Lee Brian Schrager has a guilty pleasure.
The founder of the Food Network South Beach and New York Wine and Food Festivals has plenty of opportunities to savor the latest fancy creations from the biggest stars of the culinary world.
But, if it’s on the menu, he almost always goes with the tried and true — fried chicken — “whether I’m eating at a white tablecloth restaurant or a greasy spoon diner,” Schrager admitted.
Now, Schrager has written the definitive guide to his favorite dish, “Fried & True: More than 50 Recipes for America’s Best Fried Chicken and Sides,” available next week at leading bookstores from Clarkson Potter Publishers.
Brined, battered, double battered, bathed in buttermilk and slathered in secret sauce. Everyone loves fried chicken and there are countless ways to prepare this distinctly American staple.
How did Schrager become the expert on fried chicken?
“Sadly enough from eating so much,” the longtime Miami Beach resident said.
The book includes more than 50 recipes, including many from his Food Network festival friends Tyler Florence, Paula Deen and Andrew Carmellini.
The idea for the cookbook, his second, actually came up during an event at the 2013 South Beach festival hosted by country singer Trisha Yearwood.
“We were sitting around talking about how much we both loved the incredible fried chicken and my publisher, who was also her publisher, was nearby and said I should do a book,” Schrager said.
After writing the “Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival Cookbook” nearly four years earlier, Schrager swore he would not take on another book project, but he jumped on it, completing the manuscript in a matter of months.
Schrager started with his friends’ recipes and even hit the road to sample some legendary recipes across the country. The result was even more referrals.
“We’d be eating in one restaurant and then somebody — sometimes a server or a cook — would tell us about another place to try,” he recalled, noting their list of unique recipes seemed to grow exponentially through the process.
The result was an eclectic collection of recipes that highlighted regional tastes like Cajun and Southwestern seasonings from local restaurants, a fiery General Tso’s Chinese fried chicken and gourmet versions from haute cuisine chefs including Jacques Pepin.
He also included cooking tips in the book, as well as a collection of his favorite side dishes, such as a savory tomato pie topped with crumbled Ritz crackers and a cheesy hashbrown casserole recipe from the Loveless Café in Nashville.
“Well, that’s like asking a parent about their favorite child,” he said with a chuckle as he headed off to do other media interviews about the book.
For now, Schrager continues preparations for the New York festival this fall, as well as planning for next winter’s South Beach event, in addition to his duties as vice president for special events at Southern Wine & Spirits. He doesn’t have plans for another book, at least for now.
He concluded, “I love what I do and I do what I love.”
Paula Deen’s Best Ever Southern Fried Chicken
Before I actually met Paula Deen in person, I fell in love with the heavenly fried chicken (and the cheese biscuits) she served at The Lady & Sons, her Savannah restaurant. Looking at the long line of people waiting outside the front door, I wondered what all the fuss was about . . . then understood after just one bite why Paula was—and is—the reigning queen of Southern cooking. Let the record stand; it was her fried chicken—simply dipped, dredged and fried—that first caught my eye. The combination of eggs and self-rising flour promises extra-airy, crispy results that will be the star of your next dinner party or picnic.
3 large eggs
2 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon black pepper, plus more for seasoning
1 whole chicken, rinsed, patted dry, and cut into 10 pieces
4 cups solid vegetable shortening (such as Crisco), for deep-frying
Make the dredge: In a shallow bowl, lightly beat the eggs with 1/3 cup water. In a separate shallow bowl, combine the flour and the black pepper. Set aside.
Dredge the chicken: Lightly season the chicken all over with salt and black pepper. Dip the chicken pieces in the egg mixture, letting any excess drip off, and then coat well in the flour mixture.
Fry the chicken: In a large (at least 12-inch diameter), high-sided skillet, heat the shortening to 350°F and until it has melted to a liquid of 2 inches deep in the skillet. Slip the chicken into the melted fat (the fat should just come up over the chicken), and cook the pieces until browned and crisp, 13- 14 minutes for the dark meat and 9 to 10 minutes for the white meat. Drain on paper towels and serve warm or at room temperature.
“Fried & True,” Clarkson Potter. Used with permission.