Fried chicken


And I helped!

My husband was hankering for a little down-home comfort food, Southern style. You know the drill, deviled eggs, biscuits, greens and — of course — fried chicken.

Now get this: Neither of us had ever fried chicken before. Seriously. Clearly this was a problem that needed to be rectified. But to the novice fryer, the amount of information is daunting. There are hundreds of techniques and recipes, conflicting tips and pointers, adamant and urgent pleas from people who insist their way is the only way to fried chicken nirvana. Mercy, I do believe I am getting the vapors.

A few things were abundantly clear. You do want to marinate your chicken, and you probably want it to be in buttermilk. You’ll need to dredge in flour at the minimum, though additions and embellishments to that layer are myriad. You obviously need a fat with a high smoke point. For Fried Chicken 101, this will get you through the first midterm exam.

Buttermilk, check. But which fat? Some say you must use lard; others insist on shortening; yet others suggest canola oil with some bacon drippings. Sigh. We don’t keep shortening in the house (trans fats and all…), nor do we generally have much in the way of lard. We went for peanut oil, with a healthy (or not, really) drizzle of bacon grease for good measure.

So. A jumble of legs, thighs and breasts emerged from their milky bath and finished off with a dusting of flour. How coquettish! After a light rest, they were ready for their close-up … with a simmering cauldron of hot oil.

Frying chicken is not for the weak of heart, and I don’t just mean those with blocked arteries. It is an explosive, noisy and sometimes dangerous process. Even covered, spattering oil would occasionally escape. I think we inhaled as much fat as we ingested at the end of the day.

But then, when your chicken comes out golden-brown, the fat wicked off onto paper bags and left to rest in a warmer, it’s worth it in the end. Pair that up with some super-fluffy biscuits (recipe courtesy Bacon Press) and good old collard greens done the way I do all my greens. All that’s missing is some white gravy, but had we gone that far, we would have had to start the meal with an amuse-bouche of Lipitor.

Praise the lord and pass the biscuits, dinner is served.

Southern Pan-Fried Chicken

4 each breasts, thighs and legs
1 pint buttermilk, or a combination of buttermilk and regular milk
dash of Tabasco
2 c. flour
4 Tbsp corn starch
salt, pepper, other spices as desired
Peanut or canola oil

Special equipment:
A large, wide, heavy, lidded frying pan, ideally cast-iron or enamelized
A paper shopping bag

Put the chicken pieces in a large bowl or zip-top bag, and add the buttermilk and Tabasco. Toss to ensure the chicken is thoroughly covered in the marinade. Rest in the fridge for 8-12 hours.

Remove chicken from marinade, draining off excess buttermilk. In a paper shopping bag, combine flour, corn starch and seasonings and shake to combine. Place chicken parts one or two at a time in the bag, shaking to cover with flour mixture. Shake off excess flour and set to rest on a rack for a few minutes.

In your large frying pan, add enough oil to come about halfway up the sides of your chicken pieces, and heat over high heat to 320ºF. Place chicken carefully in the hot oil, a few pieces at a time and cover. Fry on each side, covered, for about 4-5 minutes, until the underside is a dark golden brown. Thighs will take the longest, breasts and legs less so, so it’s a good idea to fry like parts all at the same time; i.e., fry all the legs together, then the thighs, etc.

Remove fried chicken to an inverted rack on top of paper bags or newsprint to wick away excess oil. If making ahead, you can keep the chicken in a warm oven, 150-175ºF, until ready to serve.

  • Shike & Bike!
    Very impressive, especially for your first try. Damn, that skin is crisp.

  • It could have been crisper, with the addition of some cornmeal or cornflakes, but it did the job in terms of keeping the meat moist and juicy. Mmm, good!

  • Lard is the best fat for frying up chicken, but I’d go with peanut oil as my second choice. Nice touch adding the bacon grease.

  • Did you know that there are absolutely no calories in photographs???! The chicken isn’t on my diet, but I could stare at your photo of it all day.

  • oh you are hilarious! Great writing and sounds like good food too.

  • Praise the lord, indeed. But I as I look at this photo, I must admit, I am most impressed with your portion size.
    I know, I know, everything in moderation. But had there been fried chicken, greens and biscuits in my kitchen, I would have no self control; against my better judgement there would be a generous pile of fried chicken and biscuit love on that plate. Lipitor be damned!

  • Lisa, I would expect no less than lard from a Texan! To be sure, it is the preferred frying medium, but few among us keep it on hand these days.
    Lydia, I think few dietary regimens include this meal, but if you find one, let me know!
    Susan, cheers!
    Schmoopy, you have no idea how large the plate was. Actually, I ate a breast, which was double the size of that leg. And the biscuits were HUGE. And I had seconds on greens. AND there was dessert. Oy!

  • I’ve been wanting to make fried chicken lately, but I’ve been finding every excuse not to for some odd reason. I think this post just broke my will and of course I’m not complaining at all.
    Everything on that plate is making me drool at 10:18am and I think I just heard a grumble.

  • i LOVE chicken…but im always sooo worried about not cooking it enough. any ideas?

  • DPaul totally hates the sight of any redness at all in chicken, so I get where you’re coming from. The best thing to do is to use the old instant-read thermometer. When the meat in the thickest part of the leg reaches 170º you’re guaranteed to be done. Personally I prefer to pull it a little sooner and let it rest up to temp. Still, for the fried chicken, 4-5 minutes on each side was sufficient to cook the thighs through.

  • thanks!

  • heather

    that fried chicken looks delicious! fried chicken is one of my “go to” meals. i have a second sense about the temperature, seasonings, etc. i just “know” when it is done.

  • Here’s my 2 cents worth:
    1. It’s easier and less messy to buy the fried chicken from Popeye’s or KFC.
    2. Fried chicken is to be eaten in the privacy of your home, where table manners are optional.
    3. Enjoy your fried chicken, less you have one regret on your dying bed, “Wish I had that second helping of fried chicken.”

  • I was going crazy looking for all kinds of comfort food at the beginning of the year. Now I know that I wasn’t the only one!

  • Heather: Unfortunately I doubt I will ever get to that point … my doctor won’t let me make that much fried chicken. 🙂
    Ming: More convenient, yes, but better, no. We almost went to the hardware store to get a paper bucket to serve ours in, but decided to keep it classy.
    Andre: Indeed … but I think I need to scale back on the comfort food for a while now.

  • john

    You can get good fresh lard at La Palma Mexicatessan (24th Street at Florida). It’s about $2.50 for a quart, which is more than enough for fried chicken. It keeps well and makes great biscuits and pie crusts.
    I like to add plenty of salt & pepper to the buttermilk so that the chicken gets seasoned while it marinates.
    If you want a shatteringly crisp crust, use two-thirds all-purpose flour and one-third masa harina (the flour not the dough) for your coating.
    I am glad you recommended paper bags as part of your technique. It’s the only way.

  • Thanks for the tips, John! Guess I’ll head off to stock up on some lard …

  • Hey Sean & Paul! Next time try the recipe I have on my favorite recipe site. I’ve tried many recipes and this is the best. It’s a bit more effort, but it comes out great. I think the peanut oil makes a big differnce. Well so does the brining. The picture isn’t of my chicken, but I haven’t made this since I put together the website.
    Crispy Crunchy Fried Chicken