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Clucked Up

Tom Colicchio doesn't understand why the chefs had such a hard time with the fried chicken challenge.

By Tom Colicchio

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If you’re confused by what you saw tonight, you’re not alone. Me, too. This was one of the single most confusing challenges I’ve judged in my 10 seasons on this show. We asked the chefs to do one of the simplest things imaginable: make fried chicken. What did we get? Everything except fried chicken. We couldn’t believe it. We were so disappointed -- we’d all really gotten our hopes and appetites up for some good fried chicken. Sometimes you have to leave well enough alone, as was the case here, where the chefs were asked to “go simple,” but this group of chefs just can’t seem to do that -- they tend to overthink what’s asked of them. 

Some challenges ask for chefs to flex their creative muscles; others, such as the one in Episode 4, in which the chefs were asked to recreate dishes from Canlis’s original 1950s menu, ask less that they show culinary genius and more that they show culinary acumen – good, solid food knowledge and technique. This challenge fell squarely into that second camp. Just fry up some delicious fried chicken, please. A good side would be appreciated, too.

So why they didn’t just do that was mystifying to us. As was the recurrent refrain that they didn’t have enough time. Fried chicken is FAST FOOD. It doesn’t take long to make, and to make well. The idea that the chefs didn’t have time to fry up chicken… I don’t quite know what to say. OK, let’s just do this. Let me give you my recipe for fried chicken, so you can see for yourself what I’m getting at:

· Take a chicken.

· Cut said chicken up into eight pieces. Oh, and remove the skin. For crispy chicken, you must remove the skin. The chicken will never crisp up with the skin on. BUT LEAVE THE BONES. DO NOT REMOVE THE BONES.

· Soak the chicken overnight in buttermilk and a little cayenne pepper.

· The next day, take the chicken out of the buttermilk, drain it a little but not a lot.

· Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

· Dredge it in flour.

· Fry it until it’s just crispy but not brown.

· Take it out of the fryer and let it cool down, and then

· Fry it a second time.

· DONE. 

Yes, some people use half potato starch/half flour for crispier skin, some add corn starch, some fry it three times… fine. But the bottom line is that there’s nothing difficult about it, or time-consuming. And yet most of our chefs felt the need to get complex, and, in doing so, they screwed up what could have been a simple and satisfying dish. We couldn’t believe they were using boneless chicken breasts. If you hand most chefs chicken breasts and ask them to make fried chicken, they’ll turn around and tell you, “I can’t make fried chicken with this!” And they’d be right.

Lizzie almost gets a pass (note the “almost”), since she’s been in the States for the least amount of time, but Stefan? Did you hear Wolfgang mention his Austrian mother’s Sunday fried chicken, so near and dear to his heart?  Not to mention that Stefan, by his own admission, eats buckets of KFC all the time. I can’t understand why he gave us a lame rendition of chicken cordon bleu. And all I’ll say about Brooke is that she simply should have known better. 

Their thought processes baffled us, but Josie’s “I didn’t have time to put my chicken on paper towels to get the grease off before serving it to you” was neck and neck with her “my fellow contestants loved my fried chicken” comment for the wackiest thing we heard all night… and her chicken the poorest dish we tasted, by a lot. Had she not served that up, we’d have had other contenders for bottom dish, but she saved the others by serving us something far, far less appealing.So, to all of you who gave me such a hard time last week, you have finally got your wish: Josie’s been sent home. (And if you watched Last Chance Kitchen, you know that she dropped the ball, or, rather, the salmon, and overcooked it to boot, so she’s not coming back. Kristen is holding on to her chef’s coat for the second week in a row.)

On the other end of the chicken-challenge spectrum, Sheldon’s chicken was very tasty, I loved Lizzie’s peach slaw, and Josh not only had a great idea in smoking his chicken, but he actually gave us fried chicken, which, ironically, was refreshing.  Let’s see what our chefs serve us up next week…

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