and thyme sprigs for garnish


Cut each chicken into 10 pieces: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 4 breast quarters, and 2 wings. Pour the brine into a container large enough to hold the chicken pieces, add in the chicken, and refrigerate for 12 hours (no longer, or the chicken may become too salty).

Remove the chicken from the brine (discard the brine) and rinse under cold water, removing any herbs or spices sticking to the skin. Pat dry with paper towels, or let air-dry. Let rest at room temperature for 1-1/2 hours, or until it comes to room temperature.

If you have two large pots (about 6 inches deep) and a lot of oil, you can cook the dark and white meat at the same time; if not, cook the dark meat first, then turn up the heat and cook the white meat. No matter what size pot you have, the oil should not come more than one-third of the way up the sides of the pot. Fill the pot with at least 2 inches of peanut oil and heat to 320°F. Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper.

Meanwhile, combine all the coating ingredients in a large bowl. Transfer half the coating to a second large bowl. Pour the buttermilk into a third bowl and season with salt and pepper. Set up a dipping station: the chicken pieces, one bowl of coating, the bowl of buttermilk, the second bowl of coating, and the parchment-lined baking sheet.

Just before frying, dip the chicken thighs into the first bowl of coating, turning to coat and patting off the excess; dip them into the buttermilk, allowing the excess to run back into the bowl; then dip them into the second bowl of coating. Transfer to the parchment-lined pan.

Carefully lower the thighs into the hot oil. Adjust the heat as necessary to return the oil to the proper temperature. Fry for 2 minutes, then carefully move the chicken pieces around in the oil and continue to fry, monitoring the oil temperature and turning the pieces as necessary for even cooking, for 11 to 12 minutes, until the chicken is a deep golden brown, cooked through, and very crisp. Meanwhile, coat the chicken drumsticks and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet.

Transfer the cooked thighs to the cooling rack skin-side-up and let rest while you fry the remaining chicken. (Putting the pieces skin-side-up will allow excess fat to drain, whereas leaving them skin-side-down could trap some of the fat.) Make sure that the oil is at the correct temperature, and cook the chicken drumsticks. When the drumsticks are done, lean them meat-side-up against the thighs to drain, then sprinkle the chicken with fine sea salt.

Turn up the heat and heat the oil to 340°F. Meanwhile, coat the chicken breasts and wings. Carefully lower the chicken breasts into the hot oil and fry for 7 minutes, or until golden brown, cooked through, and crisp. Transfer to the rack, sprinkle with salt, and turn skin side up. Cook the wings for 6 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer the wings to the rack and turn off the heat. Arrange the chicken on a serving platter. Add the herb sprigs to the oil (which will still be hot) and let them cook and crisp for a few seconds, then arrange them over the chicken.

Note on Chicken Size: You may need to go to a farmers' market to get these small chickens. Grocery store chickens often run 3 to 4 pounds. They can, of course, be used in this recipe but if chickens in the 2-1/2- to 3-pound range are available to you, they're worth seeking out. They’re a little easier to cook properly at the temperatures we recommend here and, most important, pieces this size result in the optimal meat-to-crust proportion, which is such an important part of the pleasure of fried chicken.

Note: We let the chicken rest for 7 to 10 minutes after it comes out of the fryer so that it has a chance to cool down. If the chicken has rested for longer than 10 minutes, put the tray of chicken in a 400°F oven for a minute or two to ensure that the crust is crisp and the chicken is hot.

Chicken Brine
Makes 2 gallons
  • 5 lemons, halved
  • 24 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch (4 ounces) flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 bunch (1 ounce) thyme
  • 1/2 cup clover honey
  • 1 head garlic, halved through the equator
  • 3/4 cup black peppercorns
  • 2 cups (10 ounces) kosher salt, preferably Diamond Crystal
  • 2 gallons water

The key ingredient here is the lemon, which goes wonderfully with chicken, as do the herbs: bay leaf, parsley, and thyme. This amount of brine will be enough for 10 pounds.

Combine all the ingredients in a large pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and cool completely, then chill before using. The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Keller, one of America's most acclaimed chefs (The French Laundry; Bouchon), shifts his focus from fine dining to family-style meals for the home cook in this accessible and dazzlingly beautiful book based on the fare served at his Ad Hoc restaurant, in Napa, Calif. He does not disappoint, providing a thorough primer on the foundations of cooking, offering clear and easy-to-follow instructions on techniques such as butchering and trussing chickens and tying a pork loin. He also includes a section on becoming a better cook, which helps fine-tune the cook and instructs on using salt properly, learning to make one really good soup and getting organized. Throughout are helpful sidebars that clarify potentially murky subjects, including brining fish and meat, salad basics and using fats. Dishes such as braised beef short ribs, buttermilk fried chicken, and fig-stuffed roast pork loin highlight a vast array of offerings that range from crab cakes to shortbread cookies. This collection is what legions of Keller fans have been waiting for, a book that allows them to replicate the merest glimmer of his culinary genius in their own homes. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Artisan; First Edition edition (November 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1579653774
  • ISBN-13: 978-1579653774
  • Product Dimensions: 11.3 x 1.3 x 11.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (243 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,989 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Thomas Keller, author of The French Laundry Cookbook, Bouchon, Under Pressure, and Ad Hoc at Home has been honored with innumerable awards, from an honorary doctorate to outstanding restaurateur to chef of the year (for successive years). His two Michelin Guide three-star-rated restaurants, French Laundry and Per Se, continue to vie for best restaurant in America and for ranking among the top five eateries in the world. Ad Hoc, his casual family-style restaurant, opened in 2006.

Customer Reviews

The recipes are clear and easy to follow.
Mary Ellen Bowen
I've read through much of the book already scanning and reading most of the recipes.
Erik Petersen
The beautiful pictures make it almost a coffee table book!
Candi S

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

422 of 429 people found the following review helpful By Ryan Mitchell on October 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although I've only had Thomas Keller's ad hoc for a short time, I ready love it and have found many things that make it a must-buy if you're a lover of food or books about food. Keller's quote on the back of the book really sums up the theme of this book: "...a big collection of family meals and everyday staples, delicious approachable food, recipes that are doable at home. No immersion circulator required. No complicated garnishes. I promise!"

Keller delivers on this promise in ad hoc. The book assumes far less prerequisite knowledge than his other books, The French Laundry, Bouchon, and Under Pressure. In fact, the first section of the book is called "Becoming a better chef," and Keller outlines the techniques, ingredients, and tools that can help anyone become a better home cook.

I own all 3 of Keller's other books, and regularly cook from them. This is, by far, the most accessible book for the casual home cook. The recipes in here can easily be made as weeknight meals--most don't require any excessive time demands or preparation. Many of the recipes are dishes you're probably familiar with: chicken pot pie, fried chicken, braised short ribs, beef stroganoff, apple fritters, chocolate brownies, etc. But, this being a Thomas Keller book, many of these classic dishes are refined and made more elegant. For example, his beef stroganoff uses fresh cremini mushrooms, creme fraiche, braised short ribs, and pappardelle pasta. All of the recipes I've made have turned out perfectly so far, which has been the case with his previous books.

Consistent with his previous books, the look of ad hoc is beautiful. It's also a nice change to see Keller's fun side featured, and he's displayed in a number of whimsical photographs throughout the book, warning you: "shh...
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325 of 334 people found the following review helpful By C. Fletcher on October 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As Ruth Reichl recently said on Fresh Air, if it's four o'clock at work, and you're trying to decide what to have for dinner, you've already half-lost the battle. You can't start out from that position with most of the recipes in this book. What I'm trying to say is that these recipes take something most cookbooks and even television shows that are about food avoid: time and advanced planning. Most of the recipes contain sub-recipes. Most of the chicken and pork dishes require brining, and many dishes require some type of stock. However, most of the time consuming processes in the book don't require much active time, but they do require planning. I'm not putting this up as a negative. In fact, so many wonderful things about cooking simply require time. My first Thomas Keller cookbook was Bouchon, and some of the more time-consuming components used there (soffritto, tomato confit (in Ad Hoc oven roasted tomatoes), garlic confit, duck confit, preserved lemons, peeled shelled fava beans before blanching) make an appearance in this cookbook as well. The first reaction I had to cooking things for more than four hours, which some of these require in total time, was incredulity. Seriously? MORE than four hours? Having eaten at TK's restaurants I put my trust in him, and I learned how wonderful things happen when food is given time.

If you've been cooking for many years some of the tips you may have known: put a towel under your cutting board, you only really need four knives, some salts weigh differently; however, others will most likely be new if you haven't cooked out of TK's other cookbooks. Thinking back on the difficulties I had when I first started cooking, how I wish all of these things had been spelled out to me as clearly and as simply as they are in this book.
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167 of 183 people found the following review helpful By Neel Gandhi on October 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is humbling. That's the best way I can put it. I adore the premise of the book. A celebrated chef sharing home cooked recipes that inspired him to create his world class restaurant in Yountville.

Lets take the famous fried chicken recipe. It doesn't start with a simple set of ingredients and steps on how to do it. It first will train you on how to use the basic tools in your repertoire. Then it will take you through the process of choosing the right ingredients and how to manage them (think spice dating). Then comes the crucial part of choosing the right bird. Then cutting the bird so it will walk you through the various ways of cutting the chicken and how it will impact various meals you will prepare on your own and through this book.

The best thing about this book is that it will teach you to be a better chef with the recipes you are already familiar with and cooking on a daily basis as well as introduce you to a wealth of recipes that will truly expand your horizons. Truly a masterpiece.
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171 of 201 people found the following review helpful By Otis Maxwell VINE VOICE on February 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I've worked in restaurants and understand the concept of preparing a "staff meal" in which great ingredients plus last night's leftovers are used imaginatively to make a meal for the employees. Keller explains at one point that is the inspiration for Ad Hoc and for this cookbook, and therein lies the problem.

If you have never baked or fried a chicken or brined a cut of pork, you'll find directions here. But you can find equally good and less fussy recipes in the Joy of Cooking or another more encyclopedic/basic source. Some of what's here is solid home-cooking advice, but other dishes are astonishingly high in fats. If I'm going to clog my arteries I'd rather find a more creative way to do it.

Also, hidden in the recipes are a number of specialty ingredients that make it difficult to reproduce Keller's methods without a lot of advance mail-order shopping. And while some dishes can be made "ad hoc" or on the spur of the moment, others depend on advance preparation of enhancements such as pickled vegetables or spice mixes. Actually I love Keller's pickling section and that, plus the pictures, comes close to justifying the purchase of the book. But understand what you are getting, and not.
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