After Katrina, I helped rebuild the fifty-year-old Willie Mae's Scotch House, one of the city's culinary landmarks. This is my attempt at re-creating Willie Mae's secret- recipe chicken, the best I've ever eaten. The Coca-Cola gives it a sweetness that plays nicely against the cayenne. I added pickle-garlic relish as a nod to the late, great Austin Leslie, another New Orleans cook and a high priest of the deep-fat chicken fryer. He died after evacuating his home after the storm. This dish is a tip of the hat to two of the best I've had the pleasure of knowing.
To brine the chicken:
Rinse the chicken, drain, and set aside. Combine all the remaining brining ingredients in a large bowl, stirring until the salt dissolves. Put the chicken in the brine, cover, and marinate, refrigerated, for 4 hours.
To make the batter:
Whisk the egg well in a stainless steel bowl and add the peanut oil and 2 1/2 cups water. In a separate bowl, combine all the remaining batter ingredients, then add the dry mixture to the egg mixture, whisking slowly so the batter doesn't clump.
To fry the chicken:
Fill a large cast-iron skillet halfway with equal amounts of peanut oil and lard. Slowly bring the temperature to 375degreesF. (Use a deep-fat thermometer.)
While the oil is heating, remove the chicken from the brine and place in a colander in the sink. Once the chicken has drained, pat it dry with paper towels (a critical step) and season with salt and pepper. Dip the chicken in the batter and place it (carefully) in the hot oil. Adjust the heat, as the chicken will bring the oil temperature down dramatically-you want it back up to just above 350degreesF. Turn the chicken regularly using tongs to prevent burning. After 8 or 9 minutes, remove a piece, prick it to the bone with a fork, and mash it. If the juices run clear, it's done. Continue cooking if necessary.
To make the pickle-garlic relish:
Finely chop and combine all the relish ingredients.
Serve with the chicken. Cover any leftovers with a dishtowel and leave out at room temperature (or in the fridge, if you must, although my grandmother never did). This keeps it crisp.