There’s a barbecue restaurant here in Portland called The People’s Pig. It’s walking distance from my house and sits on an oddly commercial piece of land, a stone’s throw from a neighborhood supermarket and adjacent to a busy thoroughfare. Upon entering The Pig on its soft opening day this past summer, I almost turned around and walked out. Am I in the right place? Are we in 1972 or 2014?
It’s interior was lined with amber-hued wood walls and faux-leather, tourquois-covered booths. Five metal stools stood fixed to the floor overlooking the open kitchen, also covered in the dated aqua-colored leathery fabric.
And then I inhaled…
The deep smell of burning wood filled the tiny space, along with the hint of fresh bread wafting out of the built-in oven. And I was instantly convinced that I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
I looked up at the menu, scrawled in chalk on a small board above the cash register, and asked the lone employee, I think his name was Charles, to fix me a plate of whatever he’d recommend, hoping for the best.
Since I was the only patron there, he kindly offered to show me around while we waited for my food to fry. It only took a few seconds to look around the dining area and the open kitchen space, and after those few seconds, I began to understand the quirky little place. It felt odd, sure, but also somehow sweet. Like an old piece of furniture that you just can’t bring yourself to get rid of because its funk is also endearing. Nostalgic.
The man I’ve dubbed Charles then directed me out back, where a gorgeous black, hog-sized smoker sat billowing clouds of oaky smoke into the warm Portland sky. He turned several large pieces of pork and chicken with long silver tongs before ushering me to the metal bar stools where I was to sit until my surprise plate arrived.
Aromas of meat and fire swirled above my head. I felt my stomach let out a loud grumble, thankfully muted by background music.
When Charles finally placed my plate (plates, actually) down in front of me on the bright red countertop, I could barely contain my excitement: smoked pork shoulder, creamy potato salad, pickled vegetables, and, my personal favorite, a smoked fried chicken sandwich made on a house-made roll and topped with creamy slaw.
(Enter: chorus of angels singing over my shoulder because I have surely died and gone straight to piggy heaven.)
I gobbled up a little bit of everything on the tray, saving the most scrumptious sandwich I’d ever laid eyes on for last. When I finally bit in, I knew I had to find a way to recreate this nirvana. Either that or I would need to convince the owners of The Pig to create a permanent place for me at that counter at least once a week for the next several years.
The bread crunched in between my teeth before giving way to a soft interior. The chicken thigh, which had retained a distinct smoky flavor, was juicy on the inside. It’s exterior had a perfect crunch that only comes from a heavy, well-seasoned breading. A true tribute to southern-style fried chicken. I wish I could say I remember distinct qualities from the slaw on the ‘wich, I’m sure it was perfection, but I honestly can’t. My heart was too smitten with the smoked fried chicken.
So I thought with the Superbowl coming up, I’d draw inspiration from that smoked fried chicken so that we can all enjoy this innovative dish at home on the big day. Because fried chicken is fun on game day. But smoked fried chicken is revolutionary.
I’ve been experimenting with the recipe for the last few months and have had a good bit of success. As it turns out, smoked fried chicken isn’t all that difficult to make! (Thankfully…I was exhausted after making those pork rinds.) But for this rendition, I did a little something extra. I love the flavor combination that comes from smoke and maple and so I decided to brine the skin-on chicken pieces in a maple-salt brine before smoking. Not only did this infuse the chicken with a subtly sweet flavor, it also gave it extra…juiciness. (I am refraining from using the culturally-dreaded “M”-word here, even though it is totally apropos. You’re welcome.)
We served ours on a buttermilk waffle garnished with freshly shaved maple sugar cube and orange slices. You know, because maple-brined smoked fried chicken isn’t rich enough as it is. But I never said this was a diet blog, so I don’t feel bad about it. In fact, I just like to think of it as passing on inspiration for all of your brunching needs.
And let me just tell you, this combination was beyond even my wildest weekend waffle dreams…
Bourré agrees. Clearly.
- 1 gallon (16 cups) of warm water
- 1 cup of kosher salt (or ¼ cup of regular table salt)
- ½ cup of maple syrup
- 1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces (legs, thighs, breasts, and wings), skin left on
- 4-6 cups of canola oil, or enough for submerging chicken entirely
- 1 cup of buttermilk
- 3 eggs
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon of granulated sea salt
- 1 teaspoon of freshly cracked pepper
- ½ teaspoon of smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
- Dissolve the kosher salt and syrup into the cool water in a large pot (or the produce drawer to your refrigerator). Add the chicken pieces, making sure the chicken is covered completely. If chicken is not covered, add more water until it is. Cover with a lid and refrigerate for 2-3 hours. After 2-3 hours, remove chicken from the brine and pat dry with paper towels.
- Set your smoker to smoke and once you notice a flame has established, place the patted-dry chicken in the smoker, close the lid, and smoke for 30-60 minutes, or until you notice the chicken start to take on a slightly yellow color on the edges (see photo above of the chicken sitting in the bowl for reference). Your goal here is to infuse smokiness while cooking the chicken as little as possible, so make sure to keep the temperature on your smoker as low as possible. I kept mine between 140 degrees F and 160 degrees F for 45 minutes.
- In a large frying pan or a medium sized dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. You will be deep-frying the chicken so you want to have enough oil to cover each chicken piece.
- Whisk together the buttermilk and the eggs in a medium sized bowl. Set aside. In another medium sized bowl, mix together the flour, sea salt, cracked pepper, smoked paprika, and cayenne pepper. Dip 2 pieces of the chicken into the buttermilk and turn to coat. Transfer them immediately to the flour and turn to coat. Gently shake off the excess flour before frying.
- Once you notice the oil begin to shimmer on the top, or once your frying thermometer reaches approximately 350 degrees F, slowly dip a piece of the battered chicken into the oil to test for temperature. (I use a wing as my tester piece.) If it turns golden within less than 30 seconds, the oil is too hot; if it doesn’t sizzle at all, the oil is not hot enough. Adjust temperature as necessary until it reaches the temperature where the chicken sizzles and bubbles when it hits the oil, but doesn’t turn golden immediately.
- Cook chicken pieces, battering and frying in batches of 2-3, until they are golden and cooked all the way through, about 4-5 minutes per piece. Rotate the pieces once or twice as they cook to make sure they have an even goldenness. Again, if you notice them turning golden much faster than this, reduce the heat and wait for the oil to cool down before proceeding so that you don’t end up with raw chicken on the inside.
- Anytime it comes to frying, it’s important to make sure you’re not overcrowding the pieces in the fryer as it will reduce the temperature of your oil too quickly. I was using a 7-quart dutch oven to fry in and never had more than 2 pieces in the oil at a time.
- Once chicken pieces are fully cooked and golden, remove them from the oil and transfer them to a wire rack or paper towels to drain. Season with a pinch of sea salt, if desired and serve immediately once all pieces are cooked.