Union Hotel fried chicken

Time 40 minutes
Yields Serves 2 to 4
Union Hotel fried chicken

Cut the chicken into 10 pieces (2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 wings and 4 breast pieces). Trim any gobs of fat, especially from the edges of the breast, they tend to burn. Save the back and fat for stock.


In a shallow bowl, toss the chicken parts with the pepper (allow about 1 1/2 teaspoons per pound of chicken), thyme leaves (about 1 teaspoon thyme leaves per pound), and sea salt and toss well. Cover loosely and refrigerate.


After about 2 1/2 hours, rinse off the salt in cold running water. Try to keep as much of the pepper and thyme as you can (the pepper and thyme will tend to cling). Drain the chicken well and place in a baking dish just large enough to hold all of the chicken in a single crowded layer. Add cold milk to barely cover. Stir to coat all of the chicken and spread the pieces in a single layer.


Leave the chicken at room temperature for 2 hours, stirring a couple of times to encourage even de-salting.


Dredge the chicken in flour, lifting the chicken pieces directly from the milk so they are very wet and will hold a lot of flour. Make sure the skin is neatly stretched over the muscle in a natural position. Tap lightly to shake loose stray flour and place on a cooling rack on a baking sheet so that the pieces are barely touching. Refrigerate overnight, uncovered.


Before cooking, bring the chicken to room temperature to speed up cooking and encourage even browning.


In a cast iron pan, heat the peanut oil over medium-high heat. (As you add the chicken, the oil level will rise. If the chicken is ever more than half submerged, ladle out some of the oil.) Test for temperature by dipping the edge of the chicken into the oil -- it should sizzle modestly but immediately.


Add the chicken pieces, tapping off excess flour before placing them in the oil. Don’t crowd or overlap the chicken pieces. If the pan is not large enough, fry the chicken in two batches. Don’t worry that the coating is sticky. Start with the thighs, then the drumsticks, then wings and upper breasts, and finish with the breast tips. This is the rough order of how long it will take them to cook.


Adjust the heat slightly as necessary to maintain a discreet sizzle. If the oil gets too hot, reduce the flame slightly. You can also add a few tablespoons of cool oil to the pan, being sure not to pour it onto the chicken pieces. If a piece is browning unevenly -- say the tip of the drumstick is browning too fast -- or only part of a piece is pale, you can prop the piece against the side of the pan so that the done part sits above the oil, or, so long as all the pieces have set a good crust, you can prop one piece against another so that only the part you want to keep browning is submerged.


Use tongs to turn the chicken, not a fork, which would pierce the skin. Turn when the cooked side is pale gold, about 9 minutes. Don’t assume that all pieces will brown evenly -- the pan may not transfer heat evenly throughout.


Brown the other side in the same way, then turn back over one or two more times to refine the browning of both sides. The curing helps the chicken retain moisture, so there is little harm in leaving the pieces in the hot oil an extra minute or two to get the tastiest, crispiest golden crust.


Set the chicken on paper towels to drain. Don’t stack it -- you just made a perfect crust, don’t let the steam destroy it. Serve immediately.

This is the dish that first earned Judy Rodgers national attention back in the early 1980s, when she was cooking at the little Benicia Hotel northeast of San Francisco.

Russ Parsons is a former food writer and columnist at the Los Angeles Times.
Get our new Cooking newsletter, coming soon.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.