Sometime between riding Sting Ray bikes and today we lost something very important - the ability to cook fried chicken at home. We gladly pay $55 for fried chicken at Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc, putting it up there with the best meal we've ever eaten. And it's good. Really good. So good I crave it all the time and have been searching for a recipe I can make at home.
But is there such a thing as gourmet fried chicken? Mom's have cooked fried chicken for generations and there was nothing to it. The old school recipe was 1) cut up a chicken, 2) dredge in flour, 3) fry until done. Well, try that recipe and I guarantee an epic fail! Somehow the fried chicken scrolls were lost and the gene destroyed. Fried chicken went from a Sunday standard to a fast food mess. Now don't get me wrong, I love KFC and will even stoop to supermarket fried chicken and as recently as five years ago was seen with - gasp - Banquet frozen fried chicken. But none of it was as good as Thomas Keller's, let along my Mom's
Searching for the BEST Fried Chicken Recipe
The recipe I've gone to in the past couple of years is from Giada, the FoodTV chef with the big head and big boobs. It's a lemon and olive oil brined chicken called Pollo Frito and it's pretty darn good - but it's not traditional fried chicken. And, sorry Giada, but it fails the next day crunch test, turning all soggy and a touch greasy after cooling down. Nonetheless, it's a good alternative and cool to serve up fried chicken with wedges of lemon.
I've also tried Thomas Keller's rather complicated fried chicken recipe and thought it was a lot of work for rather ordinary results. Of course, I'm NOT Thomas Keller so it was probably more my fault than his recipe. OK, it was me. Maybe you had good luck with it but mine had me looking for an alternative, something an average home cook could do.
So how happy was I when I found this issue of Bon Appetit with a big piece of fried chicken on it, claiming it was the BEST fried chicken EVER! Let's give it a whirl!
BON APPETIT SKILLET-FRIED CHICKEN RECIPE
2 Tbsp kosher salt, divided
2 tsp plus 1 Tbsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp paprika
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
One 3 to 4 pound chicken cut into 10 pieces, or equivalent weight of parts (I do just drumsticks and thighs and wings - let's face it, no one wants that breast meat!)
1 cup buttermilk (you can buy powdered buttermilk if you don't want a full carton in your fridge)
1 large egg
3 cups all purpose flour
1 Tbsp cornstarch
Peanut Oil for frying (well, I used vegetable oil but if you have peanut, use it)
STEP ONE: Prepare the seasonings
Whisk 1 Tbsp salt, 2 tsp black pepper, paprika, cayenne, garlic and onion powder in small bowl. Season chicken and put in a bowl and cover overnight. Overnight??? OK, so if you don't want to wait all night for your fried chicken, 3 to 4 hours sitting in the fridge works just fine. The idea is to get the spices and salt inside the chicken, not just on the surface, so time is your friend. Don't skimp on the seasonings!
STEP TWO: Let's Cook This Chicken!
When ready to cook, take chicken out and let it stand covered at room temp for an hour. Pour oil into a 10" to 12" cast iron skillet (not non stick) to a depth of about 3/4 inches. This is critical - you must use some sort of cast iron cooking vessel. I used a Le Creuset "dutch oven" (aka big pot). You need the thick pan/pot to regulate the heat. This is not deep frying! This is healthy skillet frying. Tell your skeptical friends that.
Whisk the flour, cornstarch and the rest of the salt and pepper in a bowl. Whisk the buttermilk and egg together and add a half cup of water and then dip the chicken in buttermilk mixture then dredge in the flour and cornstarch mixture. No double dipping required. Place chicken in oil and fry the chicken, turning it every couple of minutes. Be careful the first time you flip that you don't knock all the breading off the uncooked side. Use a thermometer and keep that oil in the 300 to 325 degree range. Bon Appetit says it will take 12 minutes for thighs and breasts, 10 for wings. Mine took around 18 minutes for thighs and a bit less for the drumsticks. Use an instant read meat thermometer to check for doneness since raw chicken is not good eats, nor is overcooked and dried out chicken. Go for 165 degrees internal temperature and check a couple of places on each piece to make sure it is done. And remember, it's chef's privilege to eat that wing right out of the oil - hey, you have to make sure it's done, right?
STEP THREE: Fry it up, drink a beer!
Figure it will take you about 20 minutes a batch so plan ahead if you are trying to time out a dinner. You can place the done pieces in an oven at your lowest setting, 175 to 200 degrees, if you want to keep it warm while the others cook. Place cooked chicken on a rack so it does not sit in its own drippings and stays nice and crisp.
This is it! Super crunchy but without cheating like KFC by adding layers of breading. Not greasy, extremely moist inside and well seasoned. Just as good the next day cold, retaining a bit of the crunch and keeping all of its fried chicken integrity. I served mine with a bit of lightly mashed white beans tossed in olive oil and a fresh watercress salad for some acidic contrast.
FRIED CHICKEN MYTHS BUSTED!
- No need to soak in buttermilk overnight! In fact, soaking it is what makes the skin soggy.
- No double breading to create the crust.
- No salting it right out of the oil. No need as the chicken is already seasoned perfectly before it even hits the oil.
Best fried chicken ever, as Bon Appetit claims? Better than Thomas Keller? Well, pretty darn close with the big advantage being 1) you made it yourself, 2) it wasn't that hard and now people think you are a really good cook, and 3) you can eat as much as you want! So give it a shot, use that Le Creuset dutch oven you got as a wedding gift that has never seen fire, and get ready for some great fried chicken!