Becoming a Fried Chicken Whisperer
I have been frying chicken since I was 8 years old. My Kentucky born and raised Dad taught me his recipe for basic southern-style fried chicken, which I assume he learned from his mother, my Grandma Maisie.
The chicken pieces were treated to plenty of salt and pepper and then dredged in flour that included more salt and pepper, paprika, thyme, onion powder, and garlic powder. I was taught to shallow-fry the dredged chicken in sputtering hot shortening in a heavy, cast iron skillet, putting the lid partially on the pan during the last half of cooking.
The only thing that was wrong with that recipe was that, in those days, everyone seemed to be obsessed with overcooking meat and vegetables alike. Grandma Mary cooked corn on the cob for 40 minutes, for instance.
Dad instructed me to cook the chicken for an hour. You can imagine how difficult it was to keep the chicken from overbrowning while frying it for that long. It was a laborious process of turning and turning the chicken parts for 60 long minutes, which seemed a lifetime to this young cook. And this resulted in, of course, rather dry chicken.
Now, fast-forward many years. When I deep-fry chicken parts (occasional madness does occur), it rarely requires more than 20 minutes to reach an internal temperature of 175° at the meatiest part of the thigh. When I shallow-fry chicken, as in the below recommended method, it never takes more than 15 minutes to fully brown the chicken and then between 20-30 minutes in a 350° oven to reach a safe internal temperature.
In addition, I now know the magic of the dry salt cure and wet salt brine. Either will work here, but the wet salt brine seems to carry the spicy heat into the meat a tad better, so we will use it for this recipe. As far as buttermilk brining goes, it sounds delicious, but the results I’ve had with it have been unimpressive.
The Art & Science of Dredging
When it comes to coatings for the chicken, there are many schools of thought: flour alone; cornmeal alone; rice flour alone; flour and cornstarch; flour and cornmeal; egg wash alone; flour, then egg wash, then flour; flour, then egg wash, then bread crumbs; or flour, then egg, liquid, and flour batter, then flour. And probably a dozen more possible combinations. I’ve tried most of them.
If you want a light and crisp coating that stays crisp only until the chicken cools, then go with the Simple Dredge below. For a crunchy coating that stays crisp longer, go with the Extra Crunch Dredge. For a coating that stays crunchy even after refrigeration (amazing!), go with the Extra-Extra Crunch Dredge.
This said, I prefer the look and taste of my Dad’s southern fried chicken, with herbs and spices in full view on the browned skin and only the barest of crispy coating. Thus, the photos here show the Simple Dredge. But in the recipe below, you will find directions for all three.
As far as deep frying versus shallow frying goes, I cannot in good conscience recommend deep frying for the home kitchen, unless you happen to have a deep fryer. It is a dangerous and exacting proposition. Get distracted for a few seconds and you could have ruined chicken or a kitchen fire on your hands. I would never try this technique with children in the kitchen. Why take a risk?
It’s so much easier, and just as delicious, to shallow fry your chicken. I take it a step further even and finish the cooking in the oven. That gives me time to set the table, whip the potatoes, and make a pan gravy. Just like Dad taught me.
Now, for a few tips that will ensure that YOUR fried chicken is the best in the world.
LunaCafe’s Fried Chicken Tips & Tricks
- Purchase the freshest, local chicken possible and use it right away. For the best fried chicken, do not use frozen, thawed chicken.
- Cut the chicken into serving size pieces, i.e. 2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings, 4 half breast sections.
- Do not overcook the chicken. When an instant-read thermometer inserted into the meatiest part of the thigh reads 175°, the chicken is done. (The temperature will continue to rise a few degrees after taking the chicken from the oven.)
- Chicken breasts generally cook faster than dark meat. Be sure to account for this and remove the chicken breasts from the oven in advance of the rest of the chicken.
- To get beautifully browned and crispy chicken, you need either a cast iron skillet or a heavy aluminum sauté pan (such as Calphalon). Even heat distribution and temperature control are keys to perfectly fried chicken. Do not attempt to make fried chicken in a stainless steel lined pan. It will stick like crazy.
- For deep-fried chicken, the oil should be about 1-inch deep in the pan. For a 12-inch diameter, Calphalon sauté pan, that means 6 cups of oil.
- For shallow-fried chicken, the oil should be about ¼-inch deep in the pan. For a 12-inch diameter, Calphalon sauté pan, that means 2 cups of oil.
- Dredge all of your chicken and set on a wire rack before you begin to heat the oil. Redredge each piece if needed, just before sliding it into the hot oil.
- In a heavy, 12-inch sauté pan or skillet, heat the oil to between 350° and 365°.
- For deep-frying, use an instant read thermometer to gauge the temperature of the oil. Or, insert a wooden skewer into the oil. At 350°, a mass of tiny bubbles will collect around the skewer.
- For shallow-frying, put a 2″ cube of bread into the hot oil. It should brown nicely in about 60 seconds.
- When you begin to smell the oil as it is heating in the pan, it is nearing its smoke point. Monitor closely.
- Carefully lower chicken pieces into the oil, skin-side down.
- Turn the chicken pieces with tongs as they brown.
- Fry in batches. Overcrowding the pan lowers the temperature of the oil, causing more oil to be absorbed and resulting in greasy chicken.
- Soggy, greasy chicken is the result of too low oil temperature. You must maintain an oil temperature of at least 350° while frying the chicken.
- For shallow-frying, when the chicken pieces are fried to a deep golden brown (should not take longer than 15 minutes), remove pieces from the pan with tongs and place on a wire rack set over an edged baking sheet. Finish cooking in a 350° oven for between 20-30 minutes, until internal temperature at the meatiest portion of the thigh registers 175° on an instant-read thermometer.
- The USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service recommends cooking chicken to a minimum internal temperature of 165°.
- Fry chicken in fat that has a high smoke point. The smoke point is the point at which heated fat begins to emit smoke and acrid odors. At this stage, it also begins to impart an unpleasant flavor to the chicken.
- Reusing fat and exposing it to air reduces its smoke point. Thus, it must be discarded at least after every three uses. In practice, I discard the oil after only one use.
- The smoke points for some common fats are as follows: butter (350°), vegetable shortenings (356°-370°), lard (361°- 401°), olive oil (375°), and vegetable oils (441°-450°).
LunaCafe’s Best Ever Spicy Fried Chicken
You have a choice here of three dredges for the chicken. I prefer the simplest of the three, but the others are good too.
2 pounds fresh chicken legs and thighs, trimmed of excess fat and skin, and rinsed
LunaCafe Spice Blend
1 tablespoon dried thyme, crumbled
1 tablespoon dried oregano, crumbled
1 tablespoon sweet or hot Spanish paprika (I use smoked, hot Spanish paprika)
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cayenne (perhaps half this amount if you plan to serve to kids)
2 quarts very cold water
¼ cup LunaCafe Spice Blend
¼ cup fine sea salt
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup white rice flour
1 tablespoon LunaCafe Spice Blend
To make LunaCafe Spice Blend, in a small bowl, combine the thyme, oregano, paprika, mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, and cayenne. Mix well and reserve.
To brine the chicken, one or more days before frying, combine water, ¼ cup spice blend, and ¼ cup salt. Stir to dissolve the salt.
In a glass bowl or plastic container, put the chicken and cover with the brine. Make sure that the chicken is fully submerged in the brine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days.
When you are ready to fry the chicken, remove it from the brine and lightly pat with paper towels. Arrange on an edged baking sheet.
- For the Simple Dredge, combine flour, rice flour, and LunaCafe Spice Blend. Grind black pepper over all surfaces of each chicken piece. Dip each piece of chicken into the flour and coat well, tapping off any excess that does not stick to the chicken. Repeat. Arrange on a wire rack set over an edged baking sheet.
- For the Extra Crunch Dredge, prepare the Simple Dredge and then in a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg and milk. After dipping each piece of chicken in the Simple Dredge, dip in the egg wash, and then again into the Simple Dredge. Arrange on a wire rack set over an edged baking sheet.
- For the Extra-Extra Crunch Dredge, prepare the Simple Dredge and then in a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, milk, and eggs. The batter should not be too thick. Thin with more liquid if necessary. After dipping each piece of chicken in the Simple Dredge, dip in the batter, and then again into the Simple Dredge. Arrange on a wire rack set over an edged baking sheet.
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°. Set a wire rack over an edged baking sheet and reserve.
- Heat about ¼-inch of oil in a heavy skillet or sauté pan to 350°.
- Fry the chicken in batches, skin side down, until golden brown, turning every couple of minutes to evenly brown all sides, about 15 minutes total.
- Remove with tongs and place on the wire rack. When all pieces are browned and on the wire rack, put the baking sheet into the oven to complete the cooking.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the internal temperature of the meatiest part of the thigh registers 175°.
- Remove the baking sheet from the oven and with tongs, place chicken pieces on a large serving platter.
- Serve hot or warm. Refrigerate any leftovers and eat cold later.
Copyright 2014 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.