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Soul, vegan foods share garlic powder in common

Globally inspired seasoning blends to spice up home-cooked menus have reigned for more than two weeks on this blog. Now it’s time to show some love for a flavor long dismissed by professional cooks but finding favor again.

Garlic powder, in some circles, was seen as a low-brow imitator of the fresh bulb. In the Black and Latin communities, however, it’s remained a staple. It’s not only easy to use but imparts a sweet funk essential to some dishes in which the pungent punch of fresh garlic would be out of place, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times.

Indeed, granulated garlic, as it’s more accurately known, is a key ingredient in barbecue rubs, where it enhances the flavors of caramelized meats. For battered foods, it blends easily with the flour dredge. Fresh garlic can’t do that. It’s even upheld by vegan cooks who swear that it lends the kind of savory note to vegetables that convinces carnivores to eat them.

I’ll confess that I find the high-brow distaste for granulated garlic misplaced. Although my reliance on it has ebbed and flowed over the years, it’s always remained a pantry staple for seasoning everything from egg salad to lamb ribs. There isn’t a ground meat mixture, whether for tacos or burgers, in my kitchen that doesn’t incorporate garlic powder.

So here’s a classic dish that celebrates garlic powder in all its practical, approachable glory. Fried chicken is so straightforward yet so conscientious in its method for producing a crunchy coating over succulently moist, perfectly seasoned bird.

This recipe, courtesy of the Times, uses only a double coating of flour as a crust, which lets the flavor of the chicken and seasonings shine through. If you prefer a thicker, crunchier coating, try the buttermilk-brined variation.

Garlic Fried Chicken

1 whole chicken (4 to 5 pounds), or 3 to 4 pounds chicken drumsticks and thighs

2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt, divided

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, divided

2 1/8 teaspoons garlic powder, divided

2 cups all-purpose flour

6 cups vegetable or peanut oil, vegetable shortening or rendered pork lard, for frying

If using a whole chicken, first cut off whole legs on each side and separate thighs from drumsticks. Next, cut out backbone, then remove center breastbone. Halve chicken breasts to separate. Then, cut each breast crosswise so that one piece has wing with about a third of breast and other piece has most of breast; remove tips from each wing if you'd like. You will have 8 pieces total; save chicken carcass for making stock or discard.

Set the chicken pieces on a large cutting board and dry them thoroughly with paper towels. Season chicken all over with 1 tablespoon of the salt, 2 teaspoons of the pepper and 2 teaspoons of the garlic powder. In a large bowl or brown paper grocery bag, combine the flour, 1 tablespoon of the salt and remaining 1 tablespoon pepper; shake to combine. Add two chicken pieces to bowl or bag and toss to coat evenly in flour. Transfer coated pieces to a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet and repeat dredging remaining chicken pieces.

Let all pieces sit on the rack for at least 10 minutes, then dredge pieces a second time. Discard flour in bag, fold bag flat and reserve bag. In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder; reserve.

Pour the oil or melt the shortening or lard in a large, deep cast-iron skillet or heavy-bottomed pot (it should come about 3/4 inch up side). Attach a deep-fry thermometer to side of pan and heat fat to 375 F over medium-high heat.

Add half of chicken pieces to fat and fry, flipping pieces over every 2 to 3 minutes to prevent them burning where they touch pan, until golden brown all over and an instant-read thermometer inserted into each piece reads at least 160 F, for about 15 minutes. Temperature of oil will drop once you add chicken and might rise too high over time, so adjust heat to maintain a temperature between 350 and 360 F throughout cooking.

Transfer chicken to reserved paper bag (or paper towels) to drain and repeat cooking remaining chicken, allowing oil to return to 375 F before frying. While cooked chicken is still wet with hot oil, sprinkle it with some of the garlic-salt mixture, then let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 to 8 servings.

VARIATION: For Buttermilk-Brined Fried Chicken, after butchering chicken, transfer pieces to a large bowl and mix with 4 cups buttermilk to coat. Season buttermilk and chicken liberally with salt and pepper, then cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight. Drain chicken pieces thoroughly before dredging in seasoned flour. For a thicker crust, return dredged pieces to bowl of buttermilk to coat, then dredge a second time in seasoned flour. Let rest on a rack for 10 minutes before frying.

Tribune News Service photo