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Ad Hoc at Home (The Thomas Keller Library) Hardcover – November 6, 2009
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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
- Two 2 1/2- to 3-pound chickens (see Note on Chicken Size)
- Chicken Brine (recipe follows), cold
- Peanut or canola oil for deep-frying
- 1 quart buttermilk
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 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
For Dredging and Frying
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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"This is very good," she would have agreed. "But it doesn't taste like fried chicken."
There in a nutshell is the problem with this cookbook and with many others from high-end restaurant masters who tackle everyday food. Their concoctions look great and taste fine, but the chefs try so hard to take each dish to a new level of sophistication that they lose essential hominess.
Take Keller's fried chicken recipe. It sparkles in a beautiful crust with good crunch and plenty of flavor. But the meat itself doesn't taste quite right. The problem is that, before cooking, Keller recommends brining chicken pieces for 12 hours in a mixture of salt, herbs, honey and a whole lot of lemon juice. Sure, the chicken turns out good and juicy, but it also acquires an odd lemony flavor that would be more at home at a Chinese take-out than in a Georgia kitchen.
Keller talks about meals from his own childhood as he introduces some of the almost-classics included here. In touting his version of chicken potpie, for example, Keller claims that he grew up eating Swanson's frozen potpies. Maybe, but he missed an important point. A potpie, whether it arrives in a Swanson's box or reaches the table fresh from a home cook's oven, needs big, meaty chunks of chicken. Shredding the chicken, as Keller suggests, simply does not work.
Another case in point: beef stroganoff. Keller claims nostalgia for an all-American version of stroganoff made with Campbell's cream of mushroom soup. I've never tried that dish and eating it ranks with seeing a purple cow among things I hope never to do. If that's what you think of as beef stroganoff, though, you'll be disappointed in Keller's dish. With lots of crimini mushrooms, scads of heavy cream and crème fraiche and homemade pappardelle as the supporting cast for blocks of braised beef short rib meat in the starring role, the chef's version of this iconic dish is exceptional. But it isn't comfort food.
I hasten to add that there is a lot to like in ad hoc at home. Instructions are clear and easy to follow. Nearly all ingredients can be found at local markets in season. Everything I tried from the book was, in its own way, delicious. The book brims with gorgeous graphics and lip-licking photos that plainly show what a finished dish should look like.
Keller also suggests techniques and tools essential to a competent cook. Learn to braise, he urges. Learn to use salt properly. Learn to make one really good soup and learn all the different ways to cook eggs. To dress a salad uniformly, oil the bowl, not the greens. Tear croutons very slowly. Don't cut them.
Over the last 20 years, a few celebrity chefs have written cookbooks that serve as excellent guides for home cooks seeking to produce the very best of old favorites. Larry Forgione did a fine job in the 1996 cookbook named for his New York City restaurant, An American Place. Food Network star Bobby Flay successfully freshened up American favorites in his work, Bobby Flay Cooks American.
Thomas Keller is, arguably, one of the finest chefs in the United States. At his original West Coast restaurant, The French Laundry, the reservation list is so jammed that it is amazing anyone ever goes there. Per Se in New York City is equally challenging. And his three previous cookbooks, especially The French Laundry Cookbook, are well worth owning. Still, I think Keller ought to leave home cooking to others.
I give ad hoc at home two stars of a possible five.
It might seem like a lot of work and where do you find space in your refrigerator? Well I solved that problem by cutting off the tops of two milk jugs. It was just enough room for one cut up chicken. I halved the recipe for the brine and divided it up between the milk jugs. Then I added the chicken and left it in the refrigerator overnight. The next day I rinsed off the chicken and left it in the refrigerator until about an hour before dinner.
When I made the flour coating (I made half the recipe) I didn't use the garlic and onion powder or the salt. Instead I just used 2 teaspoons of garlic salt, which worked out quite well. My husband did say he wanted the coating to be a bit more spicy or at least have herbs and spices in it so I'll try that next time. The most difficult part of the recipe for me at least is the actual frying of the chicken. Keeping the temperature at 320 degrees was a daunting task. It seemed I could get the temperature higher or lower and couldn't get it to remain at the recommended temperature.
So instead of stressing about it I remembered a tip from another cookbook that said to just fry the chicken until golden brown and then to put it in the oven. I tried a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes and it worked perfectly. Some of the oil did seep out of the chicken coating onto the pan but it didn't make too much of a mess. I think if I had a deep fryer it would have been easy to cook the chicken properly at the right temperature. You will need two (24-ounce) bottles of peanut oil for this recipe and expect to throw out the oil after you are finished because it will be very cloudy. Once we were eating the chicken we decided that maybe I should use half the salt in the next brining. While delicious it might have been just a tad too salty for our tastes.
Now that I tried one recipe I want to try more. The "Lemon Bars with Meringue" look very tempting. It does look like it will need a bit of adapting for a home cook unless you want to go out and buy a quarter sheet pan which can be purchased here at amazon: Nordic Ware Bakers Quarter Sheet, 13 X 9 X 1. I might buy it because it looks like I'll make the recipe more than once.
What I liked about this cookbook the most was the careful attention to detail. Everything is considered so you get the best results possible. I like the idea of putting a damp cloth under a cutting board to prevent it from slipping.
One idea that didn't work for me at least was the idea to salt steaks twenty minutes before frying. I found it dried out the meat a little too much and didn't taste as good as when I salt it while frying. I wouldn't doubt that the steaks Thomas Keller uses are of a much higher quality than I can get at my local grocery store.
Some of the other recipes I want to try sooner than later include:
Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup
Marinated Feta with Olives
Leek Bread Pudding
Scallion Potato Cakes
Plum Zinfandel Jam
Some of the recipes require you to make a jam or a bouillon before starting the recipe so reading through each recipe carefully is a must. Like for the "Fig-Stuffed Roast Pork Loin" you need "Pork Brine" and "Fig Jam." When making the "Poached Salmon" you will need to make a "Court Bouillon." The extra recipes are mostly at the end of the cookbook. These seem essential to your success.
Thank you to my best friend in the world who bought me this cookbook! One of my dreams in life is to learn to cook like a chef and with this book I'm well on my way to achieving my goal.
~The Rebecca Review
12/8/2009 - Today I made the Lemon Bars with Meringue. They are extremely lemony
and the meringue is easy to broil under a 400 degree broiler for ten minutes. Keller recommends that you use a kitchen torch or a propane torch but I found that wasn't needed. Just broil for 10 minutes and you're done. I'd suggest refrigerating the lemon bars right up until serving time and then making the meringue right before serving as the meringue tends to weep a little. I might try the recipe again but with less lemon juice. Like maybe ¾ cup instead of one cup. To make the recipe you do need a candy thermometer and a double boiler. One thing about the crust - It needs about three tablespoons of water near the end to help the crumbs stick together. I was able to press the crust into a 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish and it worked great. So no need to buy anything extra.
Most recent customer reviews
The ingredients are all pretty common, but the preparations and techniques...Read more