Chicken Champions

French Fried Chicken Isn’t as Great as It Sounds

published Mar 16, 2020
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fried chicken pieces on a plate
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Design: The Kitchn

When it came time to prepare for Kitchn’s fried chicken celebrity recipe showdown, I’ll be honest: Food writer and Francophile David Lebovitz wasn’t on my radar as a possible contender. But when I asked around for recipe recommendations, multiple Kitchn editors pointed me in his direction — more specifically to his French Fried Chicken recipe. After giving it a quick read, I knew I had to try it. The surprising use of mustard, cornmeal, and duck fat immediately caught my attention, because it sounded unlike any other fried chicken recipe I had ever made or eaten.

Would Lebovitz’s Frenchified, duck-fat-fried chicken be tastier, crispier, or juicier than more traditional recipes? Here’s my honest review of the recipe, and what you should know before you make it.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Design: The Kitchn

How to Make David Lebovitz’s French Fried Chicken

David Lebovitz is an American food writer who has called France home for over 18 years, making him uniquely positioned to write a French riff on fried chicken. His recipe came to him by way of Southern food writer Rebecca Lang, but he takes a truly French approach to the ingredient list.

Like many fried chicken recipes, Lebovitz starts by asking you to cut up a whole chicken into 8 to 10 pieces. Ten pieces include halving the breast portions of larger American chickens. Then you’ll soak the chicken pieces in a Dijon mustard and black pepper-laced buttermilk mixture overnight.

While the chicken is soaking, make sure you either render your own duck fat for frying, or buy it in bulk online; it will cost about $30 without shipping for enough to fill your 12-inch cast iron skillet for frying.

The next day, you’ll drain the chicken pieces from the buttermilk, then toss them in a flour and cornmeal mixture that has been seasoned with salt and pepper. You’ll then set the pieces on a cooling rack set inside a baking sheet while the duck fat heats to a gentle 350°F for frying, then fry the chicken until all sides are browned and crisp.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

My Honest Review of David Lebovitz’s French Fried Chicken

Let me start with the positives. The chicken was very juicy, and the mustard in the marinade cut through the very rich duck-fat fried coating. In fact, I might start adding mustard to all my fried chicken marinades for tangier, juicier fried chicken pieces. I also liked Lebovitz’s tip about covering the stovetop with aluminum foil while frying, which made cleanup much easier.

With all that said, this was hardly my favorite of all the chicken recipes I tried, and I probably won’t be making it again. When I crave fried chicken, I expect a peppery, savory coating that is tender-crisp from frying, not from mealy bits of cornmeal in the coating. Plus, as much as I love the liquid gold that is rendered duck fat, I’d much rather save it for frying potatoes. Here, I found frying in duck fat challenging —  it takes longer to heat and cool than peanut or vegetable oil, and I ended up with burnished, blackened sides on almost every batch of chicken.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

If You’re Making, David Lebovitz’s French Fried Chicken, a Few Tips

1. Reduce the mustard to 1 tablespoon. I really did enjoy the mustard flavor in this recipe, but it turned off my young kids. Reducing it from 1 1/2 tablespoons to 1 would still provide tang without overpowering the chicken.

2. Skip the cornmeal in the coating. The cornmeal added little in terms of flavor or texture, and ended up giving the crispy coating a toothsome bite (not in a good way).

3. Combine oil and duck fat for flavorful but affordable chicken. Duck fat adds delicious flavor to the fried chicken, but combining it with oil will make for more favorable frying conditions (i.e. more responsive to heat adjustments) and make it more affordable, too. I recommend buying an 11.25 ounce jar of duck fat, and adding your favorite fry oil to the skillet, too.

Rating: 5/10

Have you ever made David Lebovitz’s French Fried Chicken? Tell us what you thought in the comments.