Ludo Lefebvre’s Secret to Fried Chicken? Duck Fat [Video]
In this episode of Ludo à la Maison, the L.A. chef demonstrates one of his classic LudoBites dishes.
For a chef with national acclaim and classical French cooking chops, it's unusual that Ludo Lefebvre’s stardom has a lot to do with a great American comfort food: fried chicken. The story is legend by now—several ago, a hungry Jonathan Gold walked into the LudoBites kitchen. One hitch: the kitchen had run out of food that night. Ludo, who was still around but with no mise en place in sight, thought on his feet and fried up a decadent plate of crispy, crunchy chicken. And this wasn’t just any chicken—Gold later wrote that the dish “could have made a New Orleans grandmother weep with happiness.”
In the latest episode of Ludo à la Maison, the chef is here to share his secret. That secret is that duck fat makes most things better—but it makes fried chicken way better. And Ludo takes his fried chicken seriously. “Fried chicken is so technical,” says the chef, who who has since spun this signature dish into a concept called LudoBird. “You want to have the skin be very crispy, but also the meat very moist. That’s what is very difficult—to get these two things, together, perfect.”
Start with the marinade, combining soy sauce, sesame and chili oils, and microplaned garlic and ginger in a large bowl. Break down your bird—Ludo uses thighs, drumsticks, and halved chicken breasts—and submerge in the marinade for at least an hour, but not longer than overnight.
While the meat marinates, start on your sauce—Ludo’s version of a sweet-and-sour ketchup that uses preserved piquillo peppers. “A little bit spicy, a little bit sweet, a lot of vinegar,” he says. “I love vinegar.” This time, Ludo opts for raspberry vinegar, mixing it with regular white sugar, canned piquillo peppers and Tabasco in a saucepan on high heat. Once the mixture comes to a boil, he brings the heat down to a slow simmer for an hour or so. When the sauce is sufficiently syrupy, he purees in a blender until smooth before moving it back to the pot for a final simmer.
“Time to fry our bird,” says Ludo. “Fried chicken is something I love to do. I never get bored cooking fried chicken. Never.” Heat your duck fat to 350F while preparing a corn starch dredge. “We don’t do buttermilk or flour, no” says Ludo. “Just corn starch,” which gives an added flaky crunch. Make sure to let most of the liquid run off each piece of chicken—if it’s too wet, you’ll have a sticky corn starch situation—and then cover it in a healthy layer of coating.
Ludo suggests frying the white meat and dark meat separately, to accommodate different cooking times. And his number one tip for excellent fried chicken? Don’t crowd the pot. “Two reasons,” says Ludo. “One, you’re going to drop the temperature of the fat. And also, you want to make sure there’s good circulation all around the meat. If you put too much chicken, you’re not going to get a good crispy coating.”
Ludo seasons the finished chicken with kosher salt and herbs de provence, a preparation similar to the “sort of Basque chicken” Gold described all those years ago. It’s clear that, despite his later success, Ludo still loves this simple dish: “The sound of the skin, the crust making this sound between your teeth...it’s pretty magical.”