They make it look so easy. Grandmothers, I mean. They just whip out the chicken and the cast-iron skillet and fry up a batch while they’re listening to “Divorce Court,” like it ain’t no thing. You ask them how they do it, and they act like it’s just country cooking. Natural. Effortless.
OK, they don’t lie, but there’s nothing simple about frying chicken, especially for beginners. So many decisions. Fryer versus pieces. Oil versus shortening. Cast-iron skillet vs. large pot. Southern-style versus spicy versus extra-crispy. Paper towels versus wire racks. And then there’s the whole overnight soaking thing. So, it helps to have a dependable starter recipe, like this No-Fail Fried Chicken, and some pointers.
Here are a few tips for No-Fail Fried Chicken:
1. Size matters. When it comes to buying a fryer, smaller is better for quick, even cooking. Don’t go for the Whole Foods 4-pound miniature turkey. Drive to the cheapest grocery you can find, and pick up a wee fryer, ideally around 2 1/2 pounds.
2. Cut the recipe’s flour in half. If the recipe calls for dredging your chicken in 2 cups of flour, measure only 1 cup into your dish, and add the rest as needed. That way, you use what you need without contaminating the rest.
3. Separate white and dark meat. White meat cooks faster, so if you’re not used to cooking white and dark pieces together, you can wind up with dry breasts, and NO ONE wants a dry breast. Instead, fry a batch of dark meat (drumsticks and thighs) and a batch of white meat (breasts and wings).
4. Skip the skillet. For now. While you’re figuring out how much oil to use and getting the feel for turning the chicken, it’s much safer to use a large, heavy pot for frying. Since the pot will keep the oil contained, you won’t have to worry about popping and splattering.
5. Use an instant-read thermometer. Your oil needs to be around 325 degrees F. Too high, and the chicken will burn. Too low, and it will be greasy. Since the temperature will dip dramatically every time you add chicken to the pot, you’ll want to adjust the heat to stay within 10 degrees of 325.
6. Use tongs. I know, all the cool kids use a fork to turn their chicken, but a fork is a bad idea, because a.) it brings your hand that much closer to hot oil, and b.) it forces you to stab into the meat and lose some of its juices. (See also dry breasts)
7. Drain your chicken on a rack, not a plate lined with paper towels. Paper towels can only absorb so much grease. If you want your chicken to stay crispy, place the pieces on a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet lined with paper towels.
Once you’ve mastered these tips, your frying technique will be unstoppable, and you’ll be ready to move on to the cast-iron skillet and experiment with other fried chicken recipes. Then you can write up some tips and send them to me.
No-Fail Fried Chicken
From Rebecca Crump (EzraPoundCake.com)
- 1 fryer chicken (2 1/2-3 pounds), cut into pieces
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup Frank’s® Hot Sauce
- 2 cups self-rising flour, for dredging
- 1 teaspoon each salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder and cayenne
- Oil, for frying (preferably peanut oil or shortening)
- Heat the oil to 325 degrees F in a deep pot. (Start with about 1/2 inch. Add more as needed.)
- In an aluminum pie pan or medium bowl, beat the eggs. Add hot sauce.
- Measure 1 cup of the flour into a separate shallow dish. Add the remainder as needed.
- Combine salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder and cayenne, and use them to season the chicken.
- Dip chicken in egg mixture; dredge in the flour.
- Place the chicken in the preheated oil, skin-side down, and cover partially with a lid to maintain temperature and control splatter. Fry chicken for 6 minutes on one side, then 6 on the other. Then turn it, and fry 3 minutes on each side, for a total of about 18 minutes. (Chicken should have an internal temperature of about 170 degrees F for the white meat and 180 degrees F for the dark meat.)
- Remove chicken from the pot, and drain on a rack over a sheet pan lined with paper towels to keep it crispy.