Everyone has a fried chicken recipe.
I guess, maybe, except vegetarians. But most everyone else has a fried chicken recipe.
Sunday our church had our annual fall picnic (something we’ve not been able to do since 2019, so it was wonderful) and for the picnic I put together quite a bit of food. I made a two banana puddings, two cobblers, five pounds of potato salad, and I fried up two chickens.
My chicken got a lot of compliments, which may have just been people being nice but, I thought it was really good, too. So, I thought I would share my recipe with my three readers.
I prefer frying whole chickens, so I bought two at the market. Once upon a time, stores were very careful to have both ‘friars’ and ‘roasting hens’. Our local store doesn’t seem to be as careful in delineating these. I bought two whole birds, and judging by their size, they were clearly roasting hens.
No matter, they fry up just fine. Friars are smaller, so I just had bigger pieces.
I buy whole birds, which means I cut my chicken myself. This is a hard skill to master, but essential. Let gravity help you with the wings and legs. I cut the legs and thighs together, then separate them individually. I advise cutting that little jutty part off the wing and discard it. There is no meat there. If you’re really industrious, you can freeze those tips, along with the back (which I don’t use) and use later to make an awesome broth.
I deboned the breast, and cut it into four long pieces. This makes them fry quicker and easier to eat. After cutting, I tossed them into a large plastic bowl and cover them in buttermilk.
The first thing I did was soak them in buttermilk for about four hours. The buttermilk makes the batter, but more importantly it breaks down the meat and makes it tender. Fried chicken should not be tough, but should melt in the mouth. Buttermilk makes that happen. I wouldn’t soak the bird overnight, as that breaks them down a little too much.
After four hours, I pulled the pieces out for the first pan and laid them on a baking rack to drip and then covered with seasonings. The seasoning I used was salt, pepper, parsley, garlic, and a little paprika. There is a tendency to want to put these spices in the flour, but that is a mistake. It separates it from the bird and burns the spice. Don’t burn the spice.
While those sit a bit, I heated the oil. Don’t get it too hot. I set my stovetop knob somewhere between half and three-quarters. I use Crisco shortening. The first batch is always a little off color, but it will taste fine. I had to add a little after each pan since I was doing two birds (which took five different fries). The last batch (which was only three pieces) was a little off color as well, but it was still delicious.
As the grease gets hot, I toss the pieces in a separate bowl with all-purpose flour and then return them to the rack where they need to sit for about four to five minutes. Then I place them in the skillet to fry. There is no specific order for placing them, although I do tend to put the white meat to the sides and the thighs in the middle.
I use a cast iron skillet. This means I will have a greater mess to clean up, because the grease pops all over the stove top. However, it is worth it. Nothing rivals the flavor from cast iron. The chicken seems to gather a sweetness where the bird hits the iron, and it is delicious.
At about six minutes I turn the pieces over, and then fry them another five or six. It is not ready yet, so I turn it over again for another two minutes or so. You can’t trust the color on the chicken. It can look good on the outside, but still be underdone. You need to use a meat thermometer and make certain it is 165 degrees or more or you will have embarrassing pink or red (or worse, blood!) in your fried chicken. Nobody wants that, and we’ve all experienced it.
But don’t over cook it. That is awful. Keep an eye on it. You can’t leave it and go do something else. You need to be vigilant, and your vigilance will be rewarded. Thighs seem to take longer, so don’t worry if the legs and breasts come out before the thighs. I find the wings cook faster and come out first. Give them the time they need. You can’t hurry chicken. If you want quick fried chicken, go to KFC and get an inferior meal. Quality is its own joy.
When they are ready, lift them and cool them on a separate baking rack to let the excess grease drip off. They can sit there while you fry the other batches. One whole bird, for me, is two fries. Don’t try to and over-fill the skillet. It adversely affects the frying.
Here is the thing, though, for me. I did all of this on Saturday because to me, cold fried chicken is the beast. Nothing says ‘picnic’ like cold fried chicken. It is easier to eat and the overnight process lets the flavor get so much happier. I stored them in an airtight container with a layer of parchment or wax paper between them, such that no chicken is stacked on top of each other. The lets each individual piece get the room it needs to work that magic we yearn for. Put it in the fridge and tomorrow — joy!
- Be careful. Hot grease is dangerous. Never leave it, and wear socks or shoes because it will pop out on you.
- The grease needs to cool down, and then, and only then, disposed of in the trash. I pour it into an old can. Don’t pour it down the drain. Resist the urge to strain this and use it again. Fried chicken grease is not really recyclable.
- Don’t over clean your cast iron skillet. Wipe out the detritus and scrape it with a knife, and then wipe it with fresh canola oil. Do not, under any circumstances, put it in water or clean it with water. Just don’t. Ever.
- Frying chicken will make your kitchen a mess, but equally important is to clean your work area between the act of cutting the chicken and frying it. You want to avoid any nasty cross-contamination.
- You can use a variety of seasonings on the chicken according to your taste. I kept the salt (I use kosher salt) at a minimum because other people would be eating it, but usually I like salty chicken. I can see where creole seasoning would be nice, as well as thyme or rosemary. It is up to you, you’re the cook.