Chicken Coupe may have started out as a side event a few years ago at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, but it’s become a signature of the South Beach scene, once again squirreled away in the ballroom of the W Hotel. While Harlem legend Charles Gabriel was there serving his signature Southern pan-fried chicken, many of America's best fried chicken shacks aren’t represented (you won’t find Willie Mae’s, Gus’s, or Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, for example). Despite that, and the difficulties of serving hot fried chicken at an event (hey, even great fried chicken is amazing cold), it’s always a great opportunity to sample great chefs’ takes on a dish that has been a bona fide trend over the past 10 years.
Some 13 chefs participated in the third South Beach iteration of Chicken Coupe hosted by chef Andrew Carmellini of The Dutch Miami (also located in the W), who served huge pieces of chicken well lit under heat lamps in the center of the room and accompanied by bite-sized biscuits and slaw (there was plenty of The Dutch’s signature hot sauce on hand too).
There were some high-profile chefs participating. Chef Carla Hall of The Chew fraggled around the room while her team dished out a mini chicken pot pie (maybe healthier than the other options, but a bit loose and off-topic) topped with a chicken skin chicharron. Chef Art Smith was there, fresh from that afternoon’s 101?? gay weddings that he catered for free, his evening’s offering, a buttermilk fried chicken, boarding house biscuit with duck-fat French fries and roasted garlic aioli. And chef John Currence from City Grocery in Oxford, Miss., served fried chicken rillettes in Korean steamed buns with Kewpie mayonnaise, curried-cilantro relish, pickles, and hot sauce.This year’s award for put-it-in-your-pocket or stash-it-in-your-significant-other’s-purse (an award bestowed by this Daily Meal reporter each year) goes to John Lasater of Hattie B’s Hot Chicken in Nashville, Tennessee.
The night’s largest pieces were served by The Dutch and Michael Ferraro of Delicatessen, whose crunchy, giant, buttermilk-marinated, prosciutto-wrapped “oinking fried chicken” were the night’s biggest and hottest. The rest of the crowd? Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill, Charleston, N.C., served benne fried thighs with fresh pickled cucumbers, and Kyle Knall of New York City’s Maysville handed out fried chicken with blue cheese, celery root dressing, and salt and vinegar chips.
As every year, there were some scene-stealing standouts from a few of the chefs on hand, fried chicken so good, so zesty and moist, so flavorful that you almost didn’t want to sip from the flutes of Veuve Clicquot, Moët & Chandon, Nicolas Feuillatte, Champagne Henriot, and Pol Roger on the offer.
Frank Stitt of Highlands Bar + Grill in Birmingham, Alabama served on of the night’s best dishes, a beautifully frenched guinea hen jambonette with buttermilk dressing and a refreshing Anson Mills Sea Island red pea salad. Not far away, Richard Hales of Miami’s own Blackbrick served a Chinese hot fried chicken with cilantro aioli and twice-cooked okra. There was an exposed cross-section but the chicken was still hot, the meat juicy and moist, and the outer crust, thin and well spiced. Dale Talde of Talde in Brooklyn (Jersey City, and soon, Miami) served his version of Kung Pao chicken wings with peanuts, cilantro, scallions, and house-made buttermilk ranch. They were warm and sweet but not too sweet, the peanuts and scallions respectively adding crunch and freshness (nice ranch, chef).
But following in the footsteps of Karl Worley's Biscuit Love Truck, whose Nashville hot chicken with watermelon salad and thinly-shaved pickles was the best offering from 2014's Chicken Coupe, this year’s award for put-it-in-your-pocket or stash-it-in-your-significant-other’s-purse (an award bestowed by this Daily Meal reporter each year) goes to John Lasater of Hattie B’s Hot Chicken in Nashville, Tennessee. Hot chicken? Hot damn. This hot chicken lollipop with white bread, pickles, and black-eyed pea salad was piping hot, had zip, and tasted great the next day cold. It had at least a few members of the press handing out their cards.
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