Buffalo Chicken Thigh Confit First Stage

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The day is nearing, and I’m finding myself growing excited at the prospect. And that also means it’s time to get real with this food I’m making. Friday morning, I set up a dry brine for the thighs. Essentially, I took the thighs out from their packaging, set them on cookie sheets and salted all sides. Just salt.

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And that’s it. I’ve got a beer fridge that often doesn’t actually have beer in it. It’s usually actually empty. It also happens to be just wide enough to fit a cookie sheet on it’s shelves. Which makes it the perfect place for me to set up my dry brine. I did this on a Friday morning, and let the thighs rest, uncovered until Saturday morning, confit day.

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Buffalo Chicken Thigh Confit

Recipe development has never really taken hold with me. But for whatever reason, as my general understanding and comfort with cooking has grown, I’ve come to do more recipe development, just without the documentation and recipe part. Well alright, my skills are starting to show, time to optimize.

So for the big game this year, one of the couples in our friends group is hosting a party. The husband asked that of all the couples attending, the primary cook for each bring his or her ‘signature’ dish. As it happens, I’m the cook of my couple so I had some thinking to do. Technically, I have one ‘signature’ dish. It’s pulled pork. I make the best non-competition quality, non-restaurant volume pulled pork around. All humility here, I’m sure. I also make a wonderfully spicy chili. Either of those dishes could be considered a ‘signature’ dish.

Here’s the rub; I don’t believe in this signature dish bullshit. I have the confidence in my cooking skills that whatever I set my mind to cook, I could cook. The world now being my oyster, I had two objectives in mind. First,  I wanted to make hand food. Whatever I brought to the party should require no utensils. This ruled out the chili. Second, I wanted to over-do things a bit. People who know me would suggest that my signature move is overdoing things, and I’m inclined to agree. And for this year’s party, I took the invitation to bring my signature dish as more of a challenge than a request. A challenge that I intended to meet.

So here we are; finger food, and it has to blow heads. For whatever reason, the very first food that came to mind was chicken wings. But chicken wings, even tossed in a fancy breading and lovingly deep-fried, are boring. Sure, I might set the world on fire with some damn-fine chicken wings, tossed in a sweet and spicy Asian zing sauce; but it’s not likely, not this time. So now we’re back to my recipe development philosophy. I thought, maybe I could acquire some agar agar and make some chicken wing jelly, serve it up super-deconstructed.

And then, it struck me. I know how to make a chicken thigh confit. I don’t just know how to make chicken thigh confit; I make it in such a way that the mere change in process from a 90 minute cook to a confit process has revolutionized the consumption of chicken in our household. Knowing this, I began to think how I could get from chicken thigh confit to Buffalo chicken wings. The first thought that came to my mind was meat glue. What if I were  to confit chicken thighs and then using meat glue, reconstruct them into boneless chicken wings which I tossed in buffalo sauce?

Now we’re dabbling with forces relatively unknown to me. So it was time to do some research. Turns out I’ve found at least one example (albeit using duck confit) I could refer to as a guide on boston.eater.com,

I also spent a lot of time  studying the optimal way to fry chicken, how to make thinner, crispier skin, and how to hold the fried chicken hot in such a way that it retains crispiness, allowing for a smoother party transport process. And so, with the next few posts, what follows will be my buffalo chicken thigh confit recipe.

Of Introductions

Hello and welcome to I Help Cook, the culinary adventures of a 30-something business type whose main hobby remains to be, as it has been for many years, cooking on the weekends.

A preface upfront. I spent a significant chunk of my late teens and early twenties thinking I was bound for a life of writing. I spent an even more significant chunk of that time running from the call to cook, and cook well. I spent the rest of my twenties living, generally under the impression that the voice to write had gone, and lazily pursuing the weekend hobby of cooking.

A few years ago, that all started to change. I’m not sure exactly what was the catalyst; whether it was the reclamation of my Forschner chef’s knife my father gave me late in high school, with the hopes of spurring me on to some ‘direction’ in life, or was it the gifting of a copy of the 75th anniversary edition of Joy of Cooking I’ll never get to the bottom of it. But with the slow urgency of a suburban middle class life, the urge to cook, and cook well, came back.

Now, here I am searching out recipes and foods to make every weekend, giving careful consideration to the desire of my children to assist in my recipe selection, and when my generally prize-winning chili is no longer good enough to bring for a party; I find myself crafting, building methods and recipes.

So what can you expect from I Help Cook? Experiences, irreverence, humor and the occasional recipe. Predominantly, my cooking I view as a form of skills-honing. Sometimes, I use the craft as a venue for improvement. Eventually, I’ll report on my experiences making cornbread, and the journey to my own bespoke recipe that led me down. I’ll have some feedback on that amazing Momofuku Ribeye recipe, and perhaps (if I ever get around to testing it) an innovative take on the seared/baked/basted Steak concept, which, if you haven’t tried, go do so now.

I’ll bring some irreverence to the table here as your host. In my time here on this earth, I’ve come to regard nearly nothing as sacred. My words, when I feel so inclined, may reflect this. I’ve grown to accept that selection and variety is great with vocabulary, but sometimes the colloquial will fucking suffice. I’ll bring some humor too, I’m sure the occasional interjection of children into my cooking processes will yield great results. I have found that with age, I’ve grown less severe about life and increasingly more ironic about the whole affair. I’d only hope that comes through here in my words.

And finally, a word on recipes. Yes, recipes are important. They’re the bread and butter of cooking anywhere. If America’s Test Kitchen had never run that weeknight chicken taco segment (and believe me, if I didn’t have a DVR), then I wouldn’t make the damn best chicken tacos of anyone I know. The Joy of Cooking is my bread and butter when it comes to the best pancakes you’ve ever eaten; especially on a semi-hungover Saturday morning when you’ve a whole parade of children dancing in excitement for your pancakes, I use paprika to store and catalog my favorites from the webs, the app was my lifeblood this past Christmas Dinner. However, and to me this is a fairly big however, recipes are not the end. They’re merely the building blocks for the intuition and understanding needed. I think of cooking like a language. My objective when I learn a new technique or dish is not rote memorization. I’m looking for the grammar, the building blocks. I like to understand the makings of a food and taste, and to have the skill-set and talents to re-write that palate of taste as I see fit. My very best recipes may have started with an inspiration from here or there, but the final product, the iterated, tested and favored recipe are all me, my ideas, my understanding. Am I selling you on cooking me, my style, my food? No. I’m selling you on finding your own voice. And hopefully I can be a guide along your path.

Welcome.

What’s upcoming? It’s the week of the big game, and with that comes the requisite party. This year, I had intended to make and bring a chili I make (I’ll post on that soon enough), but I finally realized what a party really needs is appropriate finger food. So I’ve settled on a sort of reconstructed chicken wing. Starting with some dry-brined chicken thighs, I’ll confit them, debone and wrap them in skin balls (using some trusty meat glue along the way), and the day of the game, deep fry and spin in hot sauce and butter. Fitting with my philosophy of language and experience being the best teachers, I’ll try to take you along the process with me, documenting the ‘recipe’ portion to be sure, but doing my best to surface my thought process as much as possible.