“There was once, when we were in Australia…” How many great stories start that way? It’s the “one time, at band camp” for musicians. This particular yarn comes from Foo Fighter’s frontman, Dave Grohl — rock god and pulled pork pitmaster — about the origin of his obsession with pairing KFC Original Recipe chicken and champagne.
The tale comes from the latest episode of Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend, featuring Grohl. The whole interview is a delight; Dave Grohl is sunshine in human form, after all. But the first ten minutes shine the brightest, as the megastar waxes poetic on the magical combo of fried chicken and champagne.
The gist of the story is this, O’Brien and the Foo Fighters have the same tour manager, Gus Brandt. While commiserating comically about that fact, Grohl launched into a tale about how Brandt hooked The Foo Fighters up with KFC Original Recipe buckets of fried chicken while they were touring in Oz.
Grohl launched into the story like a true raconteur, “So I’m picking up pieces of chicken and I’m eating like a raccoon in a dumpster.” Hey, we’ve all been there. But with food that salty, you need something to wash it down.
“I look and to my left was a bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice,” Grohl continues. “So I pop the champagne and start drinkin’ it. Then I take a bite of chicken. And then I have some champagne and then I take a bite. And I look at everyone and I’m like, ‘YOU GUYS! YOU HAVE TO TRY THIS! THIS IS AMAZING!’”
Grohl relates his discovery of pairing fried chicken with champagne like a scientist unlocking cold fusion. The whole crew loved it so much that Grohl says they “started doing it every night.” In fact, Champagne soon became such a passion point for the gang that Grohl and Foo Fighters keyboardist, Rami Jaffee, once rode bikes from Paris to Champagne for a tour and tasting at a champagne Maison. While there, they asked the somm if he knew that champagne paired so well with fried chicken.
It’s truly a delightful story. O’Brien, being the consummate interviewer, did ask which champagne Grohl preferred with his pairing. “I mean, we usually go with Veuve,” Grohl said.
As a food and drinks writer and a huge Grohl fan, I clearly needed to try this pairing ASAP. So I headed out to the drive-thru KFC to get a bucket of Orignal Recipe, then grabbed a chilled bottle of Veuve Cliquot Brut from the grocery store. The smell of the fried chicken filled my car and activated sense memories from the last time I had KFC, in Jakarta. By the time I got home, the smells had really set in and I was ready to tuck in.
I plated up the bucket and popped the cork on the champers. I started with a drum. It was exactly like I remembered. Savory, crunchy-yet-soft, and full of those signature eleven spices and herbs. I took a sip of Veuve from the coupe and… Yeah, it worked.
The dry and sweet nature of the bubbly along with the actual bubbles was the perfect bright counterpoint to the savory, greasy, and spiced nature of the fried chicken. It was like the bubbles were cutting through the fattier aspects of the chicken somehow making them lighter. The oiliness of fast food was tamped down considerably.
I sipped champagne. I ate more chicken. I sipped more champagne. Before I knew it, I was half a bottle deep on the champers and three pieces into a bucket. The pairing even made the slightly dry breast piece more palatable, with the sweet edge of the Veuve dominating the flavor this time (like those rare games when Pippen would be the star and Jordan would be #2).
The best combo with the Champagne was definitely the thigh. The fried skin led to a real bite of dark meat that practically demanded to be cut by the effervescent, dry, and slightly sweet Veuve. We don’t all get to be rock stars in this life, but there are times when we can live like one. This is one of those — shared by one of the preeminent rockers of the past 50 years, who also happens to really know food — and it’s both deeply enjoyable and way cheaper than shredding a hotel room.