Friday, February 10, 2012

Chicken Hacking at Home

Shortly after moving into this house I was intrigued by the ads for Top Secret Recipe, a new TV show on CMT.  The premise was that every week the host, a self-styled "food hacker" named Todd Wilbur, would try to replicate a top-secret food industry recipe.  The pilot program was going to feature the recipe for KFC original fried chicken.

Well, of course I watched the pilot.  I love KFC original, but I almost never eat it any more due to the high fat and sodium content.  However, I was hoping that if Wilbur could identify the famous "11 herbs and spices," I could make a baked version of it at home.

The show was fairly amusing, with Wilbur dumpster-diving for ingredient packages and wheeling and dealing to gain access to one of the pressure deep fryers that give the chicken its unique texture, and at the end a KFC bigwig admitted that Wilbur had come closer to the correct recipe than anyone else who had ever tried.  The recipe, we were told, would be posted on Wilbur's website for our own use, although we would of course not have access to one of those pressure fryers.

I meant to keep watching the show and to try the recipe, but I got distracted by home improvement and did neither.  Last night, though, staring at the chicken thighs I meant to have for dinner, I suddenly thought, "What about that KFC hack?" So I went on line and found the recipe.

The reasons for the high sodium count were immediately apparent - brining with salt and MSG, plus more salt and MSG in the breading.  My chicken, like most supermarket birds, had been pre-brined, so I skipped that step.  I also left out the MSG and cut back the salt in the breading.  I didn't have savory or marjoram on hand so I used thyme and oregano instead, and I substituted panko crumbs for the flour.  I also had to use coarse-ground black pepper instead of tellicherry and white pepper.  I ended up baking the chicken for about 35 minutes at 450 degrees, covering it with aluminum foil when it had reached the desired shade of brown.

The results were actually pretty good.  I thought the breading was still too salty and the black pepper a little too assertive, but overall the recipe is definitely worth making again.  Next time I will plan ahead and buy all the correct herbs and spices.

Now I'm thinking I should go back to the CMT website and watch some of the videos of the other shows.  Maybe I can learn the secrets of P.F. Chang's yummy lettuce wraps, or figure out how to make a Cinnabon roll with less than a gazillion calories.

"Creating Original Clone Recipes of America's Favorite Foods Since 1987" ~tagline on Todd Wilbur's website

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