Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How to Make Classic Southern Fried Chicken

Southern fried chicken can certainly be challenging - it just takes practice to be honest! If you're new to frying chicken, try frying only dark or white meat your first time. I also like to brine the chicken first - it really helps to keep the breast meat nice and tender. 
Southern fried chicken can certainly be challenging - it just takes practice to be honest! If you're new to frying chicken, try frying only dark or white meat your first time. I also like to brine the chicken first - it really helps to keep the breast meat nice and tender.

How to Make Classic Southern Fried Chicken

Good ole southern fried chicken. Can't imagine living without it!  Admittedly, fried chicken is not an easy dish to get down right without practice - and unfortunately, not something we can eat regularly enough to get that practice - and... frankly, it's a mess. It's a mess to prep, it's a mess to cook, it's a mess to clean up, and then there's all that oil to contend with afterward too. Given the fact that we have KFC and Popeye's these days, it's not surprising it really isn't made much at home anymore, but... it is so good, that it is something we Southerners certainly deem worthy of all that trouble, at least on occasion.

This recipe is a basic fried chicken sans the buttermilk but utilizing a salt brine. I am a true believer in brining chicken {and pork} so definitely allow time for that step. It produces a tender and juicy fried chicken and is worth the time.  Season the chicken pieces with the salt and pepper and allow it to rest in the fridge for at least one hour, two or three if you have the time. You can also add some garlic powder if you like.

Some people would say who needs all that fuss? Our grandma's didn't fuss with a fried chicken like that! Well, let's not forget our grandma's very likely went out in the backyard, caught a chicken and well... you know the rest. If they didn't do that, they likely bought a chicken fresh from a chicken farmer up the road. They didn't buy or eat these huge, mass produced chickens like we do these days, and I find that our chickens today need a little bit of help.

As far as frying, I like to use a large cast iron skillet or my cast iron dutch oven {which will cut down on the splatter factor} and you can't go wrong really if you use a thermometer. You can regulate the temperature so much easier with one and I really think it is a must-have for perfect fried chicken.  Dark meat takes roughly 14 minutes; white meat around 10 minutes, but of course it depends on the size of the pieces too.  When cooking mixed chicken, be sure to place the larger, dark meat pieces in the center of the skillet.

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Recipe: How to Make Classic Southern Fried Chicken

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Marinade time: 6 hours |Cook time: 15 min | Yield: About 4 to 6 servings


For the Brine:
  • 3-1/2 pounds chicken (white, dark, mixed), cut into 8 or 10 pieces
  • 1 heaping tablespoon kosher salt
For the Chicken:
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups milk or buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce
  • 1-1/2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cajun or Creole seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Lard, shortening or cooking oil, for frying

Add the chicken to a large Ziploc bag. Whisk a heaping tablespoon of salt into a near gallon of water and pour water over chicken. Seal well and place the bag into a bowl (in case of leaks) and refrigerate for about 6 hours, or overnight.

Drain the chicken, pat dry with paper towels, and arrange on a large plate or baking sheet; sprinkle generously with pepper on both sides. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, longer if you have time.

Set up a dipping station with one medium sized bowl for the egg and milk mixture, a second medium sized bowl for the flour and a large plate or platter to hold the breaded chicken. Whip the egg, milk and hot sauce together. In a large bowl, whisk flour with all the seasonings. Dip the chicken into the flour mixture, then the milk and egg mixture, allowing excess to drip off and back into the flour, gently shaking off excess flour. Transfer to a large platter. Set aside to rest.

Fill a 12 inch or larger cast iron skillet about halfway with oil and using a deep fryer thermometer, heat oil over medium high heat until it reaches around 360 degrees. If you don't have a thermometer, the oil is generally ready when a pinch of flour tossed in sizzles. Very carefully slide the pieces of chicken in, one at a time, and skin side down, slowly laying it into the hot oil. Remember, you are working with extremely hot oil on a fire here, so take care not to allow the oil to overflow as you add pieces, since the oil will rise with each piece you add. Also, don't overcrowd the pan - you'll only want to fry about 4 or 5 pieces of chicken at a time.

Cook on the first side about 8 minutes, trying to keep the oil at about 300 degrees F by regulating the temperature up or down; turn and cook another 6 minutes or until golden brown and juices run clear when pierced with a fork. Adjust time as needed depending on cuts used and their size. Drain on a paper bag or a rack over paper towels. Hold the first batch in a low oven while you finish the next batch. Serve immediately.

Cook's Notes: I use White Lily self rising flour. For a little extra bump of flavor, add 1/4 cup of hot sauce to the egg and milk blend. If you by chance find your chicken to be underdone, you can finish it in a 350 degree oven, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until juices run clear.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken: In a large non-reactive bowl, whisk together 2 cups of buttermilk with 1/4 cup of hot sauce. Add all of the chicken pieces, turning to coat completely, cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or up to 8 hours. Remove and shake all of the excess buttermilk off. Continue as above with dredge and frying.

For the Air Fryer: I used chicken legs in the Power Air Fryer Pro Elite, which has moveable mesh racks. For a basket air fryer you'll have to do this in batches. Prepare chicken as above, dipping in flour then milk (or buttermilk) and egg, then again in the flour. Spray racks and chicken on both sides; cook chicken on lower two slots of oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove, spray and turn chicken, spray again and swap racks; cook another 10 minutes. Remove, spray and turn chicken, spray again and swap racks. Increase heat to 400 degrees and cook for 5 minutes longer, or until an instant read thermometer registers 165/170 degrees F. I recommend the EVO sprayer {affil link} for air fry cooking.


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©Deep South Dish

Fried Chicken Tips:

Honestly, getting to that perfect fried chicken just really takes making it a few times really. Everything depends on your range (gas or electric), the kind of chicken you're using (whole chicken you cut up, one you buy cut up already or all of the same type of pieces), the type of skillet (stainless, cast iron etc.) But don't let all that scare you. Here are a few tips that might help:

  1. Maintaining the thermometer at around an average of 300 degrees F roughly is just a good range to shoot for - too much over that and the oil gets too hot and you'll end up with burned crust and undercooked chicken, too much under that and the oil is too cold and you end up with chicken that is greasy. Eventually you get to the point of where you can listen to the oil and the chicken and know when it is ready.
  2. It takes some practice and knowing your range as far as regulating that temperature. You may need to turn the fire up when you first drop the chicken in and then turn it back down not too long after, before the oil gets too hot.
  3. Make sure you're not overcrowding your skillet - even with my larger 12 inch cast iron skillet I still do a whole chicken in two batches. There always needs to be plenty of room in the skillet for the oil to bubble up around the pieces. If the pieces are too close together, it will bring the temperature of the oil down too quickly meaning you'll have to cook the pieces longer and they will absorb more oil, making it more greasy.
  4. Cast iron is good for chicken frying because it distributes the heat more evenly across the skillet with less hot spots, but with an electric range you'll still get those hot spots, usually right in the middle of the skillet. Start with the thighs and legs there, with the bigger part of the leg toward the center of the skillet, breasts next, but while your chicken is frying, keep checking the undersides and rearrange the pieces as needed, moving it to a different part of the skillet or turning it toward the outside of the skillet if its getting too brown.
  5. Don't be afraid to turn the pieces several times to prevent burning until you get comfortable with the process. Always use tongs to handle the chicken - don't pierce it with forks.
  6. I also prefer to buy a whole chicken and cut it up myself, but either way, if the breast pieces are super large, which they almost always are anymore these days, cut those evenly in half, so that you end up with four breast pieces instead of two.
  7. If you have a preference of pieces, you don't have to cook a whole chicken either - just do all breasts or all legs or all thighs, whatever you like. They are usually about the same size so that they cook in about the same time, making it much easier.
  8. While brining is optional, I highly recommend it. Not only does it improve flavor, add moisture and helps to tenderize, that extra moisture barrier also provides some insurance against overcooking.
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Posted by on May 11, 2010

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