Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Southern Fried Chicken

There are as many variations on frying chicken as there are cooks who make it. I'm only going to talk about the ways I make it, and the way I consider to be the best.

This is NOT a dish I make frequently, because, let's face it, it's FRIED chicken, and not exactly diet-friendly. But 3 or 4 times a year, it's a delicious, special treat. I normally use boneless, skinless breast and thigh fillets, but sometimes (like in the pictures to follow) I'll use a cut-up whole chicken, as-is, because Alex likes it that way.

Lots of people deep-fry chicken. I deep-fry nothing, because I find the grease absorption to be just too much, plus you don't have as much control during the cooking process. I pan-fry chicken, and I do it one of two ways that my mother and her mother and her mother did it. One of the only things I added of my own to the process is that I marinate the chicken, sometimes overnight, in buttermilk before cooking. The acid in the buttermilk tenderizes the chicken and helps it retain moisture.
chicken pieces soaking in buttermilk

When it comes to coating the chicken, you need a wet component and a dry component. You can just use the buttermilk for your wet wash, taking the chicken pieces directly from buttermilk to the dry coating, and that works just fine, and is the method I used here. But for "classic" fried chicken, you'll want to make your "wash" with eggs. Beat a few eggs with a splash of milk, and use the dry-wet-dry method of coating the chicken: dredge each piece in your flour mixture, then dip it in the egg mixture, then dredge in the flour again. About the flour mixture--just season a shallow dish full of all-purpose flour with whatever suits your taste. It could be as simple as plain ol' salt and pepper, but you can add everything from seasoned salt to poultry seasoning to dried herbs. Just be sure it's blended well with the flour.
flour plus seasonings

Of course, you don't want to coat the chicken pieces until the minute you're ready to cook them. Use a heavy skillet, preferably cast-iron, and pour in about 1/2-inch (less if you're using boneless cuts--you only want the oil to cover about 1/3 of each chicken piece) of fresh vegetable oil (never re-use cooking oil). Heat the oil to medium-high--you'll know it's ready when a bit of flour dropped into the hot oil sizzles. DO NOT add chicken until the oil is hot!

Place coated chicken pieces "pretty side" down in the skillet, and cook at med-high heat until the bottom side is golden-brown. Now you have a choice to make. If you're pressed for time, or if you just like your chicken very crispy, you can turn it over and simply continue to cook it, quickly, at the same heat until it's golden-brown all over and juices run clear when you pierce a piece in its thickest part. That will produce a fine result that anyone would be proud to serve.

BUT. If you want "classic" Southern-Fried Chicken, tender and juicy and melt-in-your-mouth divine, you'll do it just a little differently. Turn the pieces over, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover the skillet, and leave it alone for another 20-30 minutes or more, depending on the thickness of the cuts. The result is well worth the extra time, and will have people in awe of your chicken-frying prowess.

One note--no matter how you're tempted, do not crowd the chicken pieces in the skillet. The skillet shown here is a bit crowded.
chicken frying, just turned

Compatible side-dishes for Southern fried chicken include, of course, mashed potatoes and gravy (I'll add a separate post on making chicken gravy--it's easy when you know how, and not nearly as unhealthy as you might think), green beans served with pepper-vinegar sauce, corn on the cob, chow-chow or corn relish, and fried okra. In warmer weather, or for picnics, potato salad and coleslaw are good choices. I've never quite understood or agreed with the serving of baked beans with fried chicken, but apparently a lot of people like that.

Homemade (don't you DARE serve canned) biscuits are a must with fried chicken, and I'll post that recipe next, because it's quick, easy, and delicious, and the same recipe lends itself to delicious chicken and dumplings.


Mistress Weatherwax said...

Hiya Belinda!

I have been craving some good fried chicken and I have never been very good at making it. Hopefully this recipe will sort me out though. Can you recommend a few things to put into the flour mix. And please post the chicken recipe soon, it's hard to find proper southern food in the UK!!!


Mistress Weatherwax said...

I meant to say Chicken gravy - yes graaavy. Sorry 'bout that!