A tale of discovery, excitement and disappointment, all in one

A tale of discovery, excitement and disappointment, all in one

This is a tale of discovery, excitement, and ultimately, disappointment. The discovery came in the form of a book recommendation, “Finding Freedom,” by Erin French.

Further research led me to the author’s restaurant, The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, Maine, and her backstory. The Lost Kitchen, as it turns out, is one of those rarefied places that is all but impossible to get into, set in a teensy little village in the middle of nowhere.

There’s a whole television series following the story of the pace and its gifted and driven owner, and I highly recommend it. When I found there was a cookbook from the restaurant, with plenty of their recipes, I had it in my hand within two days as a Christmas present to myself, eagerly looking forward to trying several.

To get a reservation at The Lost Kitchen is by lottery. It’s only open during the warmer months, and in April postcard applications are accepted. The season’s guests are drawn from the thousands received, contacted, and the rest discarded until the next year. About 50 guests are served each night, all at once, with no table turns.

All of the dishes served are based on local, fresh ingredients, from squash blossoms to oysters. The setting is an old mill, with small private cabins available for groups. Needless to say, it’s a hot ticket, and probably only the French Laundry in California is harder to get into.

One of the dishes that looked and sounded amazing is a fried chicken dish. Frankly, if I took the trouble to send a postcard on the off chance I might be among the chosen few, then have to plan a vacation around being picked, buy plane tickets to Boston and then Bangor, rent a car, find a hotel and all of it, only to find fried chicken was on the menu, I’d be a bit miffed.

It would be like those who are invited to Ina Garten’s house in the Hamptons for dinner only to find you were having grilled cheese and apple crisp. But this chicken truly seemed extraordinary, and I went and got the ingredients before nightfall on the same day the cookbook arrived.

The chicken is brined overnight, simmered in the brine mixture, then dipped in buttermilk before finishing in a cast iron frying pan with a cornflake coating.

Here, I have to stop and apologize to my mother. Mom always boiled her chicken to death before frying it, and I have rather unkindly poked fun at this practice in my adult life.

She feared illness, of course, and wanted to make absolutely certain that bird was cooked through. And here I was, simmering chicken pieces before frying. It’s actually a good thing to do, as long as you don’t overcook it.

The result was amazingly crisp and moist, but surprisingly bland. I share the recipe with you because not everyone likes the kind of heavily spiced dishes I prefer. If I go to all this trouble again, I’ll sprinkle the hot pieces of chicken with a paprika-based spice mixture as soon as they come out of the hot oil.

CORNFLAKE FRIED CHICKEN

To make the brine:

4 cups water

1/3 cup kosher salt

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup juniper berries

2 tablespoons black
peppercorns

4 bay leaves

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved, then cool completely.

For the chicken:

1 fryer, cut into 10 pieces
(halve the breasts)

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups cornflakes

Vegetable oil, for frying

2 cups buttermilk

Kosher salt

Place the cut-up chicken into a sealable plastic bag and pour over the cooled brining solution. Set the bag into a bowl and refrigerate overnight, up to 36 hours.

Bring the chicken and brine to a simmer over medium heat and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Toss the brine liquid.

Combine 2 cups flour and the cornmeal in a sealed plastic bag and crush together with your hands until fine. Heat 2-3 inches of oil in a pan to 375 F. Meanwhile, prepare your stations.

In a shallow pan, spread out the remains to cups of flour. In a second, pour the butter milk. In a third, spread the flour-cornflake mixture.

When the oil is hot, dip each piece of chicken in the flour, then the buttermilk, then the cornflake mix. Finally, fire 3 or 4 pieces at a time until golden, about 6 minutes. Drain on a wire rack, sprinkle with salt and serve hot.

(Recipe: “The Lost Kitchen” by Erin French, 2017, Penguin-Random House).