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How to Make the Flavor Bomb, Oprah Winfrey’s Favorite Fried-Chicken Sandwich

The chef Kenny Gilbert shares his take on chicken and biscuits.

The Flavor Bomb Kristen Penoyer

Kenny Gilbert has been one of Oprah Winfrey’s personal chefs for almost a decade, so you know he’s doing something right. Now, with his first cookbook being released on April 11, we can all enjoy some of the dishes he’s whipped up for the queen of daytime TV. In Southern Cooking, Global Flavors, Gilbert takes iconic Southern meals and presents twists on them using ingredients from all over the world. Here, he shares his recipe for the Flavor Bomb, a take on fried chicken and biscuits that’s well worth the effort. The elevated biscuits incorporate chives, Gouda, and black truffle oil, while the fried chicken is tossed in the recipe’s namesake sweet and spicy sauce. We bet you’ll agree with Oprah on this one.

Over the years I have tailored my fried chicken recipe to the palate of Ms. Oprah Winfrey. My good friend, Chef Sonny Sweetman, introduced me to Ms. Winfrey in 2014, and I have been one of her personal chefs ever since. One Saturday at her home, Woody Harrelson, Willie Nelson, and their wives came for dinner. It was a beautiful Maui evening, and dinner was being prepared outside. I was standing at the buffet when Ms. Winfrey came walking up. As we were speaking, Gayle King’s son, Will, returned for seconds. He had made his biscuit sandwich with both my Fernandina Beach hot sauce and local honey—the combination that inspired my Flavor Bomb Sauce. Will suggested she try it and Ms. Winfrey took his advice. Later she said, “Kenny, it is worth flying you out here just for your fried chicken and biscuits.”

The cover of "Souther Cooking, Global Flavors"

The Flavor Bomb

Serves 6

For the Brine

  • 6 (5-oz.) boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 c. buttermilk
  • Juice of 2 lemons (¼ cup)
  • 3 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. liquid smoke
  • 2 tbsp. Chef Kenny’s Fried Chicken Seasoning, or other poultry seasoning
  • 2 tbsp. Chef Kenny’s Raging Cajun Spice, or other Cajun seasoning
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt

For the Flavor Bomb Sauce

Makes 4 cups

  • 1 c. vegetable shortening
  • 1 c. honey
  • 1 c. water
  • ½ c. apple cider vinegar
  • ½ c. jarred roasted red peppers with juice
  • ¼ c. Creole mustard
  • 3 fresh habanero peppers
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 navel oranges, cut into quarters
  • 1 small Spanish onion, sliced (½ cup)
  • 2 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp. Chef Kenny’s Raging Cajun Spice, or other Cajun seasoning
  • 1 tbsp. Chef Kenny’s Fried Chicken Seasoning, or other poultry seasoning
  • 2 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. xanthan gum

For the Biscuits

  • 4 c. self-rising flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 c. buttermilk
  • ½ c. granulated sugar
  • 4 tbsp. (½ stick) salted butter, melted
  • ¼ c. vegetable shortening
  • ¼ c. dried chives
  • 8 oz. smoked Gouda cheese, grated (1 c.)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp. black truffle oil
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. Chef Kenny’s Fried Chicken Seasoning, or other poultry seasoning
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. xanthan gum

For the Dredge and Fry

  • 4 c. canola or corn oil
  • 1 lb. lard
  • 1 c. self-rising flour
  • ½ c. cornstarch
  • ½ c. rice flour
  • ¼ c. Chef Kenny’s Fried Chicken Seasoning, or other poultry seasoning
  • 2 large eggs

Brine the Chicken: Place the chicken thighs into a one-gallon resealable plastic bag.

In a medium bowl, whisk the water, buttermilk, lemon juice, soy sauce, liquid smoke, chicken and Cajun seasonings, and salt.

Pour the brine into the plastic bag with the chicken thighs and toss with your hands to thoroughly coat the chicken.

Seal the bag and place in the refrigerator. Brine for a minimum of 15 minutes and up to 24 hours.

Make the Flavor Bomb Sauce: In a medium saucepan, combine the shortening, honey, water, vinegar, roasted red peppers, mustard, habaneros, garlic, oranges, onion, salt, Cajun and chicken seasonings, crushed red pepper, black pepper, and xanthan gum. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

Check a habanero pepper and an orange wedge for doneness. If they can be pierced easily with a knife, they are soft enough. Puree the mixture with a handheld stick blender until smooth. Set aside at room temperature. (This sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three months. Leftovers are a great sweet and spicy condiment that can be used for chicken wings, pork chops, ribs, fried cauliflower, and much more.)

Make the Biscuits: In a large bowl, mix the flour, buttermilk, sugar, melted butter, shortening, dried chives, Gouda, eggs, truffle oil, apple cider vinegar, chicken seasoning, salt, and xanthan gum by hand, just until the dough starts to come together. Alternatively, you can mix the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook. Mix on low speed for two minutes, just until the dough starts to come together.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Using an ice cream scoop, portion out six large biscuits. Lightly dust each biscuit with flour and lightly press them down with a spatula or small bowl to a ½-inch thickness.

Transfer the sheet pan to the refrigerator and chill the biscuits for at least 15 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Preheat the oven to 375°F.


Bake for 15 minutes on the middle rack of the oven. Rotate the sheet pan and bake for another eight minutes, until the biscuit tops are golden brown. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature. Reduce the oven temperature to 170°F.

Make the Dredge and Fry the Chicken: Heat a 14- or 16-inch cast-iron skillet or frying pan on medium-low. Put the oil and lard in the skillet and heat for 20 minutes.

Mix the self-rising flour, cornstarch, rice flour, and chicken seasoning in a large bowl.

Remove the bag of brined chicken from the fridge. Whisk the eggs in a small bowl. Add the eggs to the bag, seal, and thoroughly coat the chicken with the egg by massaging the bag.

Working with one piece of chicken at a time, dredge each piece in the flour mixture, then set on a plate. Let the chicken rest for three to five minutes; reserve the flour mixture.

Check the temperature of the oil in the skillet with an instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches 325° to 350°F, dredge the chicken again in the flour mixture. (Note: The first dredging of the chicken creates the first layer of batter on the chicken, while the second dredge adds the crunch factor.)

Gently set half the chicken pieces in the hot oil and fry for two minutes. Turn each piece with a long-handled strainer or spider and fry for another five to seven minutes, until golden brown and crispy.

Transfer the chicken to a plate lined with paper towels. Check the temperature of the chicken. If the chicken is under 165°F, return it to the skillet and continue to cook, flipping the chicken often to ensure even cooking. Move the cooked batch to a sheet pan and place in the warm oven. Continue until all the chicken is fried. Remove the chicken from the oven to briefly toast the biscuits. Increase the oven temperature to 400°F.

The Build: Halve the biscuits and place on a parchment paper–lined sheet pan. Toast in the oven for five minutes.

Place the fried chicken in a large bowl and gently toss with three cups of the Flavor Bomb Sauce until well coated.

Top the bottom half of each biscuit with a piece of fried chicken, followed by the biscuit lid. Plate the remaining servings and serve any remaining sauce alongside.

Reprinted from © Southern Cooking, Global Flavors by Kenny Gilbert, Rizzoli New York.

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