Growing up, birthdays might mean Power Rangers-themed slumber parties or an outing to Chuck E. Cheese’s. In my early 20s, I often spent them at a slightly too-expensive restaurant and then went and drank slightly too much at a bar or club I probably wouldn’t darken the door of anymore. But as I began to accept the mixed bag of realities that constitutes adulthood, I realized that when it comes to birthday parties, I could do what I please.
And what pleases me — on any given Tuesday, not just once a year — is fried chicken. And I realized that one day a year I could let loose and try to get as close to all the fried chicken (not just one regional or cultural style) as possible. And that is how Jenn’s Fried Chicken party, known in my inner circle as JFC — started.
The idea is simple and less demanding than when your friend wants you to go to n/naka with her: Collect as much fried chicken from as many restaurants as possible under one roof, then spend the night devouring it. Instead of presents, I ask for chicken: Everyone who attends the party is responsible for bringing some from somewhere.
I supply the obligatory rest: homemade biscuits, macaroni and cheese, a green salad as a reprieve to all the fat, whatever pie I’m currently obsessed with, and booze (normally copious amounts of bubbly, some rosé and a new cocktail every year).
In the three years I’ve thrown the party, it’s taken on a life of its own. Competitive friends try to one-up each other with their fried chicken (extra points to anyone who waits in line at Howlin’ Ray’s), there are fried chicken pool floaties, and the party has its own hashtag (#JFC).
What follows is a guide to throwing your own fried chicken party. Maybe it’s for your birthday, or maybe you just want to do it some weekend night, because who in these times couldn’t use the artery-hardening comfort of a survey of fried chicken, all washed down with scrubbing alcoholic bubbles, in the company of friends.
Since your friends are taking care of the chicken, concentrate on the sides and the alcohol.
I use Govind Armstrong’s recipe for buttermilk biscuits. They’re flaky and flavorful, and you can bake them a few hours ahead of time. Serve them alongside a selection of jams, preserves, butter and honey for a build-your-own-biscuit bar.
For the mac and cheese, I make Ina Garten’s basic recipe super extra by upping the amount of cheese and adding smoked Gouda and pickled jalapeños to the topping.
I grew up eating a green salad with every meal, so it seemed only fitting to serve one at the party. I used shaved apple, red onion, cucumber and toasted pecans for crunch, and I added shavings of good, aged Gouda for a little extra nuttiness. A simple vinaigrette will suffice. I added pureed shallot and garlic to mine, along with a dollop of honey.
Choose one pie to finish the meal. This year, I went with the key lime from Winston Pies in Brentwood. It’s tart and refreshing, and it doesn’t feel too heavy after a plate of fried chicken.
Top 10 fried chicken spots (in no particular order):
Howlin’ Ray’s, Seoul Sausage, OB Bear, Lucky Bird, Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, Honey’s Kettle, Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, Phat Birds, Shad’s New Cali Catering, Tokyo Fried Chicken Co.
I put my fried chicken on cake tiers to save space on the table. Some guests will invariably arrive late (you know who you are). Don’t worry about the fried chicken getting cold. If it’s good chicken, it will be good cold.
Follow your bliss: The party is not about being cool, it’s about scratching a deep, deep itch. “Gypsy” by Fleetwood Mac is one of my favorite songs of all time and, because playing it on repeat would drive drive everyone (except me) nuts, I have a streaming service conjure a playlist based on this one song. Find the song that is shamelessly or shamefully you and let the computer do the rest.
In your glass:
Eric Onley at Everson Royce Wine & Spirits in Pasadena suggests many bottles of La Ghibellina 2013 Metodo Classico Italian sparkling wine. “I absolutely love this with fried chicken,” he says. “It’s less bready, with more tree fruit than a Champagne, and it cuts through the fattiness and saltiness and leaves you with a delicate balance. It’s like refreshing your palate between every bite.” Non-Champagne sparklers are also cheaper than their fancy French cousins.
Set the table for dinner, but set up the food buffet-style. Depending on how large your party is, you can rent tables, chairs, glasses, dishes and cutlery from multiple shops around town. If you’re thinking flowers (one must have flowers at an adult dinner party), go with a short but full arrangement on the dinner tables and smaller arrangements to fill out the buffet table.
Some very wise friends set up busing stations of sorts to soak plates after their dinner parties. Hide bins full of soapy water in a corner to catch all the dirty plates. When you wake up the next morning, half the work has been done for you. And even if you forget to brush your teeth before bed, get that garbage full of chicken bones out of the house after the guests are gone.
In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle together the 5 grapes and thyme leaves until the grapes are crushed and have released their juices. Add the lemon juice, gin and simple syrup, along with ice. Close the shaker and shake until the liquid is well chilled. Strain into a short glass filled with ice. Garnish with a sprig of thyme and/or frozen grapes.
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