big President Bill Fuller, July 2018
Zac Brown Band
Nora EphronI don’t know why fried chicken seems like a summer dish. It takes time to prepare, pretty much has to be cooked inside the house, and is fried. Shouldn’t summer food be fast and easy, cooked over fire, fresh, healthful, and light? Shouldn’t it be easy with little to no clean up? Shouldn’t there be more literary references to fried chicken? It seems like a national dish, appreciated by almost everyone.
One of the many great things about fried chicken is that it can be cooked ahead of time, kept at room temperature, and served at a picnic or on a buffet. So you get that mess and cooking out of the way early, before even the dogs get up, and have the kitchen cleaned and ready for breakfast.
At least that is how some mythical grandmothers of ours did it, back in the day. Now, we have to pack it in between yoga classes and soccer matches. But really good fried chicken— well-brined or marinated and fried with loving attention— is delicious. Take the time once in awhile. It is worth it.
People will love you more if you fry them chicken. Really, they will.
Pointers for the fried chicken novices
- Start the day before. My recipe calls for marinating the chicken in nicely seasoned buttermilk. This adds flavor to the chicken, increases moisture retention, and really impresses your diners.
- Make a big batch of fried chicken flour. I make this in batches and keep it in the freezer. If I use too much and have leftover, I sift out any chicken bits and keep it separate in the freezer for the next fried item. I use the above flour for frying a lot of things— pork chops, chicken tenders, polenta cubes from leftover, chilled polenta, etc.
- Buy the right chicken! Parts from smaller birds make the best chicken. They fry faster, have a higher coating to flesh ration, and most importantly are more tender! Ideally, you want parts from a 5# (dressed weight) or smaller bird.
- You can try to ask your butcher to cut up your bird. You ideally want it 8-cut; 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 breasts (on the bone, backbone split), and two wings.
- I fry 1 bird for two people. That gives a good meal with a couple of leftover pieces. If you are going through the trouble of heating up a bunch of fat and getting flour all over the floor, you might as well have leftovers. Also, you never know who might show up when word gets out that you are frying chicken.
- Buy the right chicken, redux. I try to get the cleanest chicken available. Pastured, young, locally raised, ABF, Organic are all great key words to watch out for. Be advised that it is illegal to add any growth hormones to ANY chicken in the USA so that label indicates nothing.
- Fat is important. In descending order of my preference, with added notation, is my Fried Chicken Fat Preference Ranking:
- Lard – Best flavor. And remember, a gram of fat is a gram of fat if you are worrying about caloric intake. Downside – doesn’t hold up as well at high heat for a period of time, pigs died.
- Peanut Oil – Great flavor. Fries clean. Good at high temperatures. Downside – lethal for those with peanut allergies.
- Grapeseed Oil – Clean, stable at high temperatures. Downside – Pretty neutral, like that nice girl your mom wanted you to marry, but actually probably was a good idea in retrospect.
- Crisco – Kind of like lard but pigs didn’t die. Downside – it might actually be the worst for you out of all the oils.
- Corn Oil – Affordable. Downside – cloying and thick. Don’t unless you have to.
- Olive oil – nope, don’t do it.
- Clarified butter – never tried it but am curious.
- Use a heavy high-sided pot. Never cover it while frying. Control temperature using a candy thermometer. Do not have a fire. Do have a fire extinguisher.
- Allow the chicken to come to room temp before frying. If you pull the chicken out before you flour and fry it and allow it to come to room temp, it will fry faster and cool down the oil less. Give it 30-60 minutes at room temp before frying. Push it back from the edge of the counter so the dogs don’t get it.
- Give yourself time. Fried chicken isn’t good rushed. It needs to be allowed to fry as long as it needs to be cooked. Finishing it in the oven is not a suitable alternative. Each piece will take 15 or so minutes to fry. Remember, people will love you more if you make them fried chicken, even if they have to wait a little.
- Also, give the chicken some room. There should be at least ½” around each piece of chicken to allow for good browning. Too many pieces in the pan and the oil temperature will drop and cause the chicken to soak up too much oil. Keep the oil at as close to 350°F as possible every second of cooking.
- Temp with a meat thermometer. This is a thermometer independent of the candy thermometer mounted on the side of the pot. Internal temperature of the chicken should be 165°F. Take your time, let it fry.
- Remove the chicken to a rack, not paper towels. If it sits on paper towels, it will steam and get soggy. Excess oil will drip off. That’s what they do at Popeyes, just watch them behind the counter. And Popeye’s fried chicken is FIRE.
- Holding finished chicken in a very low oven is OK. Warm and room temperature fried chicken are OK as well. Leftover refrigerated fried chicken is really good, especially at 3:30 AM when you can’t sleep. Or for breakfast.
- There are only two types of people when there is leftover fried chicken – The Quick and The Hungry. Don’t be the latter.
- Vegetarian? Insert tofu at step one. Proceed as outlined.
Enjoy. If you have any questions, just holler. I’ll be right over to eat, I mean help.
Recipe:Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Corn Fritters, Greens, and Honey Hot Sauce