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Smoky Tea-Brined Fried Chicken

Daniel Breaker's Smoky Tea-Brined Fried Chicken + Sweet Potato Souffle in Orange Cups with Candy Canes
Daniel Breaker's Smoky Tea-Brined Fried Chicken + Sweet Potato Souffle in Orange Cups with Candy CanesNathan Congleton / TODAY


  • 12 cups water
  • 3 ounces Lapsang souchong tea
  • 1 cup salt
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 6 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 chicken, cut up into 8 pieces
  • 3 pints buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha
  • Peanut oil, for frying
  • 6 cups flour
  • 1 cup corn starch
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin

Chef notes

Fried chicken is crunchy, salty and juicy, and it's the comfort food that spans generations and cultures. Browning the chicken before cooking guarantees a juicy and well-flavored bird. The addition of tea deepens the flavor even further.

Swap option: Peanut oil is my favorite for frying, but canola or vegetable oil work as well. If you can't find Lapsang souchong tea, any black tea will do.



Bring water to a boil. Turn off heat, add tea and steep for 10 minutes. Strain tea through a fine mesh sieve or clean dish towel. Add salt and sugar and stir to dissolve. Add garlic, thyme, bay leaf and lemon. Chill brine in refrigerator until cold.


Add chicken to brine and chill for 10 hours. Remove chicken from brine and discard brine. Rinse chicken thoroughly with cold water, drain, then pat dry.


In a large bowl stir together buttermilk, sriracha and black pepper. Add chicken and marinate for 2 hours. Meanwhile, in a large clean brown paper bag, or a large bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, smoked paprika and cumin.


Remove chicken from buttermilk, letting some excess buttermilk drip away. Toss chicken in flour mixture letting sit for 10 minutes.


Add oil to a large Dutch oven, iron skillet, or wok, making sure oil won't overflow when chicken is added. Bring oil to 300°F.


Remove chicken from flour mixture knocking off some of the excess flour. Let chicken sit on a baking rack for 10 minutes. Gently place chicken in hot oil and fry for 10 minutes flipping once until chicken is crispy, browned and cooked through. Be sure not to overcrowd the pan while frying.


Drained fried chicken on a baking rack and serve.