Marcus Samuelssonis a Swedish–Ethiopian chef, but you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s an American one. He made headlines in 2009 when he cooked for Barack Obama’s first state dinner and, since then, has been a regular feature on US television screens.
In an episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, he revealed how he and his sister were separated from their family at the outbreak of the Ethiopian civil war when he was just three years old. That led to their being adopted by a Swedish family.
On moving to Gothenburg to start his new life, the young Kassahun Tsegie became Marcus Samuelsson and developed an early interest in cooking through his adopted grandmother. In his own words:
“People don’t think about it, but Sweden and Norway were very poor countries. That’s where all those dishes come from – like lefse and rye bread. It was food that could sustain for a long time. If you had a whole animal, you used it for two months. You broke it down, you smoked it, you pickled it.”
After studying at the Culinary Institute in Gothenburg, Samuelsson apprenticed in Switzerland, Austria and, finally, the United States, where he eventually settled.
Marcus Samuelsson is a master at fusing myriad techniques and flavours from around the world – not least Scandinavian ones. But it has been in merging the high points of East African and African–American culinary traditions that put his signature restaurant, Red Rooster, on the map.
You can run the gamut from Ethiopian spice-crusted lamb to (very) American peanut-bacon pork chops in his excellent Red Rooster Cookbook, but we’ll plump here for Coconut Fried Chicken as the dish you absolutely must try at home. (Other great Marcus Samuelsson cookbooks include New American Table, The Soul of a New Cuisine, and Marcus Off Duty.)
2 cups (470ml) water
1 cup (240g) coarse salt
6 cups (1 ½ litres) ice water
4 chicken thighs
4 chicken drumsticks
2 cups (470ml) buttermilk
¾ cup (175 ml) coconut milk
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (40g) semolina flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp white pepper
3 cups (710ml) peanut oil for frying
For the chicken shake:
¼ cup (30g) berbere
¼ cup (30g) hot smoked paprika
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp white pepper
2 tbsp celery salt
1 ½ tsp granulated garlic
1 ½ tsp coarse kosher salt
You can make the chicken shake in advance or while you’re waiting for the chicken to cool (after Step 2). Simply mix all the chicken shake ingredients together in a bowl. It will make more than you need for this recipe, but will store for at least six months in an airtight container kept out of the light.
Note that this recipe requires marinating the chicken overnight (Steps 1 to 4).
Marinating (the night before)
Add the 2 cups of water and the salt to a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer and stir to dissolve all the salt. Remove from the heat and pour into a larger pot.
Add the ice water to the large pot to cool, followed by the chicken. Cover the pot and refrigerate for 1 ½ hours.
In a 9 x 13 inch (23 x 33cm) baking dish, add the buttermilk, coconut milk, garlic, and 1 tablespoon of chicken shake. Whisk this together.
Remove the chicken from the saltwater and dab with paper towels to remove any excess liquid. Then add the chicken to the marinade and roll it around until it’s thoroughly coated. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Fill a large cast iron pan (or fryer if you have one) with ⅔-full with peanut oil. Heat to 360°F (182°C) over a medium-high heat.
While the oil is heating, mix together the all-purpose flour, semolina flour, cornstarch, and white pepper.
Remove the chicken from the baking dish and allow any excess marinade to drip off. Then roll it thoroughly in the flour mixture, ensuring the chicken is completely coated.
Lay the chicken on a wire rack over a baking sheet. If the coating looks damp, roll it in the flour mixture again.
Keeping the oil between 350–375°F (180–190°C), fry the chicken in batches until it’s golden brown on both sides and reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (73°C). This should take about 10 minutes per batch.
Drain the chicken on a rack set over a baking sheet and let it rest for 8–10 minutes.
Now get the chicken really crispy by frying it a second time (approximately 3 minutes). Drain it again on a rack.
Sprinkle the pieces with additional chicken shake, and enjoy.
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