Today, in the second half of the interview, Gabriel tells us about his fried chicken technique, his thoughts on how trendy fried chicken has gotten, and sounds off on KFC.
So it was essentially your mother who taught you to fry chicken?
Yes, she taught me how to season it. She made up a seasoning, a dry seasoning, and you’ve got to put it on the chicken and let it sit for at least eight hours. You put it in the fridge for the next day. Eight hours at least, or you won’t get the taste of the chicken.
So you season it with a dry rub before frying it — do you do a soak in buttermilk too?
No buttermilk, just regular milk and eggs. And the special seasoning is [also] in the milk and in the flour, so…it goes all the way: in the chicken and the flour and the milk, to season the crust…you’ve got to know how much to use so it doesn’t get too salty.
What kind of oil do you fry in?
I use soybean or canola oil.
Is that also what your mother used to use?
We used Wesson oil. We didn’t have those others. So when I got here, I was testing to see which came closest.
Do you have any particular advice for home cooks who want to fry chicken?
The main thing is to season the chicken overnight. Then you’re going to taste the chicken. If you don’t, it’s going to be bland. You want a nice thin crust, so first an egg wash and then into the flour and then into the pan. It won’t be heavy or nothing, just a nice thin crust. And make the oil about 375.
And how often do you turn it?
You’ve got to turn it, but first you’ve got to let it start browning. And then when you see it’s browning, you turn it every minute. Because otherwise it’s going to burn if it sits there. And the pan should be only half full of oil, so not all the chicken is going to be underneath.
Do you miss your truck?
Oh man, yes, I do. I really do. I had to let it go. It got rotten, it was deteriorating. I wish I had it back.
Are there any other fried chicken restaurants that you like?
Well most fried chicken places are the commercial ones, like Kentucky. Those are the only ones here. There aren’t too many other fried chicken places. Kentucky’s, Popeye’s…
Do you like fast food fried chicken?
Well, you know, I used to like Kentucky’s, but something changed; it’s not the same like it used to be. It’s really greasy. It’s a different oil or something now.
How have you seen the city change since you came here 45 years ago?
Everything was fine up to the World Trade Center… I’ll never forget that day. And then my business went down, and now it’s picking back up.
What do you think about the fact that fried chicken is so trendy, so popular now?
Are you surprised?
Yeah! The owner, he came up and tried my chicken, and he had to put it in there. So he took me down there, and we put the chicken in there, and it really is working.
Do you cook at home?
At Thanksgiving, I usually cook. I cook turkey and ham. I don’t cook fried chicken for Thanksgiving. Just the turkey and ham. For Fourth of July, I cook chicken. I go down South, and when I go down South, I cook chicken. We do it outside in the wash pot, that’s the pot we used to use down South to boil our clothes.
What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made in the kitchen?
I didn’t make too many mistakes! [Laughs]
Some chefs say things like mistaking the salt for the sugar, or accidentally setting something on fire…
Ah, yeah, I have done that. I have made that mistake — put the salt in the wrong thing! I made iced tea and put in salt instead of sugar. People said, “This iced tea tastes like salt!” [Laughs] Yeah, I sure did.
Are there any other restaurants you like to eat at?
Since I have my restaurants, I don’t go out too much. I have gone to Applebee’s a couple of times, I like their fish. And we have this Jamaican Restaurant on 124th called Under the Tree. Their oxtails are good.
Is your mother still around?
No, she passed. She was 84.
I’m sorry. What do you think she would have thought about your chicken?
Well, I brought her here to New York before she passed, and she was so glad that I had a business, with the chicken.
Did she think your chicken was as good as hers?
She said it was close!
Well that’s pretty good then!
Yes, that’s pretty good.