My introduction to real fried chicken came from fine Southern cook Nathalie Dupree, who fried her chicken in shortening in an electric frying pan. She maintained that shortening made the crispiest chicken and hers was succulent. But when did we last use shortening or see an electric frying pan?
Through trial and error and a fried-chicken-loving family, I have developed a set of rules that makes for amazing Southern fried chicken.
I use canola, sunflower or grapeseed oil. Peanut is excellent but expensive. Never fry in olive oil; the smoke point is lower than for other oils.
My preference for ease of cooking and serving is to deep-fry the chicken most of the way through earlier in the day. I leave it on a rack, refrigerated if for more than an hour, then finish cooking it in a 350 F oven for 20 to 25 minutes. It’s not authentic, but it is very good.
Bone-in chicken works, but it is harder to eat, so I often use skinless, boneless thighs. Breasts tend to dry out, so unless you have a white-meat fanatic, I would avoid them.
I marinate my chicken overnight in buttermilk flavoured with spices and/or herbs. The spices can be hot or mild, while the herbs are really your personal preference.
Some people like to dip the chicken in flour, egg and panko or bread crumbs, but I find this too heavy. Instead, for a crispy coating, I like to combine flour and cornstarch (or rice flour) in a 4 to 1 ratio; 1 cup flour to ¼ cup cornstarch. This lightens the batter by removing some gluten. Always season the flour with salt and pepper.
Preheat your oil to 350 F in a wok, deep saucepan or deep fryer. A laser thermometer is a handy tool for checking the oil temperature; these can be found in the automotive department of Canadian Tire and recently Loblaws. It hovers above the oil and uses laser technology to give you a reading of the heat.
I find it easiest to place the flour mixture in a plastic bag then toss the chicken pieces until they are well coated. Remove them with tongs and shake off any excess flour. Slide the chicken pieces into the hot oil and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the juices are clear and they are nicely browned. If you want to finish them in the oven, fry for 5 minutes then place on a rack to cool before baking in a 350 F oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
Korean chicken, which is having a moment, is the ultimate fried chicken for some. It is coated with a thin batter of cornstarch mixed with water. Years ago, Heston Blumenthal, of Fat Duck fame, replaced half the water with vodka and made a superb batter. The reason? Unlike water, vodka inhibits the development of gluten, which means you’ll end up with a light batter, instead of one that’s doughy. For my Korean chicken, I dip it in cornstarch mixed with salt and a touch of baking powder, then add equal parts water and vodka to the remaining flour mixture to make a thin batter. Dip the chicken again and deep-fry. I then cool and deep-fry quickly a second time before serving. The batter shatters upon biting into it. Delicious!
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