Who doesn’t have a love affair with fried chicken? The Midwestern super Sunday supper. Piping hot from the fryer. Crunchy on the outside. Moist and steamy on the inside. Perfect picnic fare. Ever go the Indy 500? They won’t let you in without a bucket and a cooler of cold beer.
I LOVE fried chicken. When I lived in Billings, I joined a church discussion group. Everyone went around reminiscing their favorite meal. Montana is beef country, so most folks talked about steak, which I admit is fabulous. However, when my turn came, I proclaimed “fried chicken.” “Hmmmmm,” they responded, dreamily remembering their own fried chicken dinner love affairs.
My daughter and son-in-law can’t get enough of the stuff. So, when I want a favor, I fry up a batch or two. Sometimes I do it just because I love them. We’ve had fried chicken for Christmas dinner on more than one occasion, for cryin’ out loud. We’re fried chicken junkies, I admit. I am a card carrying member of Fried Chicken Anonymous.
As many times as I’ve put a scald on a bird, I’ve used as many different techniques. I can’t seem to settle on one recipe, except for the dredge which has evolved but remains basically the same over the years. I know you’re thinking, “What on earth? It’s flour, salt, and pepper, moron.” Aha – wait for it.
And I’ve experimented with different frying techniques. I’ve used a cast iron skillet, voted the numero uno fry in the world, no argument from me. I’ve tried deep Les Cruset pots, but I can’t keep the oil temperature consistent, which is important. I have an electric skillet with a thermostat and a lid, but it’s just not quite right. I’ve used combinations of lard, shortening, canola oil, and peanut oil. Oven fried without the vat of oil, which really isn’t fried chicken, by the way, but I get why some folks go this route.
Sometimes perfect. Sometimes not. I tried until I got it the way I wanted it.
Today was my day!
The Proper Frying Vessel
After watching many chefs and cooks do fried chicken in a commercial deep fat fryer, I decided that was the best method for me. The one I chose came unexpectedly in an Amazon email of daily deals. The T-fal Ultimate EZ Clean fryer. Take a look:
The basket, oil reserve, and lid can all be put in the dishwasher. Cleaning up after a serious fry isn’t the neatest of tasks, but the T-fal Ultimate EZ Clean fryer makes the job less messy.
Normally, I buy whole chickens and dissect them into pieces. Eight meaty pieces from one bird, ten if you cut the breasts in half. I learned from my mother, who could take down two chickens in the blink of an eye. If you’re intimidated by the process or are partial to certain parts, I’d go ahead and buy pieces with skins on them. This recipe is for two birds and 4-6 more thighs. Serving lots of little kids? Substitute drumsticks for the chicken thighs. I make sure there’s enough for a meal and more leftover for lunch or a picnic or sandwiches.
My Grandma Smith swore by 3 1/2 pound chickens as the only size for frying. I agree as do others. I’d love to find a fresh fryer less than 5 pounds. They’re growing hens big these days, and breast pieces are particularly large which means no one is going to go hungry if you cut the breasts in half. Of course, I don’t do that, because my daughter LOVES large chicken white meat parts.
Here’s a tip! Don’t throw away the backs, necks and giblets. Put them in a plastic bag and into the freezer to make chicken stock later. With chicken, everything has a purpose but the “cluck.”
Why brine the pieces in buttermilk? The lactic acid in buttermilk makes the chicken moist and tender. Recipes frequently recommend that pieces are brined overnight, either in buttermilk or salted ice water. I’ve used both methods. My mother preferred buttermilk, so that’s my preference, too.
I layer the parts into a large plastic container. Between each layer, I pour 1/2 cup of buttermilk, and season with salt and pepper. You could add a squeeze of siracha or a sprinkle of cayenne, too. Continue the chicken tower inside your container making sure the last layer is buttermilk. On goes the lid and into the refrigerator for at least 12 hours, so overnight is best.
Drain and Bring to Room Temperature
The next day and 30 minutes before I begin the fry, I remove the pieces from the brine onto a rack over a sheet pan. First of all, the chicken needs to be brought to room temperature so the cooking oil stays hot and pieces cook evenly. Secondly, the brine needs to drain from the meat. You’ll thank me come breading time.
The Dredge and The Bath
Prepare the flour dredge. You know, one of my problems is that cooks use way too small vehicles for egg wash and flour dredge. We’re left with egg goo and flour goo all over the counter. A 9″x13″ pan is great. I like to use a big flat bowl with high sides that gives me lots of room. I have my mother’s Pyrex bowl, the green one with white flowers. It has handles and it is perfect.
Into the bowl, add one cup of all-purpose flour for each chicken. In this recipe, I used
2 1/2 cups of flour, because I had two whole chickens and four thighs. Add 1 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt for each chicken, so that makes 4 1/2 this time, extra for the chicken thighs. And 1 teaspoonful freshly ground black pepper; 3 teaspoons this time.
And the SECRET INGREDIENT; ground cinnamon. Not a lot, maybe 1/3 teaspoon per chicken; 1 teaspoon in all. Yes, cinnamon. I’ve read over the years that cinnamon is what’s used in Maryland Chicken. However it came about, the spice lends a pleasing smell when frying, and some added complexity. I love using it in fried chicken.
So, three whole eggs beaten with one cup or so of milk in one of your big bowls. It doesn’t make a difference what kind of milk you use. After all, we’re making fried chicken. This is not a calorie counting meal. Use 2% or skim milk, but whole milk will do the trick, too.
Breading and Frying
One by one, put the pieces into the egg wash to coat. Lift and drain off excess. And roll in the flour dredge. Put the pieces on a wire rack over a sheet pan and let the pieces dry off for 10 minutes.
Oil Temperature is Important!
While the chicken pieces are drying, it’s time to heat up the oil: 350°F to 360°F is ideal. If you don’t have a fryer with a thermostat, use a large dutch oven and a deep fry thermometer. There’s no shame in using a cast iron skillet, either. The trick with proper frying is to maintain an even oil temperature. As soon as you lower pieces into whatever frying vessel, the oil temperature will lower.
As the pieces begin to fry, the temperature will recover, but you may have to monitor the heat on the stove to make sure it doesn’t drop too low. Low frying temperatures will cause the pieces to be too greasy. If the temperature is too high, the outside will cook too quickly and the inside will not completely cook or even be raw. This is why I like my T-fal deep fryer; I don’t have to constantly fiddle to maintain the oil temperature.
The trick with proper frying is to maintain an even oil temperature. (I’ve said that before I know, but it bears repeating.) As soon as you lower pieces into whatever frying vessel, the oil temperature will lower. As the pieces begin to fry, the temperature will recover, but you may have to monitor the heat on the stove to make sure it doesn’t drop too low.
And I use peanut oil because it is known for a high smoke point. Other options are canola oil, vegetable oil, or solid vegetable shortening.
When you’re ready to put the pieces into the fryer, give them another whirl in the flour dredge. Shake off the dredge back into the bowl and lower the chicken into the fryer.
Breast pieces take the most time to cook. Whole ones will take 16-18 minutes. Thighs 10-12 minutes; drumsticks and wings 8-10 minutes. If in doubt, use a food thermometer to make sure the inside has reached 165°F.
As the chicken pieces come out of the fryer, drain them on a wire rack over a sheet pan, and keep warm in a 225°F oven until ready to serve. Draining on paper towels will soften the breading and you want fried chicken crunchy.
Happy, Happy, Happy!
What’s happier than a heaping plateful of crunchy, hot, perfectly fried chicken? At this moment, I can’t think of another thing!
Unless, it’s leftovers!