The Food Issue

Rye chef Colby Garrelts shares the recipe for his popular fried chicken

Fried chicken by Chef Colby Garrelts at Rye restaurant in Leawood.
Fried chicken by Chef Colby Garrelts at Rye restaurant in Leawood.

Chef Colby Garrelts returns to his food roots at his newly opened restaurant, Rye, in Leawood. Named after a grain grown in fields near Garrelts’ childhood home in western Kansas, the restaurant created by the multiple James Beard Award-nominated chef and his wife, Megan, Rye’s pastry chef, cooks in the comfort zone.

“I’m just a kid from Kansas, trying to make the food I know best,” Garrelts says. “The whole reason I started cooking in the first place is because it’s fun to eat, too.”

Rye’s hearty dishes — steaks, fried catfish, deviled eggs, corn muffins, mashed potatoes and gravy — are made with a thoroughly modern, Midwestern sensibility using seasonal, organic ingredients. But it’s Rye’s fried chicken that has diners clucking.

“Our recipe was inspired by the fried chicken I ate at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee,” Garrelts says. “I literally hounded the cook, who was from Arkansas, for the recipe, and she finally told me how to make the slurry, which is the secret behind the chicken’s flaky crust.”

Rye’s fried chicken is a three-step process, starting with 48 hours in the refrigerator. The restaurant fries 1,000 pounds of fresh, organic, free-range Amish hens from Ohio every week. The dish has been so well-received that Garrelts says they are considering adding another fryer to the kitchen.

Think of Rye as a taste of Grandma’s gastronomy. Expect the menu to change regularly to reflect what’s in season, including food harvested from the Garrelts family farm in Parker, Kan. However, the fried chicken will remain on the menu year-round.

Rye’s Fried Chicken Makes 1 chicken or 8 pieces 1 fresh, organic frying chicken, cut into 8 pieces For the brine:
6 cups water 1/4 cup salt 2 tablespoons sugar 2 tablespoons honey 4 bay leaves
15 whole cloves 2 1/4 teaspoons pepper 1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley leaves 1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh thyme with stems 1 lemon, zested and juiced For the slurry: 2 cups all-purpose flour 4 cups water 4 teaspoons baking powder 2 teaspoons garlic powder 4 tablespoons table salt 4 teaspoons cayenne pepper 4 teaspoons black pepper For the dredging mixture: 3 cups all-purpose flour 2 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder 2 1/2 tablespoons onion powder 2 teaspoons paprika 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 2 1/2 teaspoons table salt For frying: 1 (48-ounce) bottle vegetable oil

Place chicken pieces into a jumbo-sized resealable plastic bag. Set aside.

To make the brine:

Into a large saucepot, whisk water, salt, sugar, honey, bay leaves, cloves, pepper, parsley, thyme and lemon juice and zest together. Stir over medium heat on stovetop until sugar and salt dissolve and mixture starts to simmer.

Take off heat and allow to cool. Pour liquid into plastic bag over chicken, seal and place in refrigerator for 24 hours, periodically turning bag, so all pieces remain in brine.

Remove chicken from brine and rinse with water. Pat dry with paper towels and put chicken pieces on a wire rack, placed on a baking sheet. Put uncovered rack of chicken back into refrigerator for another 24 hours, to allow skin to dry out.

To make the slurry:

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, water, baking powder, garlic powder, salt, cayenne pepper and black pepper. Place brined and refrigerated chicken into mixture for 5 minutes.

To make the dredging mixture:

In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper and salt.

To prepare chicken:

Remove chicken from slurry and coat each piece separately in dredging mixture. Place chicken pieces, one by one, on a clean baking sheet, allowing the dredging mixture to set.

Pour enough vegetable oil into a 14-inch cast-iron pan so that it comes within 1 inch of the top of the skillet. Warm oil over medium-high heat on stovetop until it reaches 350 degrees when tested with an oil thermometer. (If you don’t have a large enough cast-iron skillet, you can use two pans, or fry chicken in batches. Do not crowd chicken in pans.)

Using tongs, carefully add dredged chicken to oil. Keep monitoring oil to maintain a consistent temperature by adjusting heat. Add breasts and thighs to pan first, followed by legs and wings.

Using tongs, turn chicken as needed to avoid over-browning. Smaller pieces may take 10 to 15 minutes, while larger pieces may need to fry 20 minutes. Fry until an instant-read meat thermometer reads 165 degrees when inserted into thickest parts of chicken without touching the bone.

Remove chicken from oil and drain on paper towels. Place chicken in an oven-safe dish and keep warm in an oven set to 170 degrees or bring immediately to table.

Per serving, including skin: 562 calories (75 percent from fat), 47 grams total fat (6 grams saturated), 45 milligrams cholesterol, 17 grams carbohydrates, 17 grams protein, 620 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.