Chef Ryan Adams’ culinary creativity is mindboggling. Delectable ideas backed up with well-honed skills flow at full tilt. The acclaimed chef recently expanded his restaurant holdings in Orange County. In addition to his award-winning Three Seventy Common in Laguna Beach, he now owns and operates Parallel Pizza in Dana Point and Buttermilk Fried Chicken in Old Towne Orange.
It was his fried-chicken expertise that he shared when visiting my home kitchen to shoot a how-to video. That irresistible bird has garnered raves at his family-style Fried Chicken Dinners held at Three Seventy Common (one Sunday each month). At Buttermilk, a 24-seat fast casual and take-out restaurant, the buttermilk fried chicken abounds, paying homage to his grandmother Mary and her from-scratch recipe.
Although the chicken is available in buckets (six or 12 pieces) and plates with sides, he showed me how to fry chicken thighs and use them in the eatery’s scrumptious sandwiches replete with coleslaw, spicy aioli, and house-cured pickles.
He dry-cured the thighs for 24 hours in the refrigerator before double dredging, battering, and frying them. Tucked into a bun slathered with aioli, a crown of coleslaw added a just-right amount of crunch and color, plus a little tickle of spicy heat from pickled red jalapenos.
A fry-it-brown tip offered key advice. New oil doesn’t brown the chicken properly. Save a tablespoon or two of “used” (denatured) oil that was used for previous deep frying; add it to the new oil. You will be happier with the well-browned exterior.
First Not-From-Scratch Memory: At 3 or 4 years old, at a family barbecue, a guest brought potato salad purchased at a supermarket. He took one bite and walked away, explaining that he really didn’t like it.
Secret Talent: His wife says he can find a solution to every problem. One day trying to get a rug under an enormous couch, he devised rollers to make it portable.
Favorite Restaurant: The Ranch Restaurant in Anaheim is admired for the consistency of chef Michael Rossi’s cuisine. Not only is the food delicious, but the overall service is really on point.
Early Influencers: Grandmother Mary and Mom used everything in season. Grandmother had a victory garden; she blanched and froze buckets of green beans. Leftover tomatoes got canned; she put beets in her chocolate cake, something that heightened the flavor of the chocolate. Mom was more adventurous in her cooking. She would make Japanese-style chicken in small foil packs.
Drink of Choice: Whiskey. His go-to is Larceny Bourbon Whiskey; Weller rocks is for special occasions.
No thanks: He doesn’t like cooked cabbage or avocados.
Homestead: His wife, Mia, has Sicilian roots. The two live in Santa Ana with five dogs and three cats.
Buttermilk’s Fried Chicken Sandwiches
Yield: about 3 to 4 sandwiches
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt and pepper to taste
Seasoning of choice, such as Lawry’s Seasoned Salt or dry rub that contains paprika
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
Batter: 2 cups buttermilk, 4 lightly beaten eggs
Aioli: 1/2 cup garlic chili paste (sambal oelek), 2 tablespoons pickling liquid (liquid from pickles), 2 cups mayonnaise
About 4 cups thinly sliced cabbage (half green cabbage and half red cabbage)
Sliced pickled jalapenos, about 8 crosswise slices
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup oil (combination of olive oil and canola oil)
For deep frying: canola oil
Plating: favorite soft buns or rolls, spicy sliced pickles (for store-bought, he recommends Dave’s Spicy Pickles)
- Season chicken with salt and pepper (plus any other dry herbs or spices of choice or seasoned salt – his dry rub formula is proprietorial) and refrigerate 24 hours in sealed zipper-style bag.
- For dredging: Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder and pepper in large bowl. For batter: In separate bowl, mix buttermilk with eggs (if made ahead, refrigerate). Set aside.
- For Aioli: In medium bowl, whisk chili paste, pickling liquid and mayonnaise (refrigerate if made ahead).
- For Coleslaw: Prepare vinaigrette. In large bowl, whisk all ingredients except oil until blended and salt dissolves. Add oil in thin stream, whisking constantly until emulsified. Toss cabbage with enough vinaigrette to coat. Add jalapeno slices and toss. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Best made 20 to 25 minutes before serving for the most desirable crunch but can be held longer if needed.
- Fry chicken: Remove chicken from refrigerator. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil (enough to deep fry) to 350 degrees in deep pan. Dredge each piece in flour mixture and dip in batter. Dip in flour mixture again and cautiously ease one by one into heated oil. Deep-fry for approximately 4 to 5 minutes or until nicely browned. Place on rimmed baking sheet and place in preheated oven for a few minutes until cooked through with an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
- Spread aioli on bottom halves of buns. Top with 2 crisscrossed pickle slices. Top with chicken and a generous amount of coleslaw. Add top halves of buns and serve.
Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.”