Again with the Southern Fried Chicken

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After several attempts and false steps, I’ve finally come up with my go-to fried chicken recipe. This is the best I’ve ever made and the best I’ve ever eaten.

Tried a new technique for fried chicken for dinner tonight, with somewhat mixed results. The recipe came from the Gourmet Cookbook. It added a few details and steps from my normal recipe, which did a good job boosting the flavor, but I thought the directions on frying the chicken pieces were a little unclear, so the crust didn’t turn out as good as I’d hoped.

The first unexpected step has you coat all the cut-up pieces with kosher salt, and have it set in the refrigerator for an hour. The cookbook suggests that this is a sort of quick brining step, which adds flavor but also extracts liquid from the meat, which will let it soak up more of the marinating liquid. And there was a lot of liquid in the plate after an hour … though I have to wonder if I just replaced it when I rinsed the salt off before the soak in the buttermilk.

And the buttermilk soak deviated from my normal recipe, too. I usually put some Louisiana hot sauce in the buttermilk to add flavor. This recipe called for two chopped onions.

In the end, the chicken had great flavor, so I have to think that these steps were worth it. The recipe has you fry the chicken in 3 batches, cooking it in 2 cups of vegetable shorting and 1 stick of butter, heated to hot, but not smoking — I would have preferred a little more specificity in the temperature recommendation. You put the chicken in the oil, cover the pan, and then turn the heat down to low — again, this is pretty vague. You cook the first side for 10 minutes, turn the chicken, and cook the white meat for 10 more minutes, and the dark meat for 12.

Unfortunately, the crust came off in sheets on me. (It might have been because I used bread flour instead of all-purpose flour for the coating).

Still, all things considered, the flavor was good enough to merit more attempts.

May 10 Update : So I tried it again. Luckily, my wife and I have a pretty much unlimited hunger for fried chicken, so repeating this recipe until I clinch it isn’t a chore. This time, I followed the recipe pretty much to the letter. Using regular AP flour, plus letting the floured chicken pieces sit for a full 30 minutes might have helped, too. The crust came out fine. I still need to work on figuring out the heat management with cooking. The first pieces I cooked came out a little pale colored, while the last pieces were quite dark, making me wonder if the butter in the oil needs to cook for a longer amount of time before I start.

So here’s the recipe, if you’re wondering …

1 cut up chicken
½ c kosher salt
1 q buttermilk
2 onions, chopped
1 c AP flour
½ t cayenne pepper
½ t salt
½ t fresh ground black pepper
2 c vegetable shortening
1 stick unsalted butter

Roll the chicken on all sides with the kosher salt, and chill the chicken for 1 hour, covered. Chop the onion and mix it with the buttermilk in a deep bowl. Rinse the salt off the chicken, and marinate in the buttermilk and onions, covered in the fridge, for at least 8 hours, or up to 24 hours. Mix the flour, cayenne, salt and pepper in a paper sack or plastic bag. Remove the chicken parts, one piece at a time, letting the excess liquid drip off, and toss in the flour until well coated. Allow the chicken to sit on a wire rack and dry for 30 minutes. Preferably in a cast iron pan with a lid, heat the shortening and butter until hot but not smoking over medium high heat. (The water in the butter will make it bubble noisily as it heats up.) Cooking in batches, so as not to crowd the pan, put in the chicken parts, and cover, and turn the heat down to medium low to low, and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the chicken over, and cook the other side, white meat, 8-10 minutes more; dark meat, 10-12 minutes more. Remove to a wire rack to cool and drain while you cook the remaining pieces.

June 1 Update: So I’ve tinkered a bit more, and based on another recipe I’ve come across, I’ve settled on the best way to cook this chicken. It’s a two step method, which might put some off, but here goes. Preheat the oven to 325°. Set aside a foil lined sheet pan with a cooking rack. Fry the chicken parts in one inch of hot oil, 3 or 4 minutes each side, regardless of dark or white meat, and even if the chicken doesn’t seem dark golden brown. Set it on the rack in the pan, and then finish all of them off in the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes. The rack is important because it allows the excess grease to drip off.