Making fried chicken isn’t as hard as it may seem; it just takes preparation and organization. Like any other kitchen endeavor worth undertaking, it’s about having the right tools, picking the right ingredients, and knowing a few tips and tricks that will have you frying like a pro in no time:
Be prepared: An organized kitchen and a game plan is a fryer’s best friend. Prepare all of the elements — brine, dredge, seasoning, oil — in advance, making sure everything’s ready before you start.
Brining: Typically the No. 1 ingredient in brines (other than water), salt performs double duty, both tenderizing the meat by breaking down its cellular structure and helping enhance the tastiness of the chicken itself. Brines can range from two hours to two days, and can also contain sugar, buttermilk, herbs and spices. (Don’t have time to brine? Buy a kosher chicken; kosher chickens are pre-salted.)
Seasonings: Incorporating a variety of herbs, spices and seasonings is one way to really make this process your own. Smoked paprika, turmeric, cardamom, sesame seeds — the sky (or the fry) is the limit.
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Chill for the “shrink-wrap” effect:Using a cold bird helps breading and coating adhere to the chicken’s skin, resulting in skin that shrinks and practically becomes one with the bird beneath.
Flour power and the double dip: In recipes that call for dredging the chicken, some use what may seem like an excessive amount of flour. Fret not: Some chefs feel that tossing the chicken lightly in a larger amount of flour dredge helps promote a lighter, flakier finished product. Some people love a thick, crunchy crust above all else, and with recipes consisting of passing chicken through both wet and dry mixtures, you can easily achieve it by double-dipping a second time.
Deep frying: While most chefs agree that a cast-iron skillet is the frying pan of choice, many do turn to deep frying, which has several advantages — primarily, that a large pot filled halfway with oil generally splatters less, creating less mess, and that because the oil surrounds all parts of the chicken at once, deep-fried chicken cooks faster than skillet-fried. No flipping required.
Skillet frying: For the true Southern experience, nothing beats frying in a cast-iron skillet, which cooks chicken evenly and helps develops a crispy, perfectly burnished crust.
Keep it hot: Nothing’s sadder than a soggy batch of fried chicken, and the culprit is usually oil whose temperature has sunk too low. To avoid this pitfall, make sure your oil is properly heated before adding your chicken, and use your deep-fry thermometer to monitor the highs and lows of frying.
Don’t crowd: Though the temptation to fry more pieces at once gets the best of us, crowding your deep-frying or skillet environment can lead to uneven cooking, longer-than-necessary frying times.
JACQUES-IMO’S AUSTIN LESLIE FRIED CHICKEN
1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces
Salt and white pepper to taste
4 large eggs
½ cup evaporated milk
½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup minced garlic
Ruffled dill pickle slices
1. Season the chicken liberally with salt and white pepper, place in a Ziploc bag and refrigerate overnight.
2. Prepare a deep fryer or fill a large (at least 8-quart) pot halfway with oil to 350 degrees. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, evaporated milk, Worcestershire sauce, and salt to taste. In a separate bowl season the flour with salt to taste. Dip the chicken in the egg wash, then coat in the seasoned flour, shaking off excess.
3. Working in batches, fry the chicken until golden and crisp, 15 minutes for dark meat, 20 minutes for breasts.
4. To serve, garnish with the chopped parsley, minced garlic and pickles.
CHARLES PHAN’S HARD WATER FRIED CHICKEN
For Air Chilling the Chicken:
1 small whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces and patted dry
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
For the Flour Dredge:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon ground coriander
3 quarts canola or peanut oil
For the Sriracha Butter:
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup Sriracha sauce
Juice of 1 lime (about 2½ tablespoons)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon sugar
1. Season the chicken with the salt and garlic powder and arrange, skin-side up, on a baking sheet, leaving space between pieces if possible. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 24 hours. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and allow the chicken to come to room temperature.
2. In a large bowl whisk the flour, cayenne, salt, turmeric, and coriander. Fill a 6-quart pot halfway with the oil and heat to 340 degrees. Dredge the chicken in the mixture, shaking off the excess flour, and place it on a clean baking sheet. Set a rack atop a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.
3. Working in batches, fry the chicken, turning occasionally, until evenly browned and the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, about 12-13 minutes. Drain the chicken pieces on the rack; serve hot or at room temperature, drizzled with the Sriracha Butter.
4. Make the Sriracha Butter: In a small saucepan melt the butter over low heat. Place the Sriracha, lime juice, salt and sugar in a blender or food processor. Blend on high for 1 minute, adding the melted butter in a slow stream to create an airy, emulsified sauce. The sauce will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one month.
— Excerpted from the book “Fried & True: 50 Recipes for America’s Best Fried Chicken and Sides” (Clarkson Potter, $22.50), by Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman.