I made fried chicken for dinner Sunday night, which is a very, very good thing. The craft (art) of making pan-fried chicken is dying in our home kitchens, and I just might make it my personal mission to remind everyone of how wonderful and versatile this dish is. There’s probably no better cooking method to ensure a very moist and flavorful bird, even using the bland chickens mass-produced today. A properly cooked piece of fried chicken has a crispy crust, with a layer of flavorful skin and melted fat underneath, and moist, tender flesh in the interior. There’s something incredibly primal and exhilarating about biting into perfectly fried chicken. The question remains, however, what’s the best method for making fried chicken???
Now there’s absolutely no consensus on this issue, and, in fact, there have been as many arguments about “proper” fried chicken as there are about the best barbecue. Some people make a batter-dipped chicken, whereas others just use flour, and a third class (and a lesser class, at that) uses bread crumbs or some other type of coating. Kim Severson of the New York Times recently wrote a piece on two New Orleans restaurants’ differing styles of chicken, both revered. But the differences don’t end with the crust. Pan fried vs. deep fried. Brined? Marinated? Injected??? Scott Peacock of Decatur’s Watershed Restaurant, adapting Miss Edna Lewis’ method, brines it for one day and then soaks it in buttermilk the next. He then dredges it in a combination of flour, cornstarch and potato starch to minimize gluten and maximize crunch. Oh, and then he fries it in lard flavored with bacon and country ham. John T. Edge has publicly declared Peacock’s to be the best fried chicken in the country, but it needn’t be that difficult.
Some people insist on using peanut oil, whereas others use vegetable shortening. There’s the lard contingency, of course. You need a fat with a high smoke point, but I like the simplicity of canola oil. It doesn’t leave a lot of greasy residue, either. You’ll want to get the oil to about 340-350°F. The hot temperatures allow surface water to escape and to keep out the grease. Start with your dark meat, and then add the breasts (breasts like a slightly lower temperature). Keep the temperature around 320° or so.
If you use a cast iron skillet, which has higher heat retention properties, you’ll be able to control the temperature better. Covering the chicken during the first half of cooking helps maintain an even temperature, too.
So how do I make fried chicken? I make it simple. A fairly short soak in salted buttermilk, dredged in all purpose flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and a quick fry in a cast iron skillet filled with canola oil. For something this good, this pure, why complicate things? That way, you’re more likely to make it frequently. Plus, cold, leftover chicken is much better with this simple style.
Recipe after the break.
Simple Fried Chicken
- 1 quart buttermilk
- 1/4 cup salt
- 1 chicken, 3-4 pounds, cut into 8 pieces
- canola oil
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- Salt and pepper for seasoning flour
In a very large zipper bag, combine salt and buttermilk until salt dissolves. Add chicken to bag, seal, and let sit for an hour at room temperature.
In a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat, pour enough canola oil to come nearly halfway up the sides. Heat oil to 340 to 350 degrees. Remove chicken from the bag, letting most of the buttermilk drip. Dredge each piece in seasoned flour. Let sit on wire rack until all chicken has been dredged.
Carefully add chicken to hot oil, skin side down, starting with dark meat. Cover. Turn dark meat after about 5 minutes and turn breast after about 7 minutes. Cook until a deep golden brown. White meat takes about 12-14 minutes to cook and dark meat cooks in a total of about 8-10 minutes. Let drain on a wire rack.
Drain chicken on clean cooling rack placed over a clean rimmed baking sheet.
Best served with cream gravy, but that discussion and recipe are for another day!