Zaatar fried chicken makes deep frying worth the hassle

Zaatar Fried Chicken with Spicy Thyme Honey Recipe

Story and Photo By Chaya Rappoport, The Nosher via JTA

Look, I’m going to be honest with you: Deep frying is a huge pain. It’s hot, it’s splattery, sometimes things come out raw and it’s not exactly healthy. Fun stuff, right?

BUT! Big, big but. It is also, when done right, one of the best things in the world. Deep frying has given us french fries, doughnuts, falafel and, perhaps most important, fried chicken. If there’s a better food than fried chicken, I don’t know it. 

To give this American comfort food classic an Israeli twist, I added plenty of zaatar* (a Middle Eastern spice mix) and fresh thyme.

Another thing that makes this dish so special is the buttermilk brine. Most fried chicken recipes use either a buttermilk marinade or a spiced brine to tenderize the chicken. This recipe uses both, and to great effect. To keep things kosher, I make “buttermilk” with soymilk and lemon juice, and it works just as well.  Soaking it overnight along with a saltwater brine (which has honey, zaatar, lemon and a variety of spices for flavor) seasons the meat and breaks down the proteins in the chicken to keep it moist as it fries.

The next day, the buttermilk-brined chicken is breaded in a sumac, thyme, zaatar and paprika-spiced flour mixture. A little bit of baking powder helps the breading brown and crisp more efficiently in the fryer, and the chicken is dipped into the flour mixture twice, making the skin even thicker and crispier.

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This fried chicken is everything – herby and perfectly seasoned, succulent and juicy from the buttermilk brine, and best of all, it has a shatteringly crispy crust that will have you wanting more and more. The spicy, thyme-infused honey, which comes together in minutes, adds a touch of heat and sweet that’s positively addictive.

Ready for an epic summer spread? Serve this alongside grilled corn with sumac mayo and minty-fresh limonana. Just don’t be surprised by how fast this chicken goes — it truly is finger lickin’ good.

Frying tips: If you don’t have a deep fry thermometer, let the oil heat for around 10 minutes. When the oil has preheated, dip the handle of a chopstick into the oil. If the oil starts steadily bubbling, then the oil is hot enough for frying. If not, let it heat for a few more minutes.

Don’t overcrowd the frying pan; the temperature of the oil will drop and that will result in greasy chicken. Fry 3 pieces at a time, preferably in a heavy bottomed pan (I used a cast iron). Use a neutral oil, such as canola, for its high smoke point. If the oil starts smoking at any time, the temperature is too high and must be lowered. If it’s too high, the outside will brown quickly and look done, but the inside will be raw. On the flip side, if the temperature is too low, the chicken will be greasy and overcooked.

Wear long sleeves and closed-toe shoes to avoid painful oil splatters while frying. And lastly, once the chicken is fried, let it cool on a drying rack set over paper towels. Paper towels will remove a bit more oil, but they will also retain some moisture and make the chicken soggy, which must be avoided at all costs. Anyway, if you fry properly, the chicken won’t be greasy at all. 

Have fun frying! I know you’ll do great.

* Za’atar is available at Global Foods Market in Kirkwood or at Penzey’s in Maplewood.

Chaya Rappoport is the blogger, baker and picture taker behind retrolillies.wordpress.com. Currently a senior in high school, she’s been blogging since 2012 and her work has been featured on The Feed Feed, Delish.com, Food and Wine and Conde Nast Traveler. The Nosher food blog offers a dazzling array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at www.TheNosher.com.