Jeff McInnis’s fried chicken and cauliflower mash recipe

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  • Yield: 8 Servings


For the Brine
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 scant cup paprika
  • 1 scant cup cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 whole chickens, each cut into 8 pieces
For the Smoky Spicy Pepper Mix
  • ¼ cup paprika
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
For the Sticky Hot Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 10 fresh red chiles (about 8 ounces), preferably Tabasco or Fresno, halved lengthwise and seeded (optional)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 2 cups red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
How to Make It
    Brine the Chicken
  1. In a large pot, bring the sugar, salt, paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and 5 cups water to a simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes, whisking to dissolve. Remove from the heat, add 5 cups ice water, refrigerate, and allow the liquid to chill to 40°F on a candy thermometer, 1 to 2 hours. Place the chicken in a large container and pour the cold brine over the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
  2. Make the Smoky Spicy Pepper Mix
  3. Combine the paprika, salt, and chili powder in a small bowl; reserve.
  4. Make the Sticky Hot Sauce
  5. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chiles and garlic and cook until just softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1 cup water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until most of the water is evaporated, 13 to 15 minutes. Add the vinegar and cook over medium-high heat until the vinegar is reduced by half, 10 to 12 minutes (about 1 cup of liquid should remain in the saucepan). Using tongs, remove and discard the chiles and garlic. Add the cornstarch slurry and cook, whisking, until the sauce has thickened, about 30 seconds. Add the honey and salt and cook, stirring, until incorporated and slightly syrupy, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
  6. Dredge the Chicken
  7. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, and black pepper. Remove the chicken from the brine, shake off the excess liquid, and dredge in the seasoned flour.
  8. Fry the Chicken
  9. Fill a 12-inch cast-iron skillet halfway with shortening or lard and heat to 350°F. Place the larger breast pieces in, skin side down, along with the thighs. Fry, adjusting the heat to maintain a temperature of 325°F, until the underside is cooked, about 8 minutes. Flip and fry until cooked through and the thickest pieces reach 165°F on a meat thermometer, an additional 7 to 8 minutes. Remove from the skillet and drain on paper towels. Using the same procedure, fry the wings and drumsticks for 5 minutes, then flip and fry an additional 5 minutes. Drain briefly on a wire rack, then season with a pinch of the smoky spicy pepper mix.
  10. To Serve
  11. Immediately before serving, toss the chicken in the sticky hot sauce to coat. Serve with a generous helping of the cauliflower mash.
  12. Cauliflower Mash
  13. In a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, place the cauliflower (reserving ½ cup) and the milk, cream, and ¼ cup butter. Bring to a low boil, then reduce the heat and cover. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is tender, 13 to 15 minutes. Add the cream cheese and thyme, then cover the saucepan and simmer until the cauliflower can easily be broken apart with a fork, an additional 4 to 5 minutes. Drain the excess liquid, reserving ½ cup liquid on the side.
  14. Break the reserved ½ cup cauliflower into bite-size pieces. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a very hot cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cauliflower pieces all at once, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the edges are charred and blistered, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
  15. Using an immersion blender, puree the cooked cauliflower until smooth, or cool for 10 minutes and then transfer to a blender and carefully purée until smooth, adding the reserved cooking liquid to loosen if necessary (be careful to leave an opening for steam to emerge).
  16. Transfer the pureed cauliflower to a bowl and garnish with the charred cauliflower, chives, and thyme.

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