Today is National Fried Chicken Day, a celebration that should be sufficiently gluttonous without any added accoutrements. But since you'll need a beverage to wash down your bird, here are a few suggestions for what to drink with locally available fried chickens. (Note: The very notion of fancying up fried chicken with drink pairings probably makes old-time chicken maestros want to hit a food writer over the head with a cast-iron skillet. In their honor, we're keeping the selections relatively affordable.)
Read on for the goods.
Snooth, a wine website, reignited the fried chicken pairing debate today with its contention that an unoaked Chardonnay is the ideal counterpart to the Colonel's original recipe. "The acid was a perfect foil for the greasy chicken, and the interplay of fat and acid on the finish, along with the subtle fruit and chicken flavors, was tasty," Snooth wrote in its review of a 2010 Chardonnay from Valley of the Moon, which beat out a Riesling, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc.
While the tasting included a single Tempranillo, I think Snooth shortchanged the red end of the wine spectrum. Of KFC's signature (and super-secret) 11 herbs and spices, black pepper predominates. To underscore and round out the pepper's zest, I'd match the chicken to a Malbec, a jammy, mid-bodied and accessible varietal.
Popeye's, sweet tea, 99 cents
My favorite shorthand for wine pairings is "if it grows, it goes," which is why drinkers usually do just fine ordering a bottle of something Australian to match a lamb dish. What grows in Louisiana, the state that birthed what many connoisseurs consider fried chicken nirvana, is sugar cane. Sweet tea--or, as Popeye's menu calls it, "Sweeeet tea"--has the body to stand up to Popeye's chicken's complex spicing and the syrupiness to smooth its rougher edges. Most Southerners wouldn't drink anything else.
Evan Williams Black Label is remarkably good bourbon, and an able partner for Ezell's spicy thighs. The whiskey's earthiness mirrors the chicken's rusticity, and its sharpness cuts through the grease. Evan Williams has a caramel quality that imparts a heat-mitigating sweet tea effect without undercutting the chicken's pleasant burn. And it's hard to resist reaching for America's native spirit when fried chicken's on the table.
Korean-style fried chicken is renowned for its pristine flavors, a property that calls for sparkle. There are few meals more civilized than chicken and Champagne: As the Chicago Tribune's Bill Daley points out, the bubbles combat grease while the wine's yeastiness mirrors the chicken's batter. And, like fried chicken, Champagne is best savored as soon as its served. My favorite rose brut for summertime sipping comes from north of the border: Like a cleanly-fried chicken, the Cuvee Catharine is beautifully fresh and bright.