FRIED CHICKEN IS one of the smartest choices you can make when ordering takeout. Shoving it into a cardboard box on a rainy night does it no harm, and it’s tasty at any temperature, with the best of the best retaining a crisp crust and juicy meat when eaten straight out of the fridge.
Cookie’s Country Chicken, headed up by Brian Chandler, meets those criteria — irresistible when hot enough to burn my fingers, and the last bites of a 2-day-old chilled drumstick remained compelling and succulent.
Chandler grew up along the Hood Canal, with family hikes that included fried chicken picnics. After an assortment of Northwest maritime jobs, tickets to an Outkast show brought him to Louisiana — and he stayed, cooking for oil industry crews for a couple years. Sunday fried chicken was a contractual obligation, and he got the process dialed in quickly, after a frying nightmare involving both burned crust and raw meat.
As Cookie’s Country Chicken, Chandler hosts pop-ups at Good Day Donuts, collaborating with them to create a chicken sandwich that replaces the bun with the dumbfounding genius of a pickle fritter. For what he calls Cookie’s Community Chicken, money is raised for the Elks’ veterans’ fund; his dad was a veteran, and he’s glad to give back. Finally, Cookie’s Commissary opened at 6031 Airport Way S. in Georgetown (inside Sneaky Tiki); hours vary, and online preorders are recommended.
Every word Chandler says about his chicken reinforces my belief that of all cooking techniques, frying is the one best left to professionals, particularly after he compared Good Day Donuts’ fryer to “finding an old Cadillac in a barn — what’s it like to drive this thing?” I am confident that mere home-cooking mortals would crash and burn, although not necessarily in that order.
His chicken involves a 48-hour process, including breaking down whole birds, a last-second dredge in the batter and frying at 340° F to a precise color, so every piece comes out the same shade of bright golden brown. The skin is delicately crunchy, resulting in a delicious heap of tiny cracklings to nibble after deciding you’re too full for another bite; the meat is consistently firm and juicy, whether it’s a bone-in piece or what the menu calls a tendie (Chandler’s hand-cut tenders are twice as large as any I’ve seen).
Along with that beautiful chicken, sides include mac ‘n’ cheese, collard greens and potato salad. He’s working on additions like Cajun green beans, corn casserole, red beans and rice, and fried cauliflower (for a vegetarian entree). None qualifies as fancy, but all qualify as fantastic.
Asked about the sublimely simple potato salad, Chandler explained that Gumbo Friday was every bit as important as Fried Chicken Sunday in his weekly menu planning — and his Cajun diners required a scoop of potato salad on top of their bowl of rice and gumbo.
When he makes a batch of potato salad at home, he doubles the amount of dressing here, and you can, too, if you’d like. Not sure what you’d do with it? Chandler suggests, “Add some to the leftovers in the coming days, or put it into an old Crown Royal jar, and give to your mother — mine is who really taught me how to make potato salad.”
Picnic Potato Salad
This is all about the technique — taking the time to chop the pepper, celery and egg very small, and cooling the potatoes immediately after cooking, will make all the difference. Mixing the dressing into the potatoes by hand feels much like finger painting, and works fantastically for gentle, thorough blending.
2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (about 4 large), peeled and diced
3 hard-boiled eggs, very finely diced
4 ribs celery, finely diced
1 small bell pepper, seeded and very finely diced
2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard
2 ounces Nalley hot dog relish (see note)
2 tablespoons fresh dill
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Black pepper to taste
1. In a large saucepan, boil the potatoes in salted water until fork-tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain, spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet and place in the fridge to cool; this keeps them from getting mushy. (You also can cover and chill them overnight.)
2. In a large bowl, toss the potatoes and egg. In a small bowl, combine celery, bell pepper, mayonnaise, mustard, hot dog relish, dill, salt and pepper. Mix the dressing into the potato-egg mixture with your hands or a broad spatula. Serve chilled.
Note: Nalley hot dog relish has a mustard base with chopped pickles. If you can’t find it, try using pickle relish and extra mustard.