Back to basics

The Perfect Fried Chicken Recipe for Your Picnic

Douse it in Bobby Matos's sambal honey, and you've got the ultimate twist on a summertime classic.

By Timothy Malcolm Published in the June 2020 issue of Houstonia Magazine

After three months of experimenting to determine the best recipe for his fried chicken at La Lucha, chef Bobby Matos realized he’d been treating the dish like a science project. “It got so complicated, so we had to break it down into what we liked,” he says. “We said, ‘Let’s go back to simplicity.’”

Admittedly, though, this dish isn’t exactly simple to make. The trick to his particular interpretation of fried chicken is taking your time. After brining the bird’s wings, thighs, and breasts, he always throws them in a cooler for up to 12 hours, which dries out the skin and maximizes its potential crispiness after frying. Then he coats the poultry in buttermilk and flour. The result: a bird that's simultaneously crunchy, salty, and juicy enough to make any picnic-goer's mouth salivate. Pair it with Matos’s sweet and fiery sambal honey for the ultimate sensory experience.

What else would you really present at an outdoor feast, after all? “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like fried chicken,” Matos says.

Pro tip: Box some of it up for the refrigerator. “This recipe tastes great cold,” Matos says. “You can even eat it the next morning for breakfast.”

Chicken ingredients:

  • 3.5 gallons water
  • 3.5 c salt
  • 3.5 c sugar
  • 4 bay leaves
  • Small whole chicken (3–4 lbs.)
  • 1/2 c Tony Chachere’s* Creole season- ing (*substitute with Zatarain’s if unavailable)
  • 2/3 c ancho chile powder 2/3 c chipotle chile powder 21⁄2 c granulated sugar
  • 2 c buttermilk
  • 6 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 c smoked paprika
  • 1.5 T cayenne powder
  • 1.5 c black pepper, freshly ground 11⁄2 c vegetable oil

Chicken instructions:

  1. For brine, boil together water, salt, sugar, and bay leaves. Let cool to room temperature. 
  2. Cut the chicken into eight pieces (two wings, two breasts, two thighs, and two legs, all bone in). Let chicken pieces sit in brine for 12–24 hours.
  3. Pull chicken from brine and air dry for 12 hours in the fridge. 
  4. After 12 hours, combine creole seasoning, ancho powder, chipotle powder, and sugar.
  5. Soak chicken in buttermilk. 
  6. Combine flour with smoked paprika, cayenne, and black pepper, and dredge buttermilk-soaked chicken in seasoned flour. 
  7. Set turkey fryer or at-home fryer to 325 degrees with vegetable oil, and fry pieces. 
  8. Season chicken with the rest of the Creole seasoning, pepper, sugar mix.

Sambal honey ingredients:

  • 5.5 oz honey
  • 2 oz sambal
  • 1 oz chile puree

Sambal honey instructions:

  1. Combine honey, sambal, chili puree.
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