It’s about 4 p.m. on a recent Monday and the prep kitchen at chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Beverly Hills is buzzing with cooks cleaning artichokes, chopping produce and caramelizing shallots for the night’s service. It’s an immaculate, highly organized operation — the bright green pieces of tape labeling items around the kitchen all have perfectly straight edges — and each cook is busy with a specific task. But the cook with the most important job of the evening is standing over a giant bubbling pot of oil, dunking and retrieving pieces of breaded chicken.
He places the finished pieces, all the exact same shade of deep golden brown, the coating a rugged landscape of crispy-crunchy skin, on a large metal rack, to join the dozens of other pieces awaiting service. They will receive a second, shorter dip in the hot oil before arriving at the table.
It’s Monday fried chicken night at Keller’s Beverly Hills French bistro, and the restaurant is preparing to serve around 200 orders of the perfectly fried chicken.
It’s the type of chicken you’d expect to find in a basket, on a gingham check-covered picnic table, at a backyard barbecue. Instead, it is served in a dining room full of sparkling wine glasses, pressed white tablecloths and plates full of perfect squares of Mediterranean sea bass over delicate emulsions.
The chicken was introduced to the city on a regular basis nearly five years ago, on a Monday evening in the fall, when Keller decided to bring his Napa Valley fried chicken to Southern California. Keller, who says he made Sunday trips to Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles when he lived in L.A., started making fried chicken at Ad Hoc when the Yountville restaurant opened in 2006. He uses a recipe that was developed in collaboration with his team at the Bouchon in Yountville. It’s an evolution of the Bouchon roast chicken recipe, one that also involves brining, then drying the chicken before cooking.
Keller serves his fried chicken at Ad Hoc biweekly, on Mondays. And in 2012, he decided to implement Monday night fried chicken at Bouchon, his casual French bistro in Beverly Hills, after repeated requests from guests who had eaten the chicken at Ad Hoc.
When you walk into the Bouchon dining room on a Monday, you’re hit with the aroma of toasted rosemary and the distinct, glorious smell of fried chicken skin. Then you see it emerge on silver from the kitchen, a mountain of fried chicken served in a roasting pan, on its way to a group of diners — their smartphones out — ready to document the momentous occasion.
The first bite is full of that perfectly crisp, feathery coating, and the meat is both salty and juicy, tasting of the citrus and thyme in the brine. Between sips of rosé and bites of chicken, the bottom of the plate comes all too quickly.
It’s the fried chicken you hope to stumble upon at someone’s grandmother’s house. The fried chicken that stands above the rest in a city currently experiencing peak fried chicken. The fried chicken your friend who claims she “doesn’t really like fried chicken” can’t stop eating.
“Can we go back?” she asks on Tuesday.
Behind the magic
The chicken is a study in precision and good ingredients, made using the same process every time, regardless of who’s in the kitchen. That person is currently chef de cuisine David Hodson, who demonstrated a platter full of chicken on a recent Monday. You can check out his method in the video above, and what goes into Monday night fried chicken below.
Fried chicken by the numbers
- Every Monday, the restaurant goes through about 300 pounds of Mary’s free range chicken from Pitman Family Farms.
- That translates to about 200 orders of fried chicken.
- The chicken is cut into precise-sized pieces to ensure what the restaurant calls the right “crust to meat” ratio.
- The chicken is brined for 12 hours in a lemon and herb brine.
- Hodson uses a total of five spices in the breading, including onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, Tellicherry pepper and paprika.
- The chicken is double-dipped in the seasoned flour to get that perfectly crisp crust (flour first, then buttermilk, then flour).
- It takes about 11 minutes to fry the chicken.
- The chicken is $38 per person and includes three pieces of fried chicken (one breast, one leg, one thigh), served with weekly rotating sides.
You can actually order the fried chicken by the bucket — which is what happened when the restaurant served buckets of fried chicken to folks at the Vanity Fair Oscar party earlier this year. You can also order the chicken online, to pick up at the restaurant — yes, in a bucket.
If you prefer gluten-free chicken, you can order a gluten-free version, made with Keller’s own Cup4Cup gluten-free flour. Keller developed the mix so that it can be substituted cup-for-cup with regular flour, hence the name. Oh, and you can get that chicken in a bucket, too.
Bouchon is hosting a fried chicken party May 31 as part of Food Bowl, our month-long food festival. A $75 ticket to the party includes as much Bouchon fried chicken as you can eat, along with the fried chicken sandwich from Son of a Gun, and the gluten-free fried chicken from Farmshop, as well as complimentary beer and wine.