CRACKER BARREL CHICKEN


THE CRACKED - BARREL


BACKGROUND

I was trained in a Manhattan restaurant in NYC and we did a huge chicken business, fried, grilled, stir fries, salad and sandwich's.   About half a cow in burgers, 50 chickens a day, delivered fresh, we prepped, cooked  and ready by lunch time. I am a chickenhawk and just wrote paper on Chicken in Tampa Bay… Found some of the worst possible treatment of everyday food the plebeian class lives on right here in Tampa Bay, the franchise beancounter franchise food capitol of the world. 

On TV this week all we heard was ad after ad that Cracker Barrel was now into Fried Chicken.  After a few days , I said to my associate critic, lets try the Fried Chicken at Cracker Barrel, I was TV brainwashed… she said OK…  After our meal there, and harsh words like bad, bad, bad she might talk to me again in a week or so… 

It was the worst fried chicken I have ever been served in my life. And I just did a local special on roasts and wings so I was tuned into some good chicken… and this was inedible. This was not fried it was destroyed


Our server, a really nice young lady told us you were getting a breast, a thigh, a leg and a wing.  Best description would be where did they get the anemic chickens.  It was coated in something resembling concrete, crispy no, case-hardened yes.  If you had a tender bite, this stuff was like rocks.  It had more crust than two of its competitors.

I peeled back the layers of coating to get to the chicken and I would call it about a 60-40 relationship, 60% coating and 40% chicken with no taste.  I got tired of fighting with it, so did my partner and we did the same we stripped the coating off and I asked for the manager.

This Cracker Barrel does a good business and most of their other locations also with conventional Americana foods I would imagine usually they have a following and about a 3.5 to a four in evaluation.  I was very wrong, the critical accurate sites showed them at a t range of 2.3  to 3.0.

Their ad bragged about Southern Fried Chicken, at Cracker-Barrel .. " authentically prepared, double-breaded by hand with a custom blend of three types of black pepper and several seasonings and spices, then fried until it is perfectly crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside".  ROCK HARD IS NOT CRISPY,   IT’S BURNT OR STALE

I must be in the wrong place as this was a breadcrumb concoction cooked in a pressure cooker  (AKA KFC PRESSURE COOKERS)  and came out rock hard or laying under heat lamps stale. I live in the South and we do a lot of chicken. 


NOT THEIR VERSION OF FAST FOOD PRESSURE COOKER CHICKEN…
It was all for naught and the worst  $10.79. I could have spent times two.  For the 25 dollars I could have brought home five cooked chickens from Costco who won our Chicken Roasted contest and enjoyed them… The picture below is not what we got, it was Fifty Shades Of Grey darker and ominous. 


MANAGER IMPUT and BEANCOUNTER CORPO GUANO
I chatted with the manager.  “ Made-from-scratch offerings, the ad said".  I'm still scratching my head as to how did they screw this up.  He explained the equipment is new and can’t differentiate between a wing and a breast so it doesn’t cook evenly.  Then stop serving it that way.

I said calibrate cooking times and temperature,  If it’s that fast cooking, do the wings and legs alone and then cut the time.  I was then told they are automatic and not changeable or they had no clue as to how to do this.  This sounds like a typical corporate clusterf*ck in nature and execution.

Simple, it’s a new process for them, no experience, bad faster food… and it’s called a pressure cooker.  Same process as the thing KFC uses.  Except no proper training, no testing, a poor showing.  Maybe the B team was on duty and don’t know how, sounds like a training problem.  

I quote their ad:  ” We pay homage to one of the most well-loved dishes in Southern cooking, each piece of bone-in Southern Fried Chicken is authentically prepared, double-breaded by hand with a custom blend of three types of black pepper and several seasonings and spices, then fried until it is perfectly crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside.”.   

It was till you guys got to it... Where are the corporate bean counters when you need them...  I doubt if they had real Southern Fried Chicken made well nor Pressure Cooker Chicken… Here is the real thing….


REAL SOUTHERN FRIED CHICKEN IS A SIMPLE DISH 
We brine, and/or then season, the standard eight piece chicken cut.  Simple pieces, two breasts, two thighs, two wings and two legs, sometimes we marinate the chicken pieces in a brine, with salt, pepper, and paprika, rolled in flour, sometimes for kick, throw some crushed spicy Doritos into the mix and re-flour.  Simple… nothing requiring the corpo guano bullshit of two years testing. It was two years figuring how to make money fast and cheap.

Add 1/2 to 3/4 inch oil ( Canola and Olive Mix) to a large, heavy skillet. Heat to approximately 365 degrees F (185 degrees C). Place chicken pieces in hot oil. Cover, and fry until golden, turning once, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain on paper towels.  Thats Southern Fried Chicken  

BRINE THE CHICKEN

Nothing attractive has ever come out of brine. It’s nothing but a soak to add moisture and flavor to something.  Don’t swear it off just yet, though, because brining your chicken before you cook it can be a crucial part of the whole process. It adds flavor, keeps the meat juicy, and even reduces the risk of overcooking.  Heres the Secret Brine used by Ya-Ya’s a chain which is rapidly going out of business, the best part of their meal was the brine, their chickens were microscopic, underweight and burnt to death on live fire by incompetent kids at eight dollars an hour. and burnt.

There are a few ways to do this. The wet brine is basically a solution of the following and it varies by culture and tradition. plenty of brines to choose from on the web.

  • salt
  • sugar
  • water
  • herbs - common Italian mix works well
  • spices and aromatics, garlic and onion
  • which you then bring to a boil and stir to allow those flavors to really stew together. After that, you let the whole thing become cold (don’t want those bacteria joining the party) and then submerge the pre-cooked bird or cuts, leaving them to brine for up to two days in the refrigerator. 
  • Dry brining is a similar technique in which the salt, sugar and seasonings are rubbed straight onto the meat, allowing for a quicker turnaround since they'll soak in after just a few hours. Whichever method you choose, the chicken that ends up on your plate is guaranteed to be far tastier and more exciting than anything you’ve made before.


ANOTHER CITRUS MARINADE - BRINE used by POLLO TROPICAL
Ingredients

  • 6 chicken breasts - or thighs
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice - approx. 2-3 limes
  • 1 tsp lime zest - finely grated 
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice - approx. 2-3 lemons
  • 1 tsp lemon zest - finely grated 
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice - approx. 2 large oranges
  • 8 cloves garlic - minced
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp dried basil



RESOLVE

1-I suggest they send a representative down here and contract me and I will take them to the Valhalla of Fried Chicken, Bob Heilmans Beachcomber, a five star known for fifty years for it’s Fried Chicken and learn a few things about taste and texture for real chicken, pan-fried, not pressure cooker manipulated bullshit they are spending money on advertising.

2-This was a total disappointment and the manager or asst manager whomever offered some tenderloins in exchange which was appreciated but unique,  for the lousy chicken. was followed up by the two anemic 1/4 inch thick subs of meat totally burnt on one side and not cooked on the other, I had it… I pitched it and left… the tenderloins were insult to injury and thus I’m unloading to corporate, and my contacts in various food resources nationwide thru the six sites I write on not to eat that garbage.

3-I grabbed the check, tipped the girl nicely, Samantha who was nice.  It was not her fault, a bad chef, or worker, or management fell on their butt that day,  and realized this place has gone down hill and something real is failing there.

4-On a followup, I started looking into that chain, poor relations with customers and employees and a whole bunch of corpo-guano bullshit… Many charges of abuse, Neanderthal management, stupid rules, no breaks, and a lot of reasons not to eat there.