Fried Chicken

Let’s talk fried chicken.  Not the healthy oven-baked version, but the real thing.  The fried chicken that leaves you with a greasy chin and flavorful fingers.   The fried chicken that only comes from soaking for hours in buttermilk before being fried in a cast-iron skillet with shortening and butter.   The fried chicken made with an equal combination of both love and hunger.

When it comes to fried chicken, I’m a tough critic.   I’ve wanted to write a post for years on fried chicken, but until now I was never completely satisfied with my final product.  After all, who wants to eat soggy, greasy, and dried fried chicken.  Not me.   Which is why I waited until I had a recipe that yielded juicy, crispy, and downright mouth-watering fried chicken to post it here on Minced.  I’m excited the day has finally come.  I’m thrilled that all that fried chicken testing got me to a recipe that I wouldn’t mind repeating again and again and again.  I can’t wait to hear what you think.

My quest for a ridiculously good fried chicken recipe has done more than drive me to the gym.  With each batch of not-quite-right chicken, I learned another tip or technique.  I’ve included them below.   My hope is that you’ll read them, take notes,  and then make better chicken.

Tips for better fried chicken: 

1. Cut the breasts in half.  This isn’t totally necessary, but even organic chickens are getting bigger and bigger these days.  Cutting the breasts in half allows them to cook in about the same time as everything else and as such, keeps them juicy.   Don’t remove the breast bones when cutting the breasts in half (just cut through them with a sharp knife).  Chicken breasts dry out easily and leaving the bones in keeps them moist while adding good flavor.

2.  Dredge twice.   Drain the buttermilk-soaked chicken in a colander then dredge it in the seasoned flour.   Right before frying, dredge it again.   The second dredging gives you a crispy outer crust with just the right amount of crunch.

3. Use shortening with butter.  I know what you are thinking and you can tsk-tsk me all you want.   For my 10-inch pan, I use a 1-lb container of Crisco vegetable shortening and six tablespoons of butter.  I’ve fried chicken in vegetable oil and canola oil before.  You can do the same if you want to make average chicken.

4. Remember the basics of pan-frying.  The fat should come halfway up the sides of the larger pieces of chicken when ALL of the chicken pieces have been added to the skillet.   Don’t move the chicken around or prod it endlessly with tongs.   This is especially important right after adding the chicken pieces.   Constant movement tends to scrape the flour off and leaves bald spots on your chicken.   Turn the chicken over about halfway through the cooking time.

5.  Use a thermometer to get the right temperature.  Adding chicken to oil that’s not hot enough is a recipe for greasy, soggy chicken.   Done correctly, chicken added to a fat heated to the proper temperature will immediately create a crust that keeps oil from getting into the chicken itself.   Remember that adding a bunch of cold chicken to hot oil will immediately cause the temperature to drop.  I let my chicken sit out for 30 minutes before cooking and then heat my oil 25 degrees higher than the cooking temperature before I add the chicken.  The temperature still drops when the chicken pieces are added, but it drops much closer to my desired cooking temperature resulting in less greasy and more delicious chicken.

6.  Don’t overcrowd the pan.  I use a 10-inch Lodge cast iron skillet to fry my chicken.   It’s the classic choice and for good reason.  It’s got high-sides to prevent grease from spilling over and carries heat evenly.  My only complaint is that it’s just a tad too small for a whole chicken.   If you’ve got a 12-inch skillet, you should be able to fit all the pieces in the skillet at once.  If you are using something smaller, don’t crowd the pan; cook in two batches if necessary.

I broke down a whole chicken into 8 pieces (2 chicken breasts, 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 wings) for this recipe.  We used one of the chicken breasts for an earlier meal and as a result, I was able to fry all the chicken pieces in one batch.   If I had two chicken breasts instead of the one, I would have done two batches.  My pan wouldn’t have been big enough and the flour tends to get knocked off if you overcrowd the pan.

7.  Eat it right away.  I love cold fried chicken, but fried chicken tastes best right out of the pan.  My primary reason for frying the wings is so that I have something to munch on while the bigger pieces finish cooking.   Hot chicken should come out of the pan and land on a paper-towel lined plate.  From there, you’ll know you’ve done right if it disappears quickly.  Happy cooking.

Fried Chicken – Printer Friendly Recipe
Serves about 3 people

While I use a lot of cayenne in this recipe, it’s got a surprisingly mild kick.  I definitely wouldn’t characterize it as spicy.

For the brine:
1 (3- to 4-lb) whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon hot sauce (I prefer Tabasco)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground red “cayenne” pepper
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

For the seasoned flour:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground red “cayenne” pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

For frying:
1 (16-ounce) container Crisco vegetable shortening
6 tablespoons unsalted butter

In a large bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, Tabasco, salt, cayenne, and ground black pepper.  Place the chicken pieces in a resealable plastic bag or large bowl and pour the buttermilk mixture over them.   Toss to coat.  Seal the bag or cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the chicken in the brine for at least 4, and preferably 6, hours.

Whisk together the flour, cayenne, garlic powder, salt, and pepper in a pie plate.  Place several paper towels on a dinner plate.

Place the chicken pieces in a colander and let them drain.  Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mixture and then set aside.

 In a large high-sided skillet, heat the vegetable shortening and unsalted butter to 350 degrees.  Dredge the chicken pieces again and then place the pieces in the skillet, skin side down.  Place the large pieces, such as the breasts and thighs, in the hot spots of the skillet.

Adjust the heat as needed; when the chicken pieces are first added the oil temperature will drop and you may need to increase the heat to bring it up again.  When frying the chicken, try to keep the oil temperature around 325 degrees.

Fry for 10 minutes then carefully turn the chicken pieces over and fry for another 8 to 10 minutes or until the thickest parts of the meat register 165 degrees.  Remove the chicken pieces from the skillet and set them on paper towels. Enjoy!


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