Were I ever to be on death row (and sweet shit, may that NEVER occur,), this would be high up there on my last meal list. There's something so satisfying, summery, and quintessentially all-American (like, back when that phrase had a positive connotation)-feeling about a good 'ol wedge salad and some fried chicken. What is it about the wedge salad that has allowed it to be equal parts guilty-pleasure-trashy (meant as the utmost compliment), and Don Draper over all these years? Like, seriously, what gives you the right, wedge?! My theory is, the wedge salad always been unapologetic-ally, exactly who it is, take it or leave it. Though, from my extensive wedge survey legwork, I'll just say, most people opt to take this heap of iceberg glory any day, when done well. And baby, this one is done well, if I may be so bold as to say so myself...
We're not reinventing the wheel here, but there are like, three very simple things you can do to take your wedge from just *meh* to the highlight of the dinner table, and I'm not here to keep secrets. 1) Soak your wedges in ice water right up until you're ready to assemble. This keeps them insanely crisp, cold, and refreshing, which is precisely the vibe we are going for here. 2) HOMEMADE. DRESSING. ALWAYS. It seriously makes all the difference. This buttermilk ranch dressing has notes of garlic, lemon zest, and is packed with tons of fresh dill, parsley, and chives for all the freshness. If some of it makes its way onto your chicken, you won't be mad, promise. 3) Keep the toppings simple and punchy. This is a fork + knife salad, so keeping the structural precariousness of accouterments at a minimum is key. Quick pickled onions give an acidic punch, cherry tomatoes for a pop of summery brightness, toasted pepitas for crunch, salty bacon, cause, OBVIOUSLY, and finally, a sprinkle of bleu cheese crumbles, should you so desire.
Onto the main event- though, wedges could arguably be the main event in my world any day, but I digress... I know everyone, backslash everyone's mom, grandma, etc., has a tried and true fried chicken recipe. This one just happens to be one I've tweaked over the years and really love. The batter is crisp, yet light, and super flavorful. The chicken manages to stay perfectly succulent, thanks to an overnight buttermilk bath, with all the good things. The frying oil even gets infused with some herbs for a hot second (punz), and it makes all the subtly delicious difference.
Start with your dredge. In a shallow dish or pie plate, combine your flour, cornstarch, baking powder, garlic powder, cayenne, and Old Bay Seasoning. Season your chicken with salt and pepper. I used a combo of 4 bone-in thighs, and 5 drumsticks. Next, prepare your buttermilk brine. In a large bowl, combine your buttermilk, Worcestershire sauce, hot suace, garlic powder, salt and pepper, and whisk. Dredge your chicken in your seasoned flour/cornstarch mixture, and add to your buttermilk brine. Soak in the brine for at least 3 hours, but I would totes say, the longer you go, the better it will be. If you can spare a full 24 hours, DO IT! You won't be sorry.
Make your dressing. This can also totally be done a day ahead of time! Spare yourself. You're already going to be frying chicken. Let's keep the other day-of duties at a minimum, shall we? In either a blender, or a vessel you like using with an immersion blender, add your mayo, sour cream, 2 pureed garlic cloves, Worcestershire sauce, lemon zest/juice, parsley, dill, chives, salt, and pepper. Blend to combine. After blending for a few seconds, turn the blender on low, and slowly drizzle in your buttermilk. Blend until smooth, and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat your oven to 400F, and add your bacon to a large baking sheet, and cook until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
About an hour or so before you want to eat, cut your iceberg wedges into quarters, and add to a large bowl of ice water, and add covered, to the fridge. Slice your red onion, and add to a bowl, and cover with red wine vinegar, and add a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cover, and place in the fridge until ready to eat.
This is also the point where I usually halve my cherry tomatoes, toast my pepitas, and chop my parsley and scallions to finish off the wedges with. Not trying to pull that last minute gruntwork at the end, ya know?!
Lower your oven to 325F.
To a large cast iron skillet, add about 2" of vegetable oil- I like using peanut, or safflower oil for frying. You can also substitute whatever vegetable oil you have on hand. Heat on medium-high. This will take probably about 2 minutes or so to be at the desired temperature. Add your rosemary and thyme sprigs, and let simmer in the oil for about 30 seconds. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon, and discard.
Add your chicken in batches of three from your wet brine to your dry dredge, shaking off the excess seasoned flour/cornstarch mixture, and into the heated oil. Cook for about 3-4 minutes per side. You'll know when the chicken is ready to flip, because it will no longer stick to the bottom of the pan. Add to a bed of paper towels to drain.
Work through all your chicken, batch by batch, and upon completion, transfer from your paper towels to a parchment lined baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes, or until a thermometer registers 160F internal temperature.
Dress your salad however you may please. For me, this means copious bacon, EXTRA pepitas (they remind me of sunflower seeds and my deep and tacky secret love of piling them on at salad bars), pickled onions, lots of tomatoes, a healthy smattering of herbed buttermilk dressing, and a light sprinky-dink of bleu cheese crumbles. Full disclozhe: We totally ate this salad next day with cold fried chicken strewn atop it. Am I the only one who loves next day cold fried chicken more than night-of fried chicken? Who am I kidding, it's all great. Hey, tomorrow is Friday! Any plans? Here we have dessert shoots on the brain! A fun departure for this savory lady. Savory lady? Sorry for that one. Leaving it in anyway.
Buttermilk-Brined Fried Chicken + Wedge Salad
For the Chicken:
10 pc. your favorite combo of chicken (I used 4 bone-in thighs, & 5 drumsticks)
2 c flour
1 1/4 c cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp old bay
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 qt buttermilk
1 tbs Worcestershire Sauce
Couple dashes hot sauce
1 tbs garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3 sprigs rosemary, 5 sprigs thyme
For the wedges:
1 Head iceberg lettuce, quartered
5 strips of bacon, cooked until crisp
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
2 scallions, sliced
1/2 cup pepitas, toasted
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced (+ red wine vinegar to cover, plus pinch salt + pepper for pickling)
Bleu cheese, crumbled, if desired
For the Herbed Buttermilk Ranch:
1 c good mayo
1/2 c sour cream or creme fraiche
2 tbs each freshly chopped parsley, dill, and chives
2 cloves garlic, smashed and pureed
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Zest 1 lemon, + juice 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste